Five Things We Learned From The Bahrain Grand Prix

After an exciting and tense season opener, the 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix left fans with plenty to discuss. Alasdair Russell looks at five of the race’s biggest talking points.

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen provided fans with what could be the first of many battles at the front of the grid in Bahrain. (Photo Credit – Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Formula 1’s season opening Bahrain Grand Prix threw up an instant classic, as Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen duelled for the win. There was also exquisite racing throughout the pack on a long awaited first race. So, here’s five things we learned from the Bahrain Grand Prix…

The Season is Going to be a Classic

Going into the race, it looked like reigning champions Mercedes were firmly on the back foot. Red Bull seemed to have the quicker car going into the season and this quickly proved to be the case as Max Verstappen duly took pole on Saturday by nearly half a second. With the race, Mercedes won it on strategy as Red Bull had the far better race pace, with Verstappen closing down a 10 second gap to Hamilton, passing the seven-time champion only to have to give the place back, having completed the manoeuvre off-track. On the whole, there looks to be very little separating Red Bull and Mercedes this year, meaning that the fans are finally getting to see the long-awaited battle between Hamilton and Verstappen

The Midfield is Incredibly Tight

The race gave us a fantastic duel between the McLaren of Lando Norris and the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc. Ultimately, it was Lando and McLaren who triumphed, taking fourth place by some margin when the flag fell. However Alpha Tauri, the Red Bull B team, look to be firmly in the mix after they showed tremendous pace in qualifying with Pierre Gasly lining up in fifth on the grid before losing his front wing against the McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo in the opening laps of the race.  Ferrari look to have solved at least some of the problems which plagued them last season – the power unit, for example, looks to be in much better shape. Hopefully that will enable them to challenge for podiums and perhaps even a win if we see a chaotic race for Mercedes and Red Bull. 

Yuki Tsunoda is Fast

Yuki Tsunoda impressed many during his first weekend in Formula 1, with the Japanese rookie expected to strike up a good partnership with Pierre Gasly at Alpha Tauri. (Photo Credit – Mazen Mahdi/AFP)

The first driver to compete in F1 who was born in the 2000s proved age was no barrier to success as he placed his Alpha Tauri in second place in the first part of qualifying. Ultimately, he failed to make it into Q3 and started 13th on the grid. Come race day, he managed to battle his way forward and taking the chequered flag in ninth place after brilliant overtakes on Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso. There is definitely a hell of a lot more to come from Yuki, especially given how well the Alpha Tauri looks to be performing this season. 

Fernando Alonso Hasn’t Lost Anything in his Two Years Away From F1 

Also proving that age is no barrier to success, the double world champion managed to drag the underperforming Alpine into Q3 and had been running solidly in the points before a brake failure ultimately curtailed his first Grand Prix since Abu Dhabi in 2018. According to Alpine, the reason for the failure was that a sandwich bag caught in one of the rear brake ducts. Bizarrely, this is not the first time a failure has been caused by debris of this nature; Sergey Sirotkin had his debut for Williams in Australia 2018 cut short thanks to a sandwich bag in a brake duct. Regardless of an early retirement from this race, Alonso proved that he’s more than capable of challenging the more youthful combatants in the midfield this season.

Nikita Mazepin Might be the Racing Gods’ Follow-up to Pastor Maldonado

The controversial Russian rookie span four times – all of them unforced errors – in his debut Grand Prix weekend. The worst of the spins came just seconds after lights out, seeing him connect with the barriers and end his first race after only three corners. It has instantly become one of the shortest race debuts in F1 history and the shortest since 2002, when Allan McNish and Felipe Massa ended their debuts in the melee of a several car pile-up in Melbourne.

Mazepin came into F1 on the back of a lot of controversy both on track and off. On track last year, his antics had riled rivals after his attempts to force a number of drivers off track and some nearly into the pit wall while they tried to overtake him. Off track, he enraged many within and away from motorsport after he uploaded a video of himself sexually assaulting a drunk woman to his Instagram. Despite the video being taken down, with Haas condemning Mazepin’s actions as “abhorrent”, the incident birthed the #WeSayNoToMazepin campaign, which trended frequently during the off season. The hashtag has retained a strong presence to this day, with replies to any social media posts from the driver or Haas themselves being flooded with the message. As such, fans would have warmly welcomed a premature exit in his Formula 1 debut.

While not wishing to be unduly lenient to somebody who ended their first race after three corners by way of their own mistake, the Haas does look to be particularly tough to handle this year. This comes down to the fact that Haas have made almost no changes, besides those necessitated by rule changes, and will not be developing the car further this year, instead choosing to focus on the new regulations coming in 2022.

With another 22 races (COVID permitting) left to go, the season is shaping up to be one for the ages. With a true battle for the World Championship between Hamilton and Verstappen, and a fiercely competitive midfield, each race will bring plenty of intrigue across the grid. Should every race end in similar fashion, it would be hard to perceive too many fan complaints.

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