After having played the three days of pre-season tests at the Bahrain International Circuit, Formula 1 remains in the small Arab state for the first official round of the 2021 season. The construction of the plant was completed in 2004, based on a project by the German architect Hermann Tilke, and has always been part of the championship calendar since then, with the exception of 2011, when the Grand Prix was canceled due to government protests taking place in the country. The traditional Grand Prix Circuit layout is used, 5412 meters long and made up of 15 corners, 9 right and 6 left, already chosen on 15 previous occasions. Only on two occasions were two different configurations chosen: in 2010 the race, won by Fernando Alonso in a Ferrari, was disputed in the Endurance Circuit variant, consisting of 24 corners and 6299 meters in length, while in the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, won by Sergio Perez on Racing Point, which followed the Bahrain Grand Prix held the previous week, opted for the Outer Circuit layout, made up of 11 turns and 3543 meters long, also known for holding the record for the fastest time in the history of the Formula 1, with 53.377 seconds, with which the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas conquered the pole position. Initially the Grand Prix was scheduled as the second round of the season in its classic location on the calendar, unlike the 2020 edition which took place in November as it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the postponement of the inaugural race of the championship, the Australian Grand Prix, to the final part of the season due to the pandemic, the FIA postponed the start of the championship by one week on 12 January 2021 with the Bahrain Grand Prix. as well as the pre-season tests also held in Bahrain two weeks earlier, initially scheduled on the traditional Catalunya circuit in Spain. The last time the Formula 1 World Championship started in the Middle East was in 2010, again in Bahrain but in the aforementioned Endurance Circuit configuration. Unlike the 2020 edition which took place behind closed doors due to the restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the organizers are announcing the sale of tickets. The event therefore foresees the presence of spectators in the stands, but only those who have received the anti COVID-19 vaccine or who have recovered from SARS-CoV-2. The CEO of the circuit, Shaikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa, declares:
"In November and December last year we had the pleasure of hosting our healthcare heroes as spectators. This time we are delighted to be open to a wider group of supporters. I am grateful for the support received from the government and thank the national task force and the ministry of health for the fight against the coronavirus".
Pirelli, the tire supplier, is contesting its 400th Grand Prix in the category. The first Grand Prix in which Pirelli participated was the inaugural Formula 1 race on the Silverstone circuit in 1950, on the occasion of the British Grand Prix. Since then, the Italian tire manufacturer has totaled 240 victories, 727 podiums, 243 pole positions and 247 fastest laps. Mario Isola, F1 and Car Racing Manager, declared on the eve of the Grand Prix:
"At Pirelli we are very proud of our history, so being able to celebrate 400 Grands Prix is a source of great satisfaction for us. We arrive at this milestone at the start of a new era, i.e. at the start of the last Formula 1 season with 13-inch tires before the move to 18-inch ones and new far-reaching technical rules starting next year. As we look back on our past, we are therefore excited to write the next chapter in our story as well".
For this Grand Prix, the Milanese company offers a choice of C2, C3 and C4 compound tyres, the three central components of the range. The FIA confirms the three DRS zones used in 2020 in which drivers can activate the mobile device: the first zone is established on the pit straight, with a point for determining the gap between drivers placed before turn 14; the second area in the section between curves 3 and 4, with the detection point set before the first curve; the third zone is established between turns 10 and 11, with the point to determine the gap between drivers placed before turn 9. The Federation establishes that starting from this Grand Prix one of its technical delegates will be able to carry out checks to examine the regulatory compliance of the components and software used on an extraction vehicle.
This season marks Honda's last year as official power unit supplier, following their return to McLaren in the 2015 season. Following this, Red Bull, which remained without an engine for the following seasons, after careful and numerous reflections, announces that it will be able to be independent in terms of the production of power units after having signed an agreement with Honda to exploit the technology of the Japanese house as regards the engines starting from 2022. The new division has been named Red Bull Powertrains Limited and the Austrian team will continue to run with Honda engines, also supplying them to the AlphaTauri. Christian Horner comments on this historic day thus:
"We have been discussing this topic with Honda for some time and after the FIA's decision to freeze the development of the power unit from 2022, we were finally able to reach an agreement regarding the continuation of the use of the hybrid power units made by Honda. . We are grateful for Honda's cooperation in this regard and for helping to ensure that both Red Bull Racing and Scuderia AlphaTauri continue to have competitive power units. The formation of Red Bull Powertrains Limited is a bold move by Red Bull, but it is one that we have decided to implement after careful and detailed analysis. We are aware of the enormous commitment required, but we believe that the creation of this new company is the most competitive option for both teams".
Helmut Marko also comments on this important decision by the Red Bull Racing team:
"This deal represents a significant step for Red Bull in its Formula 1 journey. We were understandably disappointed when Honda made the decision to leave the sport as an engine supplier, as our relationship yielded immediate successes, but we are grateful for their support in making this collaboration simple. Honda has invested significantly in hybrid technology to ensure the supply of competitive power units for both teams. We will bring the power unit division in-house and integrate the new facilities and personnel into our technology campus. In the meantime, we are fully focused on achieving the best possible results in what will be Honda's last season as Official Power Unit Supplier".
During the winter, the organizers of the Spanish Grand Prix make changes to the tenth corner of the Catalunya circuit, known as La Caixa, enlarging it at the exit, after the works carried out during the winter break. The new shape of the curve already recalls the one previously used between the 1991 and 2003 seasons. The change to the layout of the track was made to improve safety conditions in both car and motorbike races. The track now has a length of 4,675 km. Before the start of the World Championship, Liberty Media renewed its partnership with DHL, main sponsor of the Fastest Lap Award and the Fastest Pit Stop Award. The organizers of the new Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, initially scheduled for 28 November 2021, but then postponed by a week to accommodate the postponement of the Australian Grand Prix to the final part of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, present the Jeddah street circuit on which the event will take place. From the simulations carried out, the circuit is the fastest of all the street circuits where the Formula 1 World Championship has raced up to now, with an average speed of 252.8 km/h behind only the Monza circuit. With 6.175 km, which can be covered in an anti-clockwise direction, the circuit is positioned only behind the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium in terms of length, while the high number of corners, 27, 11 on the right and 16 on the left, means that the track is the one with the highest number of corners among all the circuits on the calendar. It also offers three potential Drag Reduction System zones for using the device. Tuesday 23 March 2021 François-Xavier Demaison, a former Volkswagen executive, becomes the new technical director of Williams. Demaison will assume overall responsibility for the technical operation of the business, including design and aerodynamics functions. Comments the new technical director of Williams, François-Xavier Demaison:
"I am very much looking forward to joining Williams Racing at this stage as they embark on an exciting journey to turn their performance around. It's going to be a big challenge but it's something I'm eager to start. They have a great group of talented people and I look forward to working with them and the senior management team to help set direction for the future and help the team achieve its ambitions".
And adds Jost Capito:
"We are delighted to welcome François-Xavier to the team as I was able to see firsthand his technical skills. His sporting achievements speak for themselves. Bringing someone of his caliber to our technical team - already experienced - will help drive the future direction of our operations and strengthen our team. I have no doubt that his knowledge will help us take another important step towards achieving our goal of returning to the top. At Williams we have an exciting challenge ahead of us and I can't wait to see François-Xavier contribute".
Meanwhile, again on Tuesday 23 March 2021, the owner of the Grove team, George Russell, became director of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association to replace Romain Grosjean, who left the top category at the end of 2020 to land in IndyCar. Russell joins Sebastian Vettel, president Alexander Wurz and Anastasia Fowle. The young English talent from Williams declares:
"It is an honor and a privilege to be named director of the GPDA. I appreciate the support of my fellow drivers in giving me this role and I recognize the responsibility it entails. Over its six decades of existence, the GPDA has been integral in sustaining and shaping the safety of Formula 1, for the sport and our fans. I am looking forward to the new challenges and opportunities together with Anastasia, Sebastian and Alex".
During this season, at least three experiments are planned to evaluate the effectiveness and potential of a new format that would introduce sprint races that would form the starting grid of the Grand Prix. The new format, which can be applied to various other races during 2022, would consist of a free practice session on Friday, followed by normal qualifying; on Saturday there will be a free practice session followed by the 100 km sprint race with free choice in terms of tire compounds with the starting grid drawn up on the basis of the previous day's qualifying, with points also up for grabs for the first three classified (in the order 3, 2 and 1); on Sunday the usual Grand Prix with free choice in terms of tire compounds to start with, with the starting grid drawn up on the basis of the order of arrival of the sprint race. On Monday 22 March 2021, McLaren announced the signing of 13-year-old American Ugo Ugochukwu, winner of the 2020 FIA karting championship. This season, Racing Point is changing its official name from BWT Racing Point F1 Team to Aston Martin Cognizant F1 Team, following a decision of entrepreneur Lawrence Stroll, owner of both the team and the car brand. The English team uses the Mercedes power unit. The young Canadian Lance Stroll, son of Lawrence, is confirmed as the driver for the third consecutive season in the team. At his side, in place of the Mexican Sergio Perez, the English team signs the 4-times world champion Sebastian Vettel, who is leaving Ferrari and is enthusiastic about this new adventure:
"There will be a bit of a learning curve in these first few races, it's a new team for me. Still getting to know everyone, still understanding how the AMR21 wants to be ridden and familiarizing myself with the team. I'm really excited to be at the start of this journey in Bahrain this weekend. Conditions were very interesting during testing. The high winds made it quite difficult to drive and we know tire degradation is always a key factor here. It should be an exciting race".
Renault also changes its official name: it is in fact renamed by Renault DP World F1 Team to Alpine F1 Team, as the parent company wishes to relaunch its Alpine sports car brand, as confirmed by the CEO of the Renault group, Luca de Meo:
"It's a big change, because Renault has been there for 43 years. It will remain on the single-seaters, but as an engine supplier, so it will be visible. We will be using F1 as a platform for the brand and the market for what we want to represent about the brand. Even if Renault is a glorious brand, Alpine is a brand that will marry even better with Formula 1".
The other big news of the transalpine team is the arrival of Fernando Alonso to team up with Esteban Ocon and replace the departing Daniel Ricciardo. The thirty-nine-year-old Spanish driver returns to Formula 1 after a two-year absence, returning to the team for the third time, after his experiences from 2002 to 2006 (the first year as a test driver, from 2003 as race driver) and from 2008 to 2009, winning two world titles, in 2005 and 2006. The Australian chooses to settle in McLaren alongside Lando Norris, explaining his choice thus:
"As everyone knows I made the decision before the season, a large part of the motivation lay in McLaren's competitiveness in 2019. In my opinion the Woking team made the most impressive change of pace of all the teams that season, by the way with very young drivers. Lando Norris was making his debut and Carlos Sainz didn't have many seasons behind him in Formula 1. In short, a veteran was missing in my eyes. Going to McLaren seemed like the right choice to me, all the elements were in place. I think they have enormous potential, which they have barely scratched the surface of. Now it's my turn to dig a little deeper and I'm thrilled about it".
