Seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton began the 2021 season as a lesser favorite to win an eighth title but that did not stop the British driver from improving from second place on the starting grid to the top step of the Bahrain Grand Prix podium in the first race of the year.
The new season’s opening race took a while to properly begin – during the formation lap, Sergio Perez was experiencing technical issues in his Red Bull Racing car and the grid was forced to go around the Bahrain International Circuit for a second formation lap because Perez pulled over to the side of the track. As the second formation lap began, the race that was scheduled for 57 laps became a 56-lap event. Meanwhile, Perez managed to restart his car without the assistance of the marshals and was allowed to take part in the race. Originally having had to start the race from eleventh position, the Mexican was forced to begin the Grand Prix from the pit lane.
As soon as the race officially began, rookie Nikita Mazepin spun and crashed out in the opening corners and the safety car came out onto the track. A couple of laps later, Max Verstappen – who began the race from pole position – restarted the race once the safety vehicle left the track; however, Pierre Gasly tapped Daniel Ricciardo’s left rear tyre and lost his front wing, which forced a virtual safety car while the marshals quickly picked up the debris.
Depending on tyre degradation, teams went for different race strategies when it came to pit stops – Hamilton pitted before Verstappen and successfully used the circuit’s well-know undercutting advantages (an undercut is when a car pits earlier than the cars ahead and ensures that the driver has a fresher set of tyres, which can help him overtake the cars that have older tyres).
The final handful of laps saw Hamilton masterfully defend the lead from Verstappen with tyres that were ten laps older than the Dutchman’s. At one point, Verstappen passed Hamilton but was forced to allow Hamilton to retake the lead as the Red Bull Racing driver left the track with all four tyres behind the track limits. The powerful DRS advantage in Bahrain did not aid Verstappen much.
Hamilton went on to win his 96th career race and finally passed Michael Schumacher’s record of most laps led in history, which is now 5,126 laps.
Valtteri Bottas was too far out to contend for the top two positions today but was way ahead of fourth place, so he pitted to put on a newer set of medium tyres at the end of the race and set the fastest lap – 1:32.090 – on the final lap of the Grand Prix. The Finn finished third.
McLaren’s Lando Norris had a brilliant and quiet race, driving in fourth place for the majority of the race. Even though Perez made it up all the way to fifth place, unfortunately for him, he would have most likely been in the top four if there would have been any safety-car-causing accidents at some point of the race.
Interestingly, Gasly’s debut in the second Red Bull Racing seat in 2019 was eleventh place in Australia. His highest achievements in the car were fourth place and fifth place, once each, in twelve races. Alex Albon debuted in that car by replacing Gasly in the thirteenth race of 2019 and finished fifth in Belgium. In twenty six races with Red Bull Racing, Albon finished third twice, fourth three times, and fifth six times.
Both Ferrari drivers showed a promising improvement to the Italian brand – Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were competitive from the start of the race and followed logical race strategies, finishing sixth and eighth, respectively. At the beginning of the Grand Prix, Leclerc was even racing the Mercedes of Bottas for third position.
Additionally, 20-year-old Yuki Tsunoda made impressively calm overtakes against race winners and former F1 champions, and scored points in his debut by finishing ninth. These are the first points by a Japanese driver since Kamui Kobayashi finished ninth at the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2012 and the first overall points by a Japanese driver in his F1 debut.
Bahrain Grand Prix results
- Lewis Hamilton (MERCEDES) – 1:32:03.897 – 25 Points
- Max Verstappen (RED BULL) – +0.745s – 18 Points
- Valtteri Bottas (MERCEDES) – +37.383s – 15 Points + 1 Point for fastest lap (1:32.090 – Lap 56)
- Lando Norris (MCLAREN) – +46.466s – 12 Points
- Sergio Perez (RED BULL RACING) – +52.047s – 10 Points
- Charles Leclerc (FERRARI) – +59.090s – 8 Points
- Daniel Ricciardo (MCLAREN) – +66.004s – 6 Points
- Carlos Sainz (FERRARI) – +67.100s – 4 Points
- Yuki Tsunoda (ALPHATAURI) – +85.692s – 2 Points
- Lance Stroll (ASTON MARTIN) – +86.713s – 1 Point
- Kimi Räikkönen (ALFA ROMEO) – +88.864s
- Antonio Giovinazzi (ALFA ROMEO) – +1 Lap
- Esteban Ocon (ALPINE) – +1 Lap
- George Russell (WILLIAMS) – +1 Lap
- Sebastian Vettel (ASTON MARTIN) – +1 Lap
- Mick Schumacher (HAAS) – +1 Lap
- Pierre Gasly (ALPHATAURI) – DNF | 52 Laps
- Nicholas Latifi (WILLIAMS) – DNF | 51 Laps
NC – Fernando Alonso (ALPINE) – DNF | 32 Laps
NC – Nikita Mazepin (HAAS) – DNF | 0 Laps
Drivers’ Championship after Bahrain Grand Prix
- Lewis Hamilton (Great Britain) | MERCEDES – 25
- Max Verstappen (Netherlands) | RED BULL RACING – 18
- Valtteri Bottas (Finland) | MERCEDES – 16
- Lando Norris (Great Britain) | MCLAREN – 12
- Sergio Perez (Mexico) | RED BULL RACING – 10
- Charles Leclerc (Monaco) | FERRARI – 8
- Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) | MCLAREN – 6
- Carlos Sainz (Spain) | FERRARI – 4
- Yuki Tsunoda (Japan) | ALPHATAURI – 2
- Lance Stroll (Canada) | ASTON MARTIN – 1
- Kimi Räikkönen (Finland) | ALFA ROMEO – 0
- Antonio Giovinazzi (Italy) | ALFA ROMEO – 0
- Esteban Ocon (France) | ALPINE – 0
- George Russell (Great Britain) | WILLIAMS – 0
- Sebastian Vettel (Germany) | ASTON MARTIN – 0
- Mick Schumacher (Germany) | HAAS – 0
- Pierre Gasly (France) | ALPHATAURI – 0
- Nicholas Latifi (Canada) | WILLIAMS – 0
Fernando Alonso (Spain)
Nikita Mazepin (Russian Automobile Federation)
Constructors’ Championship after Bahrain Grand Prix
- MERCEDES – 41
- RED BULL RACING – 28
- MCLAREN – 18
- FERRARI – 12
- ALPHATAURI – 2
- ASTON MARTIN – 1
- ALFA ROMEO – 0
- ALPINE – 0
- WILLIAMS – 0
- HAAS – 0