Published on March 28, 2021
By Max Levene

The Bahrain Grand Prix turned into an epic battle of strategy and driver skill between the Red Bull’s Verstappen and Mercedes’ Hamilton. In the end Hamilton edged it by seven tenths of a second.

The race was intense from start to finish. Despite the main contenders getting away in order except for Leclerc who took Bottas for third, the opening laps turned to chaos after Mazepin crashed out at turn 3 bringing out the safety car. When racing resumed on lap 3 Gasly lost his front wing in a battle with the Mclarens and Schumacher spun off, relegating them both to playing catch up to the pack.

Before the race even started there was trouble for Perez, suffering a power issue on the way to the grid. For this reason he altered his strategy and pitted very early for new mediums. It was a strategy that appeared to work as he fought his way up to 5th by the end of the race. His efforts earned him driver if the day.

It was a tale of mixed strategy with the race being blown wide open on lap 14 as Hamilton came in to the pits for the hard compound tyre. Whilst Bottas waited till lap 17, verstappen who had maintained a 2 second lead since the start of the race didn’t pit until lap 18. When he came out with his new medium compounds he was 7 seconds behind Lewis, albeit ahead of Bottas, but hoping his fresher tyres could make the difference. It appeared to be working as by lap 28 he was back within 2 seconds.

Mercedes responded to this pace by pitting Hamilton for another set of hard tyres on lap 29. Whilst this meant he was on a faster set of tyres they would have to be nursed to the end. Bottas did the same on lap 31 however by this point he had fallen out of contention. Verstappen held off until lap 39 to put on his hard tyres, meaning he had 17 laps with which to close the 8.8 second gap and pass Lewis for the win. Verstappen had caught up to within 2 seconds by lap 50 before the main talking of the race point with 3 laps to go. After a tense cat and mouse, on lap 53 Verstappen passed Hamilton around the outside of turn 4, however he was adjudged to have exceeded track limits, and had to give the place back. This decision was controversial as Mercedes had repeatedly exceeded the track limits at this same corner, just not when wheel to wheel. The battle to the line continued to thrill, but Hamilton just about kept Verstappen at arms length to win. It must be considered an exceptional defence on tyres that were much older. 

McLaren and Ferrari had competitive first outings for the season. Norris finished an excellent 4th with Ricciardo in 7th. The Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz finished 6th and 8th respectively. The midfield battles were intense. Norris overtook Ricciardo on lap one before getting Leclerc on lap 13 to move to third. He would later lose that to Bottas in the faster car, before settling in to a flawless drive to 4th. The others had a much busier time with multiple to and froing. Sainz dropped to 10th initially before fighting back whilst Leclerc jumped forward before falling back. The two Aston Martins also mixed up the fight with Stroll looking like he could secure p6 but eventually falling to 10th in a car that appears to have lost performance over the summer. Vettel was also in the top 10 for much of the early race however he had gone extremely long on his initial tyres and eventually dropped out of the points as he got swamped by those on fresher rubber. Tsunoda notably secured 9th after a fantastic final stint, before which he hovered just outside the top 10.

There was an exciting battle on Lap 21 between Alonso, Vettel and Sainz for 8th position. In a line of three, initially Alonso overtook Vettel at turn 1 with Sainz following through however as Sainz then overtook Alonso at turn 3 the Spaniard ran wide and gave his spot back to Vettel. It was a fantastic show of wheel to wheel racing from all three. Alonso however did steal the place back from Vettel in the next lap with the German now really suffering on his worn tyres. Alonso later retired with mechanical issues.

The Alpines and Alfa Romeos threatened the points at times, with much shuffling as different strategies unfolded but in the end didn’t have quite enough. The Williams and Haas cars both continued to struggle as a carryover from last year, although Russel did battle his way into the midfield fight in the middle part of the race.

The result will please Mercedes as they looked the weaker of the top two teams going in to the race, however Red Bull will have plenty of optimism as they look to have developed a car that can take the fight right to their German rivals. The Honda engine also appears to be strong with Red Bull the faster car in the sectors with main straights, signalling they may now be the most powerful engine. It looks like we could be in for a hard fought season.

Full race results: 

  1. Hamilton      1:32:03.897
  2. Verstappen  +0.745
  3. Bottas          +37.383
  4. Norris           +46.466
  5. Perez           +52.047
  6. Leclerc         +59.090
  7. Ricciardo     +1.06.004
  8. Sainz.           +1.07.100
  9. Tsunoda       +1.25.692
  10. Stroll            +1.26.713
  11. Raikkonen   +1.28.864
  12. Giovinazzi.   +1 lap
  13. Ocon           +1 lap
  14. Russell        +1 lap
  15. Vettel           +1 lap
  16. Schumacher +1 lap
  17. Gasly           –
  18. Latifi             –
  19. Alonso         DNF
  20. Mazepin      DNF

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