Once the winter tests are over, Daniel Ricciardo admits that he is not yet fully comfortable with the car, and that it will need a period of adjustment:
"It's a difficult thing. You never want to admit that you're not riding to the limit yet, but I think the reality is that it takes a while to get to 100%. I'm getting close to it, but I'm not yet one with the car. I think that going from Red Bull to Renault and from Renault to McLaren braking is the aspect where there is the greatest need to adapt. I'm still trying to figure out what the limit of the machine is. It's probably just a mechanical feeling, given by things like the new car, the new pedals, the new positioning in the car. In general over the last couple of years it seems McLaren have had a good car under braking so I expect once I get into the rhythm I'll be fine and hopefully you will see some good overtaking from me again. Some even at the last minute".
The Woking team also decides to abandon the Renault supply of power units and agrees with Mercedes for a four-year contract, including an extension option. McLaren already used German engines in the past, between the 1995 and 2014 seasons, with which it won three Drivers' World Championships and one Constructors' World Championship. With the addition of McLaren, Mercedes became the official supplier of three teams. Said Zak Brown, managing director of McLaren Racing:
"This agreement is an important step forward in our long-term plans to return to success in Formula 1. Mercedes is a point of reference, both as a team and as a power unit, so it is natural to have relied on this partnership to lead our company into the next stage of our journey. This announcement is an important message to our investors, employees, partners and fans. We are committed to returning McLaren to the pinnacle of Formula 1”.
As we well know, during 2020 Scuderia Ferrari chose not to renew Sebastian Vettel's contract, which expired at the end of last season, and welcomed the Spaniard Carlos Sainz Jr., who arrives in Maranello after an excellent two years in McLaren. At his side remains the Monegasque born in 1997 Charles Leclerc, in his third season in the team and looking for a relaunch after a very complicated 2020 for the Maranello team:
"We certainly feel the responsibility to prove something, but we have never stopped feeling the responsibility. When it comes to Ferrari you have to win, this was also true last year. We certainly want to demonstrate, but we also need to be realistic. Last year was very difficult. We think we have made some progress this year but we will see it on Saturday in qualifying when everyone is full gas. It is too complicated to say with what result I would be satisfied. Honestly it has always been very difficult for us to understand where we are. If we look at the tests we don't understand much, because we don't know how much petrol the others put in and how much they pushed. I would wait for Saturday after qualifying to tell you what I would be satisfied with. On our part, there was no shortage of work or motivation. We put everything in. How much we have improved compared to the others we don't know yet".
Speaking on the eve of the Bahrain Grand Prix, Charles Leclerc says:
"We try to arrive as prepared as possible. I think this Ferrari, compared to last year, is better in balance and in the way it handles in the various parts of the corner. I'm referring to both the entry and exit of the curves. In general it is easier to drive. And then we also had some positive signs on the power unit, but from this point of view we'll have to wait for Saturday, when we'll push hard for Q3. Last year in Bahrain didn't go great. It was a difficult time for the team, I was motivated to achieve great results but this led to negative aggression. I will certainly try not to make these mistakes again. With Carlos we are more or less of the same age, we have the same interests, we get along very well but it was the same with Sebastian, so I don't want to compare them. If it will be a year where I still have to take risks? I don't know, let's wait for Saturday and we'll see. I think there are positive signs from the tests. I will try to choose the battles to fight, unlike last year. It happened with Red Bull, which we couldn't keep up with, but let's not forget that this aggressiveness has also led to great results".
For his part, however, Sebastian Vettel, making his debut with Aston Martin, says he is confident he can get a good result in Bahrain:
"I am confident that we will be in a decent position, we hope to use the time available to sort out the problems and be ready for the race. Over time we will sort everything out and at the moment that's okay. It's impossible to make predictions, we'll know more on Saturday. The big favorites are Mercedes and Red Bull but I imagine there will be a close battle behind them. There are no shortcuts, but there are several things you can prepare and we have done it, for this I feel and we feel ready. Of course, not everything went smoothly but we'll see tomorrow, with everyone in the usual conditions, something that didn't happen during the tests, because even an hour's difference changed everything. It'll take some time to get used to everything, but that doesn't mean it's impossible to get it right sooner. The one-hour free practice? They are a disadvantage for everyone, but at the same time it is not a disadvantage for anyone since the situation is the same for everyone. If Aston Martin's environment is more similar to that of Ferrari or Red Bull? I'd say it looks like the Red Bull one. I will certainly drink less espresso, eat less pizza and more beans".
And his teammate, Lance Stroll, adds:
"We learned many things in the tests, unfortunately we had many difficulties, especially Sebastian, who was unable to lap as planned on his schedule. But we still collected a lot of data and learned a lot. The conditions were complicated due to the wind and it seems that these conditions are repeated over the weekend. I think the team was already in an excellent position before, in 2020 we were very competitive on various circuits and this gives us enthusiasm for 2021".
Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, Haas drivers since 2016 and 2017 respectively, leave the team at the end of 2020. The French driver said at the end of the 2020 season:
"The last chapter is done and the book is finished. I've been with Haas since day one. Five years in which we have gone through ups and downs, collected 110 points in 92 races and it has been worth it. I learned a lot, improved to be a better driver as well as a better man. I hope I have also helped people in the team to believe in themselves. This is probably the biggest pride, even more than the crazy first races in 2016 or the fourth place at the Austrian Grand Prix 2018. I wish all the best in the future for the team. Romein".
In their place, two drivers who took part in the 2020 Formula 2 championship were hired, the Russian Nikita Mazepin and the German Mick Schumacher, outgoing champion of the minor category, son of seven-times World Champion Michael Schumacher, as well as grandson of Ralf Schumacher .
"I thank the Ferrari Academy who trusted me and put me in a position to express my potential to the fullest, obviously also the Haas team who took me on board, the owner Gene, the team principal Guenther Steiner and all those who were involved. I always believed that I would be able to fulfill my dream of making it to Formula 1. I thank everyone who made this possible and I can't wait to get to work with my new team and all the fans for their support. I've always loved racing. Debuting is a great feeling, I'm enthusiastic. We are happy to start tomorrow. I've tried many sports, like soccer and ice hockey, but nothing has given me the same feeling as competing. I never really wanted to do anything else and I followed a professional path that I also took on the advice of my father. Landing in Haas? For me it was very important to get to know the team well and I think I succeeded. Knowing the members of the team is important, I see them very motivated and this also motivates me to give something more. All this is good also in view of the first race. Test? It's a little disappointing that we only shot a day and a half, but we did what we could with the time we had. We need to take what we've learned and use it this weekend".
The Ferrari team principal, Mattia Binotto, was also satisfied:
"Mick is a very talented youngster and in the American team he will have the opportunity to grow gradually, supported by the Ferrari Driver Academy as has happened in recent years. His relationship with Ferrari is long-term and we will constantly follow his progress, both as a driver and as a man. Mick's arrival in Formula 1 represents yet another success of the FDA as a development program for young drivers and we can't wait to see him in action".
Nikita Mazepin chooses 9 as the race number, last used by the Swede Marcus Ericsson in the 2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, while Schumacher chooses 47, last used by the Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne in the 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix.
"Becoming a Formula 1 driver is a lifelong dream come true for me. I really appreciate the trust placed in me by Gene Haas, Guenther Steiner and the whole team. They are giving a young driver an opportunity and I thank them. I am looking forward to starting our relationship together, both on and off the track, and of course I am eager to continue proving my skills after a good season in Formula 2. I can't wait to get started. I started racing, I drove with a white helmet. Then my father painted my helmet with the colors of Michael Schumacher's. I have always admired his successes, I would say that he is my idol and my source of inspiration. Some riders in the paddock are very difficult to have around. But Mick is the exact opposite. I respect him as a rider and I like him as a person. I think for rookies it's more difficult, because there are fewer test days and free practice. We must search to make the most of the time available also because we don't make the rules".
Mazepin will be forced to race as a neutral athlete using the RAF (Russian Automobile Federation) designation to comply with the restrictions imposed by the Lausanne CAS after the state doping ruling involving the Russian anti-doping agency. AlphaTauri confirms Pierre Gasly and announces the signing of Japanese Yuki Tsunoda, a member of the Red Bull Junior Team and Honda's Young Driver Programme. The Japanese driver finished third in the Formula 2 championship in the 2020 season and is making his debut in the top category, replacing Daniil Kvjat, who becomes reserve driver for Alpine. Tsunoda chose 22 as his race number, last used by Jenson Button in the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix. He is the first Japanese to race in the top formula since the 2014 season, when Kamui Kobayashi drove for former Malaysian team Caterham. He is also the first driver born in the 2000s to take part in a Formula 1 world championship. These are Tsunoda's first words, after the announcement of his move to AlphaTauri:
"Like most drivers, my goal has always been to race in Formula 1, so I'm delighted with this news. I want to thank Scuderia AlphaTauri, Red Bull and Dr. Marko for giving me this opportunity and of course , also Honda for supporting me so far in my career, giving me the great opportunity to race in Europe. Thanks also to the teams I raced with to get to this point, especially Carlin, a team with whom I learned so much that I realize that next year I will carry with me the hopes of many Japanese F1 fans and I will do my best for them too”.
Williams confirms both team drivers, George Russell and Nicholas Latifi, as well as Briton Dan Ticktum as test driver, who said:
"I am very happy to continue my partnership with Williams as a test driver. It will be fun to have more trackside time than in 2020 and to be more involved in the team's work. I look forward to continuing my support in the simulation and I am very focused for this year. I still have a lot of work to do as my season hasn't started, but I'm privileged and very happy as always to be representing Williams".
And speaking of the first Grand Prix of the season, George Russell adds:
"I'm excited to start the season and get back on track. We were in Bahrain for testing a couple of weeks ago, I've had a lot of training in the sun and I'm feeling ready and motivated for the upcoming season. Bahrain is a difficult circuit with a rough surface and some difficult corners, especially corners nine and ten, which are tricky for the drivers. But equally, running at night is beautiful. Even though it's a newer circuit, there's a special atmosphere here, it's a nice track to race on. As always, we will do our best and I can't wait to get back to racing. We are as prepared as possible, three days are not enough. The team did their best, I can't wait to race to see everyone's results. The role of director of the GPDA? First of all I wanted to hire him because I think the drivers union has done very important things for Formula 1. Every time we get together we talk about safety issues and how to improve this sport. In 2020 it was more difficult for logistical reasons, but I always wanted to express my opinions. I think it's important for riders to have a voice. Looking ahead, I hope to have a good relationship with the younger ones, while Sebastian Vettel can represent the older ones".
Williams team principal Simon Roberts adds:
"It is also great for us to continue working with Dan in 2021 as well. He is a talented young driver, as evidenced by his successes in Macau and in his impressive rookie season in F2 last year. We got to see his simulator skills firsthand and Dan played a big part in helping with the development of the car as well as becoming a respected member within the team. We can't wait to see him grow throughout 2021".
The approach to the second season in Formula 1 is not easy for Nicholas Latifi, who says:
"It's difficult to judge the performance of the tests, there was a lot of wind with different directions in the only day I had available. I think everyone has struggled in terms of performance, we hope to have stable conditions; but apparently this will not be the case and therefore it will be difficult to evaluate the car's performance. I mostly focus on picking up where I left off. And for this year I want to improve in qualifying: I've never lived up to my potential and that of the car, I can do much more".
But speaking of the Bahrain Grand Prix, he adds:
"It goes without saying that I'm super excited for the first race of the year! Pre-season has obviously been a bit different to normal with shorter tests, I've only had one day to prepare for this race, so I'm looking forward to getting back on track for real! I know the guys at the factory have put up with an enormous amount of hard work, even here in the pits they are sweating to get the car right. I am incredibly excited and motivated to start the new season and see what kind of progress we can make this year".
Same choice for Alfa Romeo Racing, with veteran Kimi Raikkonen and Italian Antonio Giovinazzi both confirmed by the Swiss team. The pre-season has been positive and encouraging, but this is not enough to delude the Finn:
"I'm not looking at the times of the three days we spent here two weeks ago, because there's no point in trying to get an idea of what to expect. Pretty soon on Saturday, we'll get an indication of where everyone is and what kind of battles we're going to have this year. For now, we just have to focus on our work, on improving what we did in testing and making the most of every opportunity. The first race of the season is always a special moment, especially as I have missed racing. It's good to be back in the car for testing but what makes this sport fun is wheel-to-wheel driving and you only have it in races. I'm happy but I don't know how the others fared in the tests, do you know that? You have to guess, like you do. Sure, the sensations are good but let's see if we'll be really happy on Saturday. The car proved reliable and things went smoothly, we had no red flags. We managed to get our laps going the race distance. Clearly it took more time to try new things but these days we did our best. But I think this applies to everyone, even if some have had more problems than us. Physically I'm fine, even if it's much easier to start the season here, with fewer corners there's less pressure on my neck. The power unit? There is certainly more horsepower, it's a step forward compared to 2020, but we expect the other manufacturers to have improved as well. It's a step in the right direction, but so is the car. In any case, I doubt that 2021 will affect my future, obviously it's more fun for riders to have better results".
The Italian, on the other hand, is expected to have an important season, in which he will have to confirm the progress shown in the first two seasons:
"I am really excited to start a new season. My third full year in the sport, I feel ready, both in body and mind. I can't wait to experience the sensations of the race weekend once again. I'm not making any predictions on where we will be compared to our rivals, but I am confident we can have a good season. As a driver I have to grow, I want to take another step forward in this third season. I will have more experience, I will be able to focus on my work and everything will seem more normal. I have to improve in many sectors, first of all the race pace, but you can always give more in qualifying too. Last year I was very good on the first lap, at the start, but also from this point of view I think we can always improve. I can still grow even by watching what Kimi does, which remains a great point of reference. The power unit is quite clear that it has improved, also looking at the data and comparing them with those of Bahrain last year. But I agree with Kimi, I think our car has also improved from a driving point of view, I found it simpler".
Sergio Pérez, after leaving Racing Point at the end of the previous season, despite signing a contract extension with the English team in 2019, was hired by Red Bull to replace Alexander Albon, who had had a better season than that of 2019, but not up to the expectations of the Austrian team. However, Albon remains as the team's third driver. Red Bull arrives at the starting line with great ambitions in a world championship key and a discreet optimism, as can also be seen from the words of Max Verstappen:
"I am always optimistic and ready to go. As far as the car is concerned, the test was positive, this is not a guarantee that everything will immediately go well starting from the first race weekend. But at least we understood the car well and we hope to be competitive. Better sensations? The way we managed to drive the car. It's been pretty predictable, even under changing conditions. It was nice to drive, but it also has to be fast. Faster than Mercedes? It must be faster than all the others. I am very enthusiastic, I have worked a lot in recent months together with the team to get back up to speed. It's time to go and start this season, I'll try to improve race after race, I can't wait for Sunday. The RB16B is one of the best cars I've ever driven in Formula 1, it really looks like the most competitive. He has great potential, but you also have to see the performance of the others. My goal is to exploit the potential of the car to 100%. Having ridden so little in testing and with different conditions from day to day, it made it very difficult to learn anything from the other rider. There were huge differences. We know, however, that Verstappen is very strong, he will be a great point of reference for me. I'll start to see what it does when we ride in the same conditions".
And even the principal team of Red Bull, Christian Horner, admits:
"There's no denying that after the successful three-day test in Bahrain, fans expect us to end Mercedes' dominance in Formula 1. But we had several meetings within the team after the test and it's fair to say we're a little more cautious on the subject. We cannot underestimate the scale of the challenge facing us on many fronts. It's clear that Mercedes are trying to take some of the pressure off them and give it to us, it's part of the game. But the reality is that they are the reigning seven-time world champions: it is up to us to close the gap and put the fight to bear. We know that Mercedes hasn't won by chance in the last seven years. They are a quality and classy team, they will be motivated to return to the top. We saw it a couple of years ago, when they didn't go well in testing but then destroyed the competition in Melbourne. In 2020 they experienced one of their most dominant seasons and this year's car is the evolution of last year's. Let's see where we'll be in Bahrain and then we'll draw the first conclusions. You can't take anything for granted, especially after the tests".
Toyoharu Tanabe, Honda's manager for Formula 1, is not hiding on the eve of the first free practice sessions of the Bahrain Grand Prix. The Japanese engineer points out that the RA621H is a practically completely new engine compared to the previous one:
"We will take it one race at a time as we continue to put our efforts towards our goal in the last season in Formula 1, which is to win the world championship. The new power unit has more power, a lower center of gravity and is more compact overall. This has allowed the teams we supply to obtain benefits also at the chassis level. We feel ready on all fronts".
Adds Max Verstappen, in this regard:
"We had an ideal test session, the best since I've been racing in Formula 1. The feeling is that the power unit and the car have improved both in terms of performance over one lap and in terms of race pace. I can't wait to get to Q3 on Saturday to push hard with the car out of gas. There we will discover exactly our worth. I think we are in a better position than in 2020, that's what every rider hopes for. It's always difficult to say where and how much we have improved, the most important thing is that the car always felt quite predictable even with the changes in the wind. I'm always confident, let's say I don't think we'll be last (laughs, ed). Hardest moment in your career? There were annoying moments, but what is difficult? Maybe in São Paulo in 2018, when they kicked me out, but is it a difficult time? There are far more difficult things in life. But passion pays you back for everything, otherwise I wouldn't be here. It doesn't matter to say that you are a favorite, what matters is the track, you have to concentrate on your work, keeping calm and concentrated. The rest is just a distraction, it leads nowhere".
Verstappen also talks about the working relationship with Sergio Perez:
"More than me being happy, Checo's team must be happy. Now that we're closer, you can understand how it works: the indications we're giving are similar and go in the right direction. It's great to see how he works and to understand his past experiences. I hope that as a team we can score a lot of points and put pressure on Mercedes. How come my teammates almost never beat me in qualifying? It's not easy to get results, everyone pushes to the limit. Sometimes my partner was close, others not so, can't comment. I can only say that I have improved in my experience and general understanding of a car. Above all, I learned to ride it to the limit in qualifying, but there are things that can be done even better".
The reigning World Champion team, Mercedes, presents itself with the same line-up as in recent years, with seven-times World Champion Lewis Hamilton and Finn Valtteri Bottas, respectively in the team since 2013 and 2017. Toto Wolff also remains at the command of the Brackley stable, with the aim once again of confirming themselves as champions. During the pre-season tests, however, the new W12 appeared a bit difficult to govern and left a few too many difficulties at the end of the three days of testing. Toto Wolff immediately appears concerned:
"We've spent a lot of time in Bahrain recently and with mixed success, overall it's been a tough three days of testing for us. The W12 wasn't as stable, predictable or planted as some of our rivals. Red Bull looked strong, both on long runs and short stints. But as always in testing it's hard to be sure of true performance. The only thing we know for sure is that we have to demonstrate our ability to react. From the moment testing ended we put our heads down and started to figure out how we could come back stronger in Bahrain. While these cars share some parts with previous versions, there were also significant changes to interpret. We've also had to change the way we work in response to the budget cap. But as we've discovered in the past, it's from the tough times that you learn the most. The greatest strengths of this team are our people and our values. After a tough test, I know that we can react more strongly. I can't wait to start this new season, see the progress we can make and how we fare in Bahrain".
Even more pessimistic seems to be the Chief Strategist of the Mercedes team, James Vowles:
"There are a lot of unknowns, no one in the paddock can pinpoint exactly where everyone is. But there are some trends that have emerged. I would say Red Bull is ahead in terms of performance. I am the reference of the class. Will we have a balanced season? I would say yes, Red Bull is a fierce opponent. He has a strong package and has clearly come out of the blocks very quickly. The result of this will be that over the course of the season, as we move over the different types of layouts, we will swing back and forth with respect to them. However, I don't think we'll find all the missing performances or that we'll be ahead of them".
Reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton says on the eve of the Bahrain Grand Prix:
"We are in the best possible condition, considering we have only had three days of testing. We tried to analyze the numbers, collecting a lot of data for the weekend, but all the teams did it. I come here with optimism. Let's see what our threat will be this year. It's unknown at the moment, but I would say there are many strong teams. The battle will be closer. We have tried to understand the testing problems, but we are only in the initial stages of the season. Everyone here has worked, in the pits and in the factory, to try and correct the normal problems that occur every time you change cars or regulations. I have full confidence that everyone worked to their fullest. But we are aware that it will be challenging to bring the car to the level we want".
Regarding human rights in Bahrain, Lewis Hamilton is clear:
"I try to educate myself on what is happening in the world. It certainly gave me great responsibility not to remain silent as some might want me to do. Kneeling was good for letting the black community know that I'm on their side. It's great to see the sport and my team moving towards inclusion. When young people look at us they may ask their parents why we kneel, and this can lead to dialogue. I don't choose where we go to run, but I try to take steps to understand the situation. We visit so many countries, there are problems all over the world, but we shouldn't go to these countries ignoring what's going on. We can't get here, have fun and then leave".
