After a season unlike any other in the history of the Formula 1 World Championship in 2020, the 2021 season begins in Bahrain this weekend and numerous changes have taken place across the grid. While Mercedes AMG-Petronas’ Lewis Hamilton has returned in search of his eighth World Driver’s Championship along with 100 wins/100 poles, the chasers behind are hungry to take down the dominant figure in the sport.
One of those contenders is Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen. The Dutchman is coming off a season-ending pole and victory at Abu Dhabi, while leading the entire race. The young charger is ready to battle Hamilton for the Driver’s title, but will Red Bull provide him the car necessary to compete on a per-race basis? And can Valtteri Bottas finally stand up and challenge the Stevenage product?
Sunday’s race on the 5.412 km Grand Prix Circuit will present a unique set of challenges for all the teams and drivers coming off the winter break. Long straights, hard braking and three DRS zones will emphasise having strong aerodynamic balance and tyre wear characteristics.
Even with the recent testing, Friday’s initial practice will be more about sweeping the track and building a line to use during the remainder of the weekend. Conservation on all aspects is key with a 23-race calendar on deck, as of now. The grip will be low at the start but improves with track evolution meeting its peak during Saturday qualifying.
READ MORE FORMULA 1: F1’S CLASS OF 2021: WHAT CAN WE EXPECT?
Last Time Out
As mentioned earlier, Verstappen dominated at Abu Dhabi with a 15.976sec margin of victory over Bottas. Hamilton rounded out the podium, but just over 1.5 seconds ahead of Red Bull’s Alexander Albon. McLaren’s Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz, Jr. completed the top six, with Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo, AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, Riccardo’s teammate Esteban Ocon and Racing Point’s Lance Stroll all in the points.
Winter testing saw Red Bull and the new McLaren-Mercedes combination show pace while Mercedes struggled. Questions of sandbagging by Mercedes aside, the form book should follow what we have seen in recent years once lights go out on Sunday.
The midfield battle will be tight, with AlphaTauri doing well with Gasly and rookie Yuki Tsunoda. Returning two-time champion Fernando Alonso is with Alpine, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel has gone to Aston Martin and one can never count out Ferrari with Charles Leclerc and Sainz.
Further back, can George Russell finally score a point for Williams this year? After his epic performance in the Sakhir Grand Prix in place of Hamilton, the new director of the GPDA will have an opportunity based on reliability and a stable platform provided. Williams’ battle with Alfa Romeo and Haas F1 will be interesting early on, but we could finally see Williams back in a competitive place after a few years of being on the back foot.
Will Lewis Hamilton’s Domination Continue?
Since 2014, one driver and team has truly set the tone in Formula 1. Hamilton, along with Mercedes-AMG Petronas, have consistently won races and poles to a level unseen since Michael Schumacher’s run with Ferrari from 2000-2004.
With the relatively stable rules moving into massive changes in 2022, is this the last hurrah for Lewis and Mercedes?
Hamilton’s struggles in testing have been well-documented but assume that the 44 will be back to form. However, Verstappen, Sergio Perez, Bottas and others will make getting that eighth title a greater challenge. Add McLaren’s resurgence with Riccardo and Norris and we could have a championship similar to 2010 and 2012.
Practice 1: 26 March 11:30-12:30 (7:30-8:30 AM EST)
Practice 2: 26 March 15:00-16:00 (11AM–12PM EST)
Practice 3: 27 March 12:00-13:00 (8-9 AM EST)
Qualifying: 27 March 15:00-16:00 (11AM-12PM EST)
Race: 28 March 16:00-18:00 (11AM-1PM EST)
All times in GMT, unless stated
Grid Talk Podcast
Want more content to preview the Bahrain Grand Prix? George Howson hosted panelists Louis Edwards, Sam Thatcher and Jack Watson in the Grid Talk Bahrain GP Preview. Full audio and video versions of the show are available below: