If you are an F1 fan, chances are you stayed up late (11:00 PM local time) to watch the season opener in Bahrain a few days ago. If you watched it from start to end, it's worth the eyebags.
Everything we suspected and predicted came into fruition on track, although there were still a few surprises during the 56 laps. Here are our takeaways from the first race.
1. Mercedes-AMG is no longer unbeatable
While Sir Lewis Hamilton managed to win the season opener, it was far from a cakewalk. He had to pull off one of his best performances to date, eking out a winning margin of about half a second to 2nd place finisher, Max Verstappen.
Max Verstappen and Red Bull dominated the whole weekend from free practice one-up until the last qualifying session. It certainly looked as though he would carry the momentum until the chequered flag dropped on race day, only losing out to Hamilton’s incredible drive and Mercedes-AMG strategy magic. That said, the defending champ left the track 29 times and never got penalized for it. What track limits? Anyway, back to Red Bull.
The Austrian squad had the pace but was hampered by electrical gremlins. Sergio Perez’s car conked out during the installation lap, forcing him to start his race from the pit lane. Verstappen, on the other hand, had throttle and differential issues that plagued him throughout the race.
Once Red Bull sorts out the reliability issues, they might give Mercedes-AMG a good scare this season.
2. The midfield battle is closer than ever
Two teams are locked in the battle for F1 domination this season. However, it would wrong to overlook the battle for midfield supremacy. The battle for 4th to 10th place was just what F1 fans have been clamoring for the longest time.
Right now, it is impossible to see which team will dominate the midfield. McLaren, Ferrari, Aston Martin, AlphaTauri, and Alfa Romeo (Yes, even them) all displayed competitive race pace throughout. While Bahrain does have three DRS (Drag Reduction System) zones, it is one of the toughest circuits to pass on.
During the race though, the midfield drivers looked like fighter pilots. There were numerous side-by-side overtakes and even dive bombs into corners that were not off-limits, all of which were on full display for all those tuned in.
3. Bahrain Grand Prix was a rookie showcase
Three rookies are on the grid this season, namely Yuki Tsunoda, Mick Schumacher, and Nikita Mazepin. After all, they made some decent waves during their time in the junior leagues.
However, F1 is a different ball game. Let's take a look at their performances, shall we? Schumacher spun out once during the race but recovered to finish the race. His teammate, on the other hand, oh dear.
Nikita Mazepin started his F1 career last night, but he already garnered so much attention, both positive and negative. Throughout the race weekend, though, he has been under the negative spotlight. He even has a nickname now: Mazespin.
During qualifying, he spun-out right before the other drivers were about to start their final flying laps. That caused a yellow flag, forcing everybody to slow down and numerous drivers missing out on Q2. Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel wasn't pleased with the spin, either.
Then, on race day, he lost control of his car at the third corner and slammed into the wall. What makes it notable was, on his onboard camera, it showed it was very much his own mistake. Nobody was around him at the time of the spin. Mazepin's first race was shorter than Valtteri Bottas' lengthy pit-stop.
Yes, he is a rookie, so he should be given some, slack right? Well, two spin-outs and a totaled race car are not good excuses for that. Of course, the young Russian still has the rest of the season to prove his detractors wrong. On the contrary, Mick Schumacher drove an equally noncompetitive and undrivable Haas and was able to nurse it to the finish line.
The brightest spot on the rookie showcase was Tsunoda, who not only had a clean race but showed he is capable of taking it to the veterans. His strong pace saw him make some brave but smooth overtakes on race winners and championship drivers. If he keeps it up, who knows? He could end up in the sister team in no time.
4. The 2021 regulations worked
F1’s been on a bid to make the racing as close as possible. In recent years, several regulation changes have been introduced to shake up the pecking order. While some have worked, none have been as effective as the 2021 regulations.
This year, teams had to rework the aerodynamics, with the goal being to lessen the downforce generated by each car. During testing and even qualifying, the lap times were about 1 second slower than last year.
Also, almost all drivers struggled for grip throughout the weekend. With less downforce, all cars looked skittish and on edge, much to the delight of the fans. Their challenge this year is managing the throttle without slowing down too much or eating up the tires. It will be interesting to see how each team will adapt or what loophole teams will use to get their cars under control for the rest of the season. While it’s still very early in the 2021 season, fans are being treated to heart-thumping and close racing.
2021 is already shaping out to be an exciting season. If only Netflix could release Drive to Survive episodes weekly so we can see the drama behind the races.
2021 Bahrain GP Results:
1 - Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes-AMG)
2 - Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing) - +0.745
3 - Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes-AMG) - +37.383
4 - Lando Norris (McLaren) - +46.466
5 - Sergio Perez (Red Bull Racing) - +52.047
6 - Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) - +59.090
7 - Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) - +66.004
8 - Carlos Sainz (Scuderia Ferrari) - +67.100
9 - Yuki Tsunoda (Scuderia AlphaTauri) - +85.692
10 - Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) - +86.713
11 - Kimi Räikkönen (Alfa Romeo) - +88.864
12 - Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) - +1 lap
13 - Esteban Ocon (Alpine) - +1 lap
14 - George Russell (Williams) - +1 lap
15 - Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) - +1 lap
16 - Mick Schumacher (HAAS) - +1 lap
17 - Pierre Gasly (Scuderia AlphaTauri) - DNF
18 - Nicholas Latifi (Williams) - DNF
19 - Fernando Alonso (Alpine) - DNF
20 - Nikita Mazepin (HAAS) - DNF