Starting this season, for the first time, two car manufacturers will supply both the safety car and the medical car during the Grands Prix. In addition to Mercedes, which has held this role since 1996, the FIA signs an agreement with the British car manufacturer Aston Martin. The safety cars supplied by Mercedes have a red color, unlike the gray one used in previous seasons, while those supplied by Aston Martin have a green color. For this race, the Federation establishes the car manufacturer Aston Martin as the supplier of both safety cars. German Bernd Maylander confirms his commitment as safety car driver for the 22nd consecutive season, while South African Alan van der Merwe remains the medical car driver he has held since 2009. Former Formula 1 driver Emanuele Pirro is appointed assistant commissioner for the race. The Italian has performed this function on several occasions in the past, most recently in the first edition of the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix held in 2020. Friday 26 March 2021 we got on track for the first free practice session, lasting 60 minutes, unlike the 90 minutes until last season, with a very high temperature, 36 °C in the air and a good 44 °C for the asphalt. Fernando Alonso was the first to take to the track, followed by most of the group, to complete the installation lap. Initially only Gasly, Russell, the two Red Bulls and the two Mercedes remain in the pits. The track is still quite dirty, despite a free practice session by Formula 2 having just been held, and in fact Ocon immediately risks losing control of the car in turn 4. A few minutes later the first official times arrived, again quite high compared to the tests, with Lando Norris in the lead ahead of Ricciardo, Ocon, Latifi and Alonso. The young Englishman's time was beaten in series by Perez, Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen, who took the lead with a time of 1'32"591, on the Soft tyre. Sebastian Vettel finished his first lap in P7, 1.3 seconds behind the leader, again on the soft tyre.
Lewis Hamilton improves and returns to the lead with over 0.3 seconds ahead of the Dutchman. Little activity so far for Ferrari, just an installation lap before setting the first time reference, after more than 20 minutes, with Carlos Sainz Jr. who moves to P7, immediately ousted by teammate Leclerc who gets the fifth provisional time. First half was also valid for Mick Schumacher, in P16 immediately behind Russell. Tsunoda also improves as he slips between Sainz and Vettel, in P9. In the middle of the session the top 3 is made up of Hamilton, Verstappen and Bottas. The second part of the session opens with Lando Norris who puts in a fearsome lap on the soft tire and takes the lead thanks to a time of 1'31"897. Immediately afterwards, Alonso also improved, in P11, and above all the two Ferraris, respectively in P2 with Leclerc, 0.096 seconds behind Norris' McLaren, and in P4 with Sainz Jr., also behind Lewis Hamilton. Both are overtaken by Gasly, who climbs to P3 with his AlphaTauri. Finally, the two Mercedes of Hamilton are also relaunched, who improves, but without being able to overtake Norris by just 0.024 seconds, and Bottas, who instead manages to take the lead. However, Max Verstappen arrived and overtook him to set the best time in 1'31"394, almost 0.3 seconds better than the Finn. It therefore ends with the Dutchman leading his Red Bull RB16B in front of everyone, confirming the indications of the pre-season tests, but with a Mercedes that seems to have solved most of the problems, with Valtteri Bottas in P2 at 0.298 seconds from Verstappen. The Finn worked hard on the set-up by changing the torsion bar and immediately did better than Hamilton who finished fourth 0.527 seconds behind Max Verstappen, also leaving 0.3 seconds to his teammate. The W12 already looks better than the difficult-to-drive car seen in testing, but it's still not quite right. Christian Horner, team principal of Red Bull Racing, is satisfied but without letting his guard down too much:
"It's always nice to see your car in front of everyone, but buying a Mercedes seems threatening. We understood what the RB16's problems were in 2020 and corrected them through CFD simulations, obtaining the RB16-B, a car that responds immediately to the set-up modifications we decide to set and which does not reserve nasty surprises once it gets on track. It is also interesting to note that the competitors are also raising the rake angle at the rear, a philosophy that we are the first to espouse. Perhaps the expertise accumulated on the subject over the years will come in handy".
While Toto Wolff confirms the impressions he had after the tests, without however losing determination and faith in the team:
"Formula 1 is no different from other sports, where you oscillate between depression and enthusiasm. The usual thing is happening here. When things go well then it seems that the World Cup is immediately ours. When, on the other hand, there are non-positive days, then you start looking at the data and thinking about how to recover. There's nothing you can do about it, that's how it works. And if we're behind, then we just need to catch up and do a good job. If instead we are more or less on the same pace, which I would consider perhaps the best possible scenario for us today, then we are ready to fight with another great team".
Wolff himself tries to explain the gap that Red Bull seems to have filled:
"I think we have probably suffered the change in regulations more than the teams that have a high rake. And Red Bull has been following this concept for many years. It was perhaps more difficult for us to recover some of the lost downforce. But so far, from what I've seen, there could be a really tough fight between us. For my part I hope so: this is what the fans want to see, this is what we would like to give them. Red Bull is a formidable team, with people who work well. They won four championships before hybrid power units arrived, without a doubt they are the strongest opponents".
An excellent Lando Norris slipped between the two Mercedes in third for McLaren: the young Englishman brought his MCL35 M in front of the World Champion by only 0.024 seconds, confirming that the change with the Mercedes power unit was perfect on the car Woking. Charles Leclerc also performed well: the Monegasque placed the SF21 in P5 with a time of 1'31"993, just 0.072 seconds behind Hamilton, complaining of a bit of oversteer, while Carlos Sainz Jr., in P8, argued with the understeer of the SF21 and pays 0.4 seconds behind his teammate. Sergio Perez is in P6, 0.6 seconds behind Verstappen. Positive Pierre Gasly, in P7 with the AlphaTauri AT02: the Frenchman preceded Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo, in P9 with the second McLaren.To close the top ten is Antonio Giovinazzi with Alfa Romeo.Kimi Raikkonen fits right behind the Italian driver, confirming that the sensations of the tests, regarding the C41, are of a car born well and easy to drive. The Aston Martin did not impress: Sebastian Vettel p12 to 1.7 seconds from the lead. The AMR21 has some problems as Lance Stroll has followed the four-times World Champion. Yuki Tsunoda is the fastest rookie : Japanese with AlphaTau ri looks good in Formula 1, even if with a still high gap from Gasly. The Alpine is not impressive, debuting with Esteban Ocon ahead of Fernando Alonso. The Enstone team worked hard on the hard tires and did not impress on the soft tires. Williams pulled out of the back row with George Russell in P17, ahead of Nicholas Latifi by a couple of tenths of a second. Haas closes the times table: Mick Schumacher showed up well because he left Nikita Mazepin 0.4 seconds behind, the maximum possible with a non-evolved car. At the end of this first practice session, the FIA placed the sensors outside the fourth corner to make the drivers respect the track limits, due to the cancellation of the lap time. The restriction is therefore applied starting from the second free practice session on Friday. The second session features better weather conditions, a good 15°C cooler, and takes place in the evening, at the same time as the Bahrain Grand Prix, and everyone, except Sergio Perez, immediately gets on track for a job which promises to be frenetic. Lewis Hamilton sets the first significant time, in 1'31"647, on the medium tyre, ahead of Verstappen and Sainz Jr., but his time trial is also the first to be canceled thanks to the sensors in turn 4. Bottas then takes off, with the other Mercedes, which however aborts the first attempt due to an error. On the other hand, the second attempt that takes him to the lead, again with medium tyres, goes well. Hamilton responds again, a few minutes later, lowering the Finn's reference by more than 0.2 seconds, while compatriot Kimi Raikkonen goes off the track at turn 2, losing the rear and damaging the front wing and right front suspension.
The first to embark on the actual qualifying simulation is George Russell, followed by Vettel and the two AlphaTaurus. The single-seaters from Faenza are the best, placing themselves in P2 and P3 respectively with Tsunoda and Gasly. The Ferrari drivers then launched, followed by the Mercedes, Norris and Verstappen. The latter signs the best reference, in 1'30"847, beating the English MCL35M by less than a tenth of a second. Then Hamilton, Sainz and Bottas followed. Instead, Leclerc makes a mistake at turn 4 and sets a high time. With about 20 minutes to go, the team's work concentrated on simulating race pace. Everyone on the track with medium tyres, except Giovinazzi who opted for the hard tyre. The attack times of Verstappen and Hamilton are similar, with a fairly pronounced degradation that already appears after a few laps. On the other hand, Sainz's Ferrari is slower, which however shows good consistency in the times over the distance. Perez and Bottas struggle more than their respective teammates, especially the latter, who lets himself go on the radio to an eloquent message:
"The feeling is terrible".
And then again:
Excellent simulation instead for the AlphaTauri, fast and constant with both drivers. The session ended once again with Max Verstappen and his Red Bull in the lead, confirming the good signs we've had so far. Even Sergio Perez, despite some adaptation difficulties, especially on the qualifying lap which leaves him in P6, confirms his good impressions:
"It's great to finally participate in a race weekend and I'm happy with how things are going so far. I'm settling in well and I'm making several steps forward. If I had to sum up today, I'd say that I have a bit of work to do in qualifying set-up, because over the flying lap I don't yet have 100% feeling with the single-seater and I still have to learn to understand it. But in the long run I'm more comfortable and I think he has good pace, that's certainly positive. I think we have some work to do with the soft tyre, there is still room for improvement in that respect, but the car is performing well, we have good pace and we will all be quite close in qualifying, we need to make sure to get a good starting position and have a positive start to the season".
Remarkable performance by Lando Norris, even in second position, but the young British driver doesn't want to delude himself too much:
"I think it's pretty clear what's going to happen tomorrow. The first four cars (Mercedes and Red Bull) will be ahead of us, behind it seems that there is a very close battle, even if we were a little ahead today. But maybe it's because we showed a little more than the others. On Saturday I think we will be back in the positions that we are expected to have. I had good sensations in the car. However, some areas did not give such good sensations. There is room for improvement there. If we can do it tomorrow I'll be happy. That will be our job".
Lando Norris had the satisfaction of leaving Lewis Hamilton behind: the World Champion gave the impression of being at ease with the medium tyres, while he struggled more with the softs and remains convinced that Red Bull is more performing right now:
"During the tests we had problems with tires and downforce, critical issues that led to changes in terms of balance. This weekend we have improved further but the car is still not perfect. We are working on it, we have a great team, and we have a lot of room for improvement. Are we surprised at these results? I wouldn't say, we thought Red Bull was fast, maybe even faster. At the moment he is ahead of everyone, but McLaren was also very fast and it will be interesting to see how he goes tomorrow and in the race".
A little more worried Valtteri Bottas, who however does not lose hope of being able to do well:
"The car was undriveable at certain moments, but let's not forget that it's Friday and that's why we do free practice. Where will we meet for Sunday's race? I would say we are in the fray. McLaren seems really strong, Red Bull is going as we expected. I don't think we're the fastest, but we're not that far either".
