F1 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix: Lewis Hamilton wins thrilling season opener
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, lined up on pole on Sunday afternoon but failed to overtake Sir Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, in the dying laps.
Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin, started at the back of the field as he suffered a 5-place grid penalty for failing to respect the double yellow flags on Saturday’s qualifying session.
Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing, almost failed to start the Bahrain Grand Prix after he suffered technical issues on the formation lap. The grid then had to endure another formation lap as the Mexican slotted into the pit lane.
The Bahrain GP became Pirelli’s 400th race in Formula One. The famous tyre brand have been here since the start, back in 1950, when they made their debut in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.
I love the challenge. I love this sport. What a way to start the season 🙌🏾 today is a reminder that through harnessing and channeling our collective power, we can accomplish great things. It’s great to be back 🏆 pic.twitter.com/bazzkXTsag
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) March 28, 2021
As the lights went out, after two formation laps, Hamilton and Verstappen got a good get-away but the Red Bull was the first car to turn one and managed to retain the lead. As the rest of the field filtered through the first and second corners, Haas rookie, Nikita Mazepin found himself in the barrier at turn three after he lost control on the exit and became the first retirement of the season. This prompted the first appearance of the new Aston Martin Safety Car.
When the Safety Car ventured back to the pit lane, Verstappen maintained the pace until the very last second – similar to that of Valtteri Bottas in the 2020 Tuscany Grand Prix. While the Red Bull maintained the lead, Mick Schumacher, Haas, spun out at turn four while Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly suffered wing damage and limped back to the pits.
By lap eight, Lando Norris, McLaren, and Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, put in a worthy wheel-to-wheel battle as the two young drivers went side by side around turn four. The Ferrari won this battle. However, Norris retaliated on the following lap and regained his track position into turn one.
Hamilton was the first Mercedes to pit in the Bahrain GP, in a bid to undercut Verstappen for the race lead. The defending world champion changed his medium compounds for the, durable, hard tyres. However, as the Dutchman remained out on track for a few more laps, the undercut attempt was successful.
When Verstappen came in for another set of medium tyres, on lap 18, this confirmed a two-stop strategy for the Dutch driver.
Similar to last season’s Sakhir Grand Prix, Bottas suffered pit stop issues, on lap 31, and remained stationary for 10.9 seconds as the mechanics had issues with the front right tyre. By the time the second Mercedes exited the pit lane, the Finn filtered into the race behind Leclerc, who was sat in P4.
On Fernando Alonso’s debut back in F1, following his two year break from the sport, the Alpine driver was forced to retire from the race on lap 34 with brake issues.
Sebastian Vettel was slapped with a 10-second time penalty after he was deemed responsible for causing a collision with Esteban Ocon, on lap 45. The Aston Martin driver locked up, behind Ocon, going into turn one and found himself in the gearbox of the Alpine A521.
With a handful of laps to go, Verstappen was fighting hard to regain his lead from the hands of Hamilton. By lap 51, Hamilton had a lead of 1.5 seconds. However, a lock-up into the notorious turn 10 saw that lead drop below a second – within DRS (Drag Reduction System) range.
On the 53rd lap, Verstappen finally regained his lead but ventured off the track while he conducted the overtake. This forced the Red Bull to yield the position back to the seven-time world champion.
The Dutchman wasn’t able to successfully complete a move for the lead by the time the chequered flag fell.
1. Sir Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – Fastest Lap: 1:32.090
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