Between the two drivers of the Brackley team we find the first Ferrari, that of Carlos Sainz Jr., who despite the positive performance is well aware of where to look for improvements for the rest of the weekend:
"We raced in different conditions: the wind changed from FP1 to the second session. The balance of the car was at the limit, it was complicated on the track. I felt better in the long run, even if the Red Bulls have a bit more pace than the others. In the qualifying simulation, on the other hand, we are all close. I'm still a bit missing understanding how the car adapts to the different conditions. In McLaren, as soon as the wind changed, I knew how the car would behave. When you change teams, you never know how the car will react to a change in conditions. Always stay a little below the limit of the car. I'm adapting to my riding, the situation is improving, but the wind is a variable and we risk having to start from scratch. We need patience, we work one step at a time to understand where to improve".
Daniel Ricciardo closes the top six with the second McLaren, slightly behind his teammate, but is moderately confident:
"I thought having an hour-long session instead of ninety minutes meant it would be a little easier. It was actually quite chaotic. I think it's lucky that we were here a couple of weeks ago so we were able to build momentum again. I think you have to make the most of the time on the track. I still want to find some things in the car and of course in myself. In FP2 I made a few steps forward, but I hope to find another step tomorrow to get where I want to be".
The AlphaTauri is surprising, placing both cars in the top ten. Rookie Yuki Tsunoda scored the seventh fastest time, and he doesn't hide his satisfaction:
"It was a great day. I experienced my first car practice sessions as a Formula 1 driver and it's really exciting. I think my passion came through today and I'm looking forward to showing my full potential behind the wheel in tomorrow's qualifying. We have a lot of pace this weekend and I'm eager to see how I do in my first qualifying session tomorrow. I'm still learning a lot and it's only my first race weekend, so I don't want to put too much pressure on myself".
Pierre Gasly closes behind his teammate, but he too is happy at the end of the first day:
"I think it was a good start to the weekend, the car was strong in both sessions and I'm happy with that. In FP2 we couldn't put everything together for a good flying lap, but overall I think there are a lot of positives to take from today. I'm eager to see what we can do in qualifying tomorrow. The high fuel long run, which we completed in preparation for the race, gave us very encouraging signs, but it's only the first day, so we don't want to go too far. We will fine-tune everything tonight with the engineers and I think we will be in a good position for tomorrow. I hope we can get into Q3 in qualifying, that's our goal, and if we succeed we should be able to fight for the points zone in the race".
Between the two AlphaTauri drivers is the first of the two Aston Martins, that of Lance Stroll, a little more at ease today than his teammate:
"It was great to be back in the car today. Today was the first real indication of everyone's performance and you can see that in the scrum pack we are indeed all there. The track conditions were a bit difficult in strong winds, as we also found in testing. Today's free practice also reminded me how important it is to search and investigate the small but decisive details. We will work hard tonight and examine all the data to find improvements to the car".
Sebastian Vettel, on the other hand, seemed to be in a bit more difficulty, also due to the few hours of practice available so far. But the German driver is not alarmist:
"It's very difficult, with less time available in the two practice sessions. But we were able to get several results. Every lap I complete helps me get more used to the car, by doing so I am able to find more pace. The car was very promising in some corners and less so in others, but this is to be expected as we are just at the start of the season. We will work tonight to find a better balance. As you can see, in the scrum pack the fight is close and everyone is improving fast, but I hope we can have our say".
The Italian Antonio Giovinazzi was unable to confirm the top ten of the morning, but he still showed that he has a good feeling with his car and is therefore positive in view of qualifying and the race:
"It's nice to see such a small gap between everyone, it will be nice tomorrow. Being so close you need the perfect lap to gain positions. From our point of view we are happy. Even the race pace wasn't bad. What we saw in the tests we also saw here in the first weekend. Rear management? Yes, it was difficult. The conditions are different from the tests, it's hot. The rear therefore suffers, but it's the same for everyone. Let's see on Sunday, we expect even more difficult conditions. Top ten goals? Yes, I confirm it".
The first weekend of the 2021 season started with a bang for Kimi Raikkonen: the Finn, after having had an excellent FP1, finishing in P11, ended up spinning at the beginning of the evening session.
"This was a regular first day, in which we were able to try various things. Even though the conditions were very different from what we experienced in testing, the feeling in the car was similar. This allowed us to pick up where we left off two weeks ago. We had a solid start and were able to work on the set-up. Of course, losing some time to the crash wasn't ideal, but we already have so much data from testing that it wasn't a big setback. We can't wait to see where we stand tomorrow - we still have a few things to refine tonight, but we should be good to go".
In the lower part of the standings Williams seems to have overtaken Haas, however showing itself to be very sensitive to wind variations. However, George Russell has good impressions:
"It was difficult today and I think the track temperature was around 48°C at some points in FP1. It's incredibly hot. For FP2 the car felt quite good and our pace was better than expected in these gusts of winds: I was pleasantly surprised by that. In the same way, the gusts are making a difference at the moment, they have a huge effect on everyone's performance and I think our car suffers more than others. Fingers crossed that tomorrow and Sunday it will be calm or, if there really must be wind, at least that it is in a favorable direction. I think it will be a long and difficult race, but I can't wait to face it".
Nicholas Latifi blamed the difficult conditions in which we took to the track today a little more:
"I confirm, today we found tough conditions. It was very difficult to drive, I struggled to find the right balance with the car. We had several problems in the two practice sessions. In FP1 it was just a little problem that we tried to solve, but we went too far in the opposite direction. I was not satisfied with FP2, both with a low fuel level and with a lot of petrol, so we have a lot of work to do tonight".
Haas seems to be in trouble, and in all likelihood will continue to be in the rest of the season. The two riders, both rookies, focused more on personal sensations and on their learning process. Mick Schumacher says, at the end of FP2:
"I felt comfortable in the car. This is a good sign and shows that we have done enough to prepare me and be ready to get in the car and be fine. I know there is still a lot to improve from my point of view, as a driver I know I have the tools to improve my lap time. I will work hard on myself to keep improving and learning".
And also Nikita Mazepin is of the same idea:
"It was special for me to take part in the first two sessions of FP1 and FP2. This fact alone is in itself very positive. From a technical point of view, however, the day was quite difficult. There was a lot of wind and it wasn't particularly constant. Today it was about being able to get the most out of the experience and that's what happened".
In the night between Friday and Saturday, the AlphaTauri, respecting the time limit established by the regulation, exploits, without receiving penalties, the first of the two possibilities granted for the operations to be carried out on the cars, dismantling the PU of Tsunoda's car for a suspected water pressure problem. Saturday 27 March 2021 we are back on track for the third free practice session, with scorching temperatures, 42 °C for the air and even 52 °C for the asphalt. Shortly before the start of the track activity, the meeting between the team principals of all the teams, the president of the FIA, Jean Todt, and the CEO of Liberty Media, Stefano Domenicali, ended with the subject of the speech being sprint races. Shortly after, the first to take to the track was Yuki Tsunoda, without setting a valid time, but only to check that everything was in order after the intervention of the mechanics. After ten minutes Valtteri Bottas took to the track with soft tyres; However, the Finn still showed some difficulties, aborting the first pass due to a mistake in turn 1, and closing a second attempt with various imperfections. Gradually, the other drivers also took to the track, with the best provisional time set by Lewis Hamilton in 1'32"933. Shortly after, Charles Leclerc caused the first yellow flag of the day, for a spin in turn 2. The Monegasque, however, managed to restart without consequences. The track remains in complex conditions to manage, and we see numerous imperfections on the part of many drivers, who are struggling to put together a clean lap. The first real time of the day is set once by Red Bull, which sends both riders on the track with Hard tyres, but this does not prevent Max Verstappen from taking the lead anyway, despite the inclusion of some riders such as Gasly, Norris and Giovinazzi who, thanks to the Soft tyres, enter the noble positions of the standings. also for Perez, in fifth position signing the partial record in the third sector.Verstappen then relaunches himself, but is forced to abort the lap due to the yellow flag displayed for one head tail of Nikita Mazepin at turn 6. After passing the middle of FP3, many riders return to the track with Soft tyres, in particular the two AlphaTauri riders improve their results, with Gasly setting the best time and Tsunoda going up to P6. However, the Frenchman was overtaken almost immediately by an excellent Carlos Sainz Jr., who set a time of 1 '32”208 despite a disadvantage in the rubber compound. Shortly after, the two Mercedes took the front on Soft tyres, with Hamilton overtaking the Ferrari driver's time by 0.8 seconds, the exact gap predicted by Pirelli between the two compounds. Valtteri Bottas, on the other hand, seems to be in a bit more difficulty and remains detached from the top with 0.5 seconds of delay. Good attempts also by Russell and Schumacher, who move to mid-table. With ten minutes to go, Red Bull also comes out on the Soft tyre: Perez does not impress, staying behind both Mercedes, and is also beaten shortly after by Pierre Gasly, who confirms himself in excellent form; on the contrary, Max Verstappen sets an excellent time, which is 0.7 seconds faster than Hamilton and 1.3 seconds better than his teammate. Nonetheless, at the end of FP3 the Red Bull Racing consultant, Helmut Marko, had no illusions, and declared:
"We exploited all the power, Mercedes didn't. It will be head-to-head between Verstappen and Hamilton".
The recent notable times are those of Kimi Raikkonen, in P7, and Lance Stroll, who confirms himself in the top ten. Less good attempts by Alonso and Vettel who remain further behind. During FP3, four times were canceled by the race direction for not having respected the track limits at the fourth corner (three by Valtteri Bottas, confirming the problems he is encountering, and one by Yuki Tsunoda). The Ferrari drivers are the only ones who have not carried out the qualifying simulation with the Soft tyre; the feedback obtained with the Medium, however, bodes well for the men of the Maranello team. McLaren also didn't get any significant times. But unlike on Friday, the Woking team worked hard for the race. Before qualifying begins, the AlphaTauri mechanics replace the energy recovery system and electronic control unit on Pierre Gasly's car. The French driver will not be penalized on the starting grid, as he is the second unit for both components. At the start of qualifying, in the late afternoon, temperatures dropped to 30 °C for the air, and 35 °C for the asphalt. The first cars to take to the track in qualifying were the Williams and the Haas, with Nikita Mazepin spinning.
Lando Norris beat Mick Schumacher's time by 2 seconds; then Charles Leclerc took turns leading the timesheets, followed by the two Mercedes, with Hamilton as the first driver to break the 1'31"0 limit. Subsequently Max Verstappen rises to the top of the rankings, while the two AlphaTauri prove to be competitive, with Pierre Gasly climbing to third place and Yuki Tsunoda who does even better than Lewis Hamilton. In the final minutes of the session, only Verstappen and the two AlphaTauri drivers decided not to tackle the track again, which is being improved. George Russell goes up to P7, while Mazepin is again the author of a spin in turn-1: the display of the yellow flag compromises the lap for all the drivers who are launching in the meantime. The Russian overtook several pilots before launching, breaking the unwritten rule according to which in the last sector you queue without creating disorder. Sebastian Vettel fails to improve, and is forced to stop in Q1. The German pilot says disconsolately:
"Have I been penalized by yellow flags? Yes, without a doubt. The feeling is obviously disappointing. I think the car could have been much better in qualifying. I had made a few small changes and there seemed to be a big difference, but we couldn't prove it. It will remain a mystery until tomorrow, but we'll see what we can do. Rebuild the race? We will see. We haven't been very fast all weekend, so it's difficult. But we will certainly be able to progress by several positions".
Together with the Aston Martin driver, Esteban Ocon, Nicholas Latifi, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin did not pass to the next stage. Carlos Sainz Jr. narrowly escaped, only in P15 at the end of Q1, having been the victim of an engine problem:
"The engine stopped, I don't know why".
He says in Spanish through a radio communiqué. Sainz then manages to restart the single-seater, therefore he will be able to participate in the next session. In Q2, despite the great fight between the various drivers, Mercedes, Red Bull, AlphaTauri and McLaren decided, at least initially, to use the Medium tires, to try to start with this compound also in the race. In the first few minutes, the standings were dominated by the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers, with Lewis Hamilton setting the fastest time. During this phase, both Sergio Pérez and Daniel Ricciardo had their times canceled by the race direction for not respecting the track limits at turn 4. Norris did very well, fourth on the Medium tyre, while the Ferraris were in P5 and P7, however obtained with Soft rubber, like Alonso, in P6. The choice of the AlphaTauri has not been rewarded by the times, with the cars from Faenza overtaken by many other cars. In reality, the two cars still opt for this type of compound, with Gasly capable of climbing to P3, while Yuki Tsunoda is eliminated from Q3. Sergio Perez also opts again for the use of the Medium tyre, but pays dearly for this choice by finishing only in P11 and thus being eliminated. Ricciardo, on the other hand, didn't risk it and qualified on the Soft tyre. The one who improves a lot is Charles Leclerc, who climbs to the top. Monegasque was then beaten by his teammate Sainz Jr.. In addition to Yuki Tsunoda and Sergio Pérez, the two Alfa Romeo Racing and George Russell did not go through to Q3. At the opening of Q3, Daniel Ricciardo set the reference time of the final phase (1'31"384), widely beaten by Pierre Gasly (1'30"014). Lando Norris finished behind Ricciardo, while Valtteri Bottas was unable to improve the Frenchman's time. Shortly after, it was Hamilton who took the lead of the standings, dropping below the 1'30"0 limit, while Carlos Sainz Jr. was fourth, on used tyres. The only one capable of beating the time set by Lewis Hamilton is Max Verstappen, who does better by just 0.023 seconds. Lance Stroll, Charles Leclerc and Fernando Alonso await the second part of Q3, to make just one quick attempt. Lance Stroll installs in P6. Valtteri Bottas, the first driver to make the second attempt, overtook Gasly and did even better than Lewis Hamilton, taking the lead in the timesheets. Gasly failed to improve and remained in P4; then Max Verstappen obtained the pole position, with a time of 1'28"997. Lewis Hamilton also improves, but remains about 0.4 seconds behind the Dutchman's time.
"Finally, the lap was very good".
Comment Max Verstappen via radio. With his only attempt Charles Leclerc conquers P4, removing Pierre Gasly from the second row. Even the Ferrari driver expresses his satisfaction via a team radio:
"It's only the first qualifying of the year, but we can be satisfied if we think about where we were last year".
At the end of qualifying, the stewards decided not to assign sanctions to Esteban Ocon, Lance Stroll, Sebastian Vettel and George Russell for not having respected the yellow flag displayed at the eighth corner during Q1, following Mazepin's spin. In the stretch concerned, the drivers kept a not particularly high speed, as did the other three cars that passed on the same stretch. Max Verstappen takes his fourth career pole position; for the first time since 2013, the first pole position start of the season was not achieved by a Mercedes-powered car. Answering David Coulthard's questions, Max Verstappen is very happy:
"Battle for the World Championship? Yes. We've had a great performance since the tests, but that's not a guarantee that we'll always go well in the race. The car has been very good so far, even enjoyable to drive. Clearly with the wind changing so much it's not easy to find the right setup. But in qualifying everything worked perfectly. I am certainly very happy with the pole position. Last lap? The first one wasn't great, so I knew I could give more. I didn't know how much, but in the end we had the balance and we could push harder. The track is hot, so we had to be careful not to overheat the rear tire. We managed to express ourselves at our best. Competition? Long runs went well. The car performed well in race simulations. We have a nice car, we have to try to put everything together by starting cleanly and having a good first lap. Title? There are no guarantees, we started in the right way".
Subsequently, the Dutch rider thanks his mechanics and also the Honda men:
"It's a great feeling to be on pole and I've never experienced a start to the season like this, after the victory in Abu Dhabi the whole team pushed very hard and was even more motivated. There is still no warranty for the rest of the year but everyone here and at the factory has done a great job to give me a car like this and they should be very proud. Honda has worked very hard this winter, just like every year. They are flat out all the time and like us they just want to win. They're really fun to work with and they're very passionate, which I like. So a big credit to them for today's result, because they've had a great winter. After testing it's always difficult to know where you are and we really didn't know what it would be like in qualifying. But when you do a lap like Q3 and you have such a good feeling in the car, you can be happy. We have to finish the job tomorrow, but if I can get a good start I'm confident we can do a good job".
Christian Horner is also of the same opinion:
"It's our first pole position at this circuit since 2012, thanks to Max's time on the softs, while Hamilton perhaps didn't drive to the limit. You never really know where you stand within the group, you only know when the petrol levels are low for everyone and you're driving in the same conditions, like in qualifying. From these qualifications we can deduce that it will be a head-to-head between us and Mercedes. As for the damage to the underbody of Verstappen's car, Max hit it quite hard. We lost some carbon pieces under the car. Maybe this affected his times by about a tenth in the other two sessions".
The only discordant note at Red Bull is Sergio Perez's P11. The Mexican, however, does not lose heart and is determined in view of the race:
"Congratulations to Max and the team on pole position, it's the perfect way to start the season. For my part I didn't expect to qualify in eleventh position and obviously it's not an ideal start, but we are making progress and I showed good pace between FP3 and qualifying, it just wasn't enough. We were absolutely right to use the medium tires in Q2, but unfortunately this strategy didn't pay off and I didn't do the lap I should have. I went wide at turn 13 and lost a couple of tenths at that point. The battle is so close that due to this small mistake I lost my place in Q3. It's a shame because the extra kilometers and the confrontation with Max would have helped me progress, but tomorrow is a new day and anything can happen at this track, so hopefully we can make a good recovery".
The reigning World Champion, Lewis Hamilton, acknowledges the current superiority but shows moderate optimism, however denying Horner's aforementioned version according to which he did not drive to the limit:
"Max Verstappen did a great lap, he found pole position and almost four tenths is a big gap. We certainly have work to do! The car was good in Q1 and Q2, we spent until the last minute trying to find the right set-up with this car. And I have to say our car was easy to drive, it wasn't jumpy. Only in the end I couldn't get more, but it was still exciting. I'm immensely proud of everyone, really. We have worked very hard over the last week to try and understand the package we have available. We made some steps forward, but we were absolutely no match for Max's last lap. Second position in any case puts us in a position to cause problems for Red Bull tomorrow. We are in a good position and anything is possible".
Valtteri Bottas' qualifying was more difficult, but he limited the damage and would start immediately behind his teammate.
"The trials weren't the easiest. We had so many balancing issues. The evening session went a little better. In Q1 we went out on the softs and wasted a tyre. In Q3 I only had one set of new tires and it was difficult to complete a lap and compete with Max and Lewis at their level. It's not the position we wanted, but we'll still be in third place. From there anything is possible in the race. Strategies? Looks like we and Max are starting in middle school. At the level of strategy there will not be huge changes. We may have more hard tires, but I don't know how many. We'll be two-on-one with Max, so hopefully we can concoct something good".
Laconic, Toto Wolff congratulates Honda:
"We have to be sporty and recognize that Honda has created a decidedly competitive power unit, period. I'm not surprised. Honda pride is renowned and for what should be their last season in Formula 1 they have left no stone unturned. I am happy for them. We just have to work head down and make up for lost ground, it's not easy but we'll get there".
Charles Leclerc, after free practice not at the top and with Sainz Jr. immediately in great shape, did not approach this qualifying in the best way, but despite this he manages to take his Ferrari even higher on the last lap of Q3 than estimated:
"We are probably the ones who have improved the most. As I said on Friday evening, we didn't expect to be so competitive. That's a good thing, but we have to keep our feet on the ground. It's quite a strange race here, we have to expect other events as well. For now, however, it seems that we have taken a big step forward. In free practice our long runs didn't look bad, so let's wait and see what happens. The podium is difficult to achieve: if we manage to keep the fourth position it would be a good result. It will be difficult, also because I expect a very strong AlphaTauri".
His teammate, Carlos Sainz Jr., failed to do the same, despite a positive approach, making a mistake right at the most important moment, and so the Spaniard will only start from the fourth row:
"Car shut down in Q1? Difficult and very stressful situation. I didn't know what was going on. I have to say it was a good reaction after Q1 to have a good lap in Q2. In Q3 I perhaps lacked a bit of experience, a better out lap to do a quick lap of Q3. I didn't know exactly where to find the time. I didn't like the lap of Q3. There's still a lot to improve and learn, but overall I think it's been a positive weekend so far. The out lap was very different compared to Q1 and Q2, so when you don't know the car you never know with a different lap how the car is going to react. In the first sector, I missed knowing exactly that. promoted? I think it was a good start for me. From FP1 to Q2, I think I was always on pace, doing some good laps. In Q3 I may have made a little mistake, but the situation wasn't the most suitable either. In general, I think I have to be happy".
Even the sporting director of the Scuderia Ferrari, Laurent Mekies, is happy to see an improved car, but remains cautious with his judgements:
"It was a good qualifying, with both drivers making it to the last stage, which hasn't happened since Silverstone last year. Charles, Carlos and the whole team have faced this start of the season working with method and determination, taking care of every detail to try to make the most of the potential available. Today we saw the first fruits of this work and we hope to reap more tomorrow, when it will count for the standings. There is a lot of work to be done, we know it well, but we cannot deny the fact that the first real direct comparison with the competition shows that the efforts we are making seem to go in the right direction, even if we know that a more defined picture of we will have strength on the field in three or four games. Now we have to fully concentrate on preparing for a race that will be long and difficult, with external conditions that should change significantly compared to what we have seen so far this weekend".
It's a big party in AlphaTauri, especially on the side of the box where Pierre Gasly is present:
"Honestly, I'm really happy with this first qualifying round of the year. It's always good to have a good starting base and start the season in the best possible way. We didn't expect that. We knew we had a strong package, but not enough to qualify in fifth position and above all to go through Q2 with the mediums. Let's hope it's a good advantage for tomorrow".
Rookie Yuki Tsunoda, on the other hand, fails to materialize the same potential, but this partly depended on the decision to try the passage to Q3 with the Medium tire in view of tomorrow's race:
"To be honest, I'm a little disappointed. In Q1 I had shown that I had the right pace with the medium tire and I was confident in our strategy in Q2, but in those final laps I had no more grip. It's a shame we can't start the race further up the grid, but we know we have good pace and so we'll see what happens tomorrow. I continue to learn from every single lap completed and tonight I will analyze the data together with my engineers, in view of tomorrow's race. However, there are several positive aspects to look at today: it was my first qualifying session in Formula 1 and I am confident behind the wheel. I think we are still in a reasonable position and that we have the potential to recover during the race".
Fernando Alonso was also satisfied, who seemed to be in trouble after the FPs, and instead pulls off an applause performance bringing the Alpine to Q3, unlike his teammate Ocon who was immediately eliminated in the first phase:
"I didn't expect it, the weekend had been difficult for now. When you get to the first qualifying of the year you don't know what to expect and I'm happy with ninth position. I had high hopes though because the wind and cooler temperature conditions combine well with my riding style. When you go out on the track with the best performing tires and the car runs out of charge, the adrenaline is always high".
The Alpine rider knows that confirming himself in the race won't be easy, but the goal is to immediately move up the standings:
"I have riders behind me who tried qualifying in Q2 with the medium compound and missed the target, so I know it won't be easy to maintain this position, but we'll try".
Instead, Esteban Ocon is disappointed, damaged by the display of a yellow flag during his last attempt:
"It was a very disappointing qualifying for our side of the garage, unfortunately the yellow flag forced my foot off in sector two and I lost a lot of time as a result. It's a shame, because there was a lot more to achieve today. I think as a team we worked well all weekend during the practice sessions. We had a good set-up on the car for qualifying so it was disappointing not to show our potential. Tomorrow we're still aiming for the points. Anything could happen. We will push hard to recover some positions and come back. The weekend isn't over".
After some good free practice, Lance Stroll managed to confirm himself and qualify for Q3:
"It was a good fight at this track today and it is clear that the scrum pack presents an even closer battle in 2021. In practice, a tenth or two puts you out of contention already in Q2, without you having your say. for Q3. The car felt good today, but we have a lot of work ahead of us to keep improving and try to push and attack those who qualified before us. I'm really excited to go and race tomorrow's race, which is the first of the season and so it's always a bit unpredictable, as well as exciting. The fact that we immediately started inside the top ten is a good sign, it means that we managed the tires well and followed a good strategy. For tomorrow we can aim to score some good points. We just need to get away from the circuit, put our heads down, put ourselves on our stomachs and continue to improve our understanding of the car with work".
But he warns:
"We are not at the level we want to be at, like last year. We have some work to do, but I'm looking forward to racing. It's the first race of the season, so I'm looking forward to it. A lot of the teams looked competitive and had great pace on Friday. We'll see what we can do".
Antonio Giovinazzi starts the 2021 season well, beating former World Champion Raikkonen (P14) and taking a good P12 on the starting grid with his Alfa Romeo C41:
"We must be happy with this result, because tomorrow we will be able to choose the strategy and start 12th. We are very happy because we have confirmed what we had shown in the tests regarding our potential. We have to concentrate fully on the day tomorrow, we can have a great race".
Like his colleagues, the Italian driver also appears rather worried about the possible weather conditions that will be found on the track:
"It looks like tomorrow will be a rather difficult day, with a lot of wind. It will be a long and complicated race, but we have to be able to put everything together - strategy, start, pit stop - and get the most out of our car".
Instead, Kimi Raikkonen is a little more disappointed:
"Q2? Sure it could have been better but I made a few mistakes here and there. We changed the set-up of the car a bit after this morning, probably something was wrong with the wind, but it should be ok tomorrow. Do you expect a lot of wind tomorrow? Let's wait and see".
Double Q3 for McLaren, with a convincing P6 and P7, but which does not replicate the performance achieved on Friday by Lando Norris, who comments:
"It was a difficult qualifying, because we were all very close, it was the first of the season, so I think we are quite satisfied with sixth and seventh place for the team and to see where the car is. It's a good position for tomorrow".
There is, in his opinion, the possibility of recovering positions in the race:
"It's probably more of a race track than a qualifying track, so hopefully, after focusing more on that over the weekend, we can be strong tomorrow".
Daniel Ricciardo was happier, who somewhat surprisingly immediately beat his teammate in the first qualifying with his new team, after he seemed to pay him a few tenths of a second in free practice:
"It was definitely a good evening, I'm happy. Yesterday I didn't have the rhythm and I knew it would take some time. I know I have experience, but I know it will take time. It's still a good start to my McLaren adventure. We will continue to move forward and hopefully it leads to bigger and better results".
Sunday 28 March 2021 the weather forecast for 6:00 pm, local time scheduled for the start, speaks of probable cooler temperatures, in the order of 21-23 °C and with a high probability of sandstorms. A two-stop strategy is envisaged, but with various possible combinations between the various compounds. Pirelli Car Racing manager Mario Isola confirms that it will not be easy for the teams to find the most effective strategy:
"Once again there was a big difference between the day and night sessions, which makes calculating strategies and set-ups more difficult. There are multiple possible race strategies, which also depend on the sets that remain available for each driver. However, there were several teams that felt that the Medium compound was the best option to start the race: four of the top ten drivers on the grid, including the top three, will start the race on the Medium C3 and this will guarantee them ability to choose between multiple strategies. There are several options and cooler temperatures forecast for tomorrow could further mix strategies. The new Formula 2 format is also interesting, with two races yesterday. Especially in the second race there were some impressive laps on the Soft tyres, as part of an alternative strategy which helped some drivers who started from the back to make great comebacks, also helped by the intervention of the Safety Car of course".
Before the start of the Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel was summoned by the stewards for failing to comply with a double yellow flag at the first corner during Q1, due to Mazepin's spin. The German driver of Aston Martin was penalized five places on the starting grid and three points on the super license for not having slowed down sufficiently during the display of the yellow flags. Honda replaced the electronic controls and the energy store on the cars of Gasly and Perez after both experienced ignition problems over the course of the weekend: for both, the next replacement of these components will cost a penalty. Outside the top ten medium tires for Perez, Giovinazzi, Tsunoda, Raikkonen, Schumacher, Mazepin and Vettel, who join the two Mercedes, Verstappen and Gasly, who passed Q2 with this compound. 57 laps are scheduled, equal to 308.238 kilometers, but during the formation lap Sergio Pérez remains stationary along the track with his Red Bull Racing. The starting procedure was interrupted, with the drivers completing a second formation lap, the race was shortened by one lap and the Mexican was forced to start from the pit lane.
At the start of the Bahrain Grand Prix, Max Verstappen manages to keep the lead, ahead of Lewis Hamilton, while Valtteri Bottas is passed by Charles Leclerc. In the rear Nikita Mazepin spun and hit the barriers. The race direction sends the safety car onto the track. At the restart, Leclerc attacks Hamilton, who defends himself and in turn tries to pass Verstappen, but without success. Pierre Gasly loses his front wing after contact with Daniel Ricciardo. Perez makes his first stop, but stays on Medium tyres. Following Gasly's accident, the virtual safety car was briefly imposed. On the fourth lap, Leclerc gave the position to Bottas and, on the ninth lap, he was forced to be overtaken by Norris too, after a good fight. On the same lap Lance Stroll took P7 overtaking Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard stops to change tires on lap 10. Meanwhile, Max Verstappen never grants the DRS to Hamilton and takes his lead to almost 2 seconds, despite complaining via radio about problems with the power unit under acceleration, which at the moment, however, do not seem to affect his performance. On lap 12, Norris, Leclerc and Stroll pitted. A lap later it was Hamilton's turn, who attempted an undercut on Verstappen and opted to use the Hard compound. Daniel Ricciardo also goes to the pits; a problem with the tire change cost him several seconds and the position on Alonso. Hamilton rejoins the race fourth, but Carlos Sainz Jr. passes immediately, who, shortly after, stops to change tires. Valtteri Bottas awaits lap 16 for his stop: like Hamilton, he switches to Hard tyres. Verstappen, once ascertained by the Red Bull engineers that he would not maintain the position, tried to extend the stint, but after noticing some vibrations in the tyres, he stopped on lap 17, again choosing the Medium tyre. The standings now sees Lewis Hamilton in the lead, ahead of Verstappen, Bottas, Perez, Norris and Leclerc. The Red Bull Mexican stops, for the second time, on lap 19. The following lap Sainz fought with Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, managing to overtake both, taking himself to P8. In the following lap Alonso also gives way to Perez, while Vettel, who has not yet made his stop, goes long under braking, losing his position to Kimi Raikkonen. Antonio Giovinazzi also stops on lap 23, but loses 10 seconds in the pit as the mechanics take a tire of a different compound than expected; the Italian driver then drops to P15.
A few laps later Perez, engaged in a great comeback, is also capable of getting the better of Sainz, while Alonso is in more difficulty and suffers overtaking by Raikkonen and Tsunoda. Hamilton stops again, on lap 28, and mounts Hard tires again. Verstappen thus returns to lead the race. Stroll, Alonso and Bottas also go into the pits (however, his pit stop is not perfect due to a problem with the front right). This drops Lando Norris third and Charles Leclerc fourth. The Monegasque is overtaken by Bottas, who recovers P3, after the second pit stop for Norris. Alonso's difficulties find an explanation when he is forced to retire on lap 34 due to a problem with his rear brakes. In front Max Verstappen leads with over 17 seconds ahead of Hamilton, almost 34 seconds over Bottas and 41.5 seconds over Sergio Pérez, who recovers several positions taking advantage of the stops of the other drivers. Sainz is in P5 until lap 36, when he is called to the pits for the second stop. Norris and Leclerc follow. Pérez was also back in the pits on lap 38. The Red Bull driver rejoined the race in P8, but recovered by passing Stroll on the lap following his return to the track. The fight for the last point up for grabs heats up, with Russell who, with just one stop, manages to momentarily climb back to P10, however hunted down by Raikkonen, Tsunoda and Vettel. All three, with much fresher rubber, easily managed to overtake the Williams driver, with Tsunoda overtaking the Finnish Alfa Romeo a few laps later. Max Verstappen waits for lap 39 to make his stop: he rejoins the race in P2, behind Lewis Hamilton. The Dutchman, with new tyres, reduced the disadvantage over Hamilton from lap to lap, managing to pass him on lap 53. The Red Bull team, however, shortly after invited its driver to return the position to Hamilton, as Verstappen , to carry out the maneuver, went beyond the limits of the track, at turn 4. In the meantime, the other Red Bull driver, Sergio Pérez, gains another two positions, on Ricciardo and Leclerc, placing himself in P5, while Ocon and Vettel enter in contact, due to a rear-end collision by the German, losing positions but both managing to restart. In the final laps of the race Max Verstappen, who had moved off the trajectory to get Hamilton to pass by passing over the residual rubber noodles deposited at the bottom of the track, no longer finds the rhythm to get close to Hamilton, who thus gets his win number 96 in the history of the World Championships.
For Lewis Hamilton it is the fifteenth consecutive season with at least one victory, just like Michael Schumacher. Hamilton, on the other hand, beats the lead lap record, which always belonged to the German champion, reaching 5126. Britain had not won the inaugural race for five seasons. The other Mercedes driver, Valtteri Bottas, completes the podium, placing himself in front of Lando Norris. Followed by Sergio Perez in P5, Charles Leclerc in P6, Daniel Ricciardo in P7 and Calros Sainz Jr. in P8. Yuki Tsunoda, making his world debut, finishes in P9, immediately winning his first points. He is the first Japanese driver to do so since Kamui Kobayashi in the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix, where he finished P9. The last driver to score points in the first race was Stoffel Vandoorne, in the 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix. Lance Stroll finished in P10 with his Aston Martin. At the end of the race, the FIA announces that the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas was drawn among the top ten cars for the technical checks. They will comply with the technical regulation. Lewis Hamilton looks radiant at the end of the race, after having obtained a victory with such difficulty and probably even unexpected, given the strength shown by Max Verstappen during the race:
"Firstly, can I just say it's the first time I've seen fans in a long time, it's so nice to see people out here and everyone keeping their distance, staying safe. I'm so proud of what Formula 1 has been able to do, they have put together a more normal calendar this year and I have to say the start was really, really tough! Stopping early, we knew it was going to be tough, but we had to fend off Max and keep track of the lead. Red Bull have had an incredible performance all weekend, we knew it would take something very special to get the win tonight. We stopped for the last stint, we had to try and find the right balance between pushing hard and saving the tyres. It wasn't easy, Max was all over me but I managed to keep him at bay. It was one of the toughest races in a while now, for that I'm really thankful to the people who work in the factory, they always push to the limit, they push the limit and they never give up, But we love the challenge, I love the challenge, I love what I do".
The seven-times World Champion then proudly concludes his speech, saying:
"This race was definitely a blessing. I think there are always ways to prove people wrong. This was an example of that, and I hope there will be many more opportunities in the future to demonstrate what I can do. I was lucky that Max went out of bounds in turn 4, but that won't happen again, I'm sure. We just have to do better and be smarter when we don't have the fastest car. But that's fine with me: I don't mind having to push harder to compensate for some limitations of the car".
Max Verstappen can be said to be satisfied in terms of general balance, especially if we look at a comparison with the past, but we cannot fail to be a little disappointed at not having fully realized a superiority that seemed important up until the start:
"Of course it's a shame. But you have to see the positive. The way it started this year we're fighting with them and it's beautiful like this. Problems? I don't know what happened, I don't think it was solved for the whole race in some corners. We'll have to watch. Overall we managed to close the race and brought home some points".
Christian Horner and Toto Wolff agree that the battle on the track was very interesting, both in terms of performance and strategies.
"We had different strategies, they certainly have a very good car and were able to push us hard in the first stint. Then we were left with the option of going longer. Max was handling a problem from the start. I don't know what effect it had. It was a great race. Unfortunately he overtook, found himself off the track and was ordered to give up the position".
And below comments the team principal of Mercedes, Toto Wolff:
"I think it was a great battle of strategies, in the pace at the beginning Max had everything under control. We made a bold move, pitting early and gaining a position. Then we thought about doing the same to prevent the undercut".
Subsequently, both also comment on the final episode, which saw the Dutchman forced to give up the position he had just gained on the track due to failure to respect the track limits exiting turn 4. Christian Horner explains:
"Once you get that indication, you need to get out of the way, it was a good clean race. It has been a strong track for them [Mercedes] over the past seven years, so it's good to be so close".
While Toto Wolff admits that the track limits, in this situation, have proved to be decisive, however criticizing the lack of clarity on the part of the FIA:
"I'm just as confused as you, we were told that the turn 4 track limits would not be detected. Then, in the race, we were suddenly told that if we continued to exceed them, we would gain a clear advantage and risk a penalty. We couldn't do anything about it. But in the end, this decision made us win the race: Max went wide right in that corner, took a lead and had to give back the position. This saved us, but we need more consistency and clarity in the race direction's messages. These need to be simple, not some Shakespeare-inspired romance that leaves room for interpretation. “The riders understood that the limits in turn 4 would not be detected in the race. Speaking with Masi during the race, Michael referred to the note that said you could only go too far without gaining an advantage. This was in the notes, I didn't see them. Everyone must understand the rules, so that you don't have to carry race direction documents in the car to understand what is allowed to do".
The answer from the race director Michael Masi was not long in coming:
"Absolutely nothing changed during the race, we had two people in that area looking at every car on every lap. Virtually every car but one was doing the right thing, staying within what we expected in a general sequence. There was a car that occasionally went out, but that wasn't a constant thing. It was mentioned very clearly in the [drivers] meeting and notes that [the cut into turn 4] would not be monitored regarding lap time but would still be monitored according to the Sporting Regulations and the principle of not acquiring a lasting benefit overall".
However, this explanation is not enough to appease the controversy, especially in light of the fact that the car accused of occasionally leaving the track limits is precisely that of Lewis Hamilton, who then benefited from the application of the rule against his rival in the race.
The other driver of the Brackley team, Valtteri Bottas, completes the podium, maintaining his third position from which he started. But for him the final result is probably the only thing to save in a race that saw him very far from the two contenders for victory:
"We lost a lot of time in the slow pit stop, otherwise it would have been a close race with Red Bull. The cars were quite close on pace, but if you lose ten seconds like that, racing against Max and Lewis, you don't make it back. On a personal level it wasn't a satisfying race but at least as a team we scored more points than Red Bull. In the end it was right to stop to put on new tires and set the fastest lap. We have one more point. The car was more drivable today, it felt better than yesterday and we are continuing to make progress, hopefully we can make further progress. We have three weeks of work ahead of us before Imola. If you had told us in testing that we would have had two riders on the podium and we would have been at the top of the constructors' championship after the first race, we would have signed on".
But in this regard, the Mercedes team principal replies:
"I completely understand the frustration in the car when you have limited information and you say: I think we could have done something else. But I think there was no strategy on the table. The result we didn't want is that he lost a position at the start of the race. So he was unable to recover the gap from the two in front".
Finally, Toto Wolff adds that in the second stop an attempt was made to undercut Verstappen, who was extending his central stint a lot.
"The pit stop was done to undercut Max. I think we probably would have been successful. We did have an issue with the right front wheel gun though. I don't know what other strategy we could have done. The single stop was clearly not possible. The medium tire would not finish and the hard one had no more performance in the central stint. There were no other options available".
Sergio Perez was the author of a very eventful race, which started with the problem accused in the formation lap, but became the protagonist of a great comeback concluded with a long run-up from the back, up to the final fifth position:
"Suddenly while I was warming up the tires everything went out and I was close to jumping out of the car, then all of a sudden I listened to my engineer Jonathan and he was like, OK, let's go. We had to start from the pit lane, but the most important thing for us today was the kilometers we covered. These rounds have been important for our growth. I'm happy with these km. My understanding of the car is improving".
His performance is also applauded by Horner:
"Hats off to Sergio for what was a great comeback race on his part, especially after starting from the pit lane. He kept his cool and calm after the formation lap problem and was able to bring home an important haul of points".
Lando Norris, voted best driver of the day, takes a superb fourth place. The British driver was the only one capable of slipping between the Mercedes and the Red Bulls:
"We are not far from them, considering last season's gap. I think we've gotten quite a bit closer, hopefully on some tracks we can be even closer. It's hard to say whether we are definitely the best in the scrum pack. For example, I don't know what the AlphaTauri pace was. The car was fine, it showed several strengths and some weaknesses that we clearly need to work on. We can do even better and I think we need to improve the qualifying of the races more. But even on Sunday there are aspects that can be exploited better to make the car even faster".
Speaking of Ferrari, Lando Norris adds:
"We know what they can do. Last year Leclerc was ahead of us in qualifying, but he seemed to be struggling a lot in the race. So we thought that this year too they would find the usual difficulties. We were quicker than them on pace, which is a positive thing, but there will be some races where they can manage the tires better and be quicker than us. We are all very close, I see a fight between us, Ferrari and AlphaTauri at the moment".
In contrast to Saturday, Daniel Ricciardo seemed to be in a bit more difficulty, unable to confirm his competitive position:
"The weekend was quite satisfying overall, but in the race I struggled to find the right pace, I fought to have a good pace. I wouldn't say it was a Sunday to remember, there's a lot of work to do. I would have loved to be in the battle for the race win. Imola is next, I like that track. I think she is very beautiful. Looking at yesterday's data, we seem fine with the engines at high revs and top speeds, so I imagine that on paper Imola is a good race for us. I can't wait for April 18th to arrive".
But team principal Andreas Seidl clarifies that the contact in the initial stages with Pierre Gasly also left its aftermath on the Australian's car, giving him the opportunity to reevaluate his performance:
"The damage cost a significant amount of downforce, but Daniel used his experience to deal with the issues and score big points for the team".
It's a discreet start to the season for Ferrari, which in the race fails to confirm itself as more competitive than the cars from Woking as it did in qualifying. The strategy with Charles Leclerc was aggressive and inevitably caused some suffering in the final, even having to give in to Perez in a great comeback:
"I had a good start and then managed the tires well. We made our first pit stop early to put pressure on the others, but the tires suffered in the closing laps. The handling and pace are much better than last year and that's a good sign. We are certainly not where we would like, but we are also aware of the progress we have made. I'm not very good at race management on this track, I always struggle a bit, due to the high temperatures and degradation, but we'll work on this. The McLarens surprised me more than I expected. In FP2 they were competitive, but they didn't show the pace they had today. However, I think this is a good starting point: even historically we as a team have never done very well here, apart from 2019. A positive start, now we need to work hard".
Carlos Sainz Jr. completes his Ferrari debut with a P8. Not a glittering result, but with a good performance, not far from the Monegasque driver. The Madrid native looks ahead and finds many positive aspects for the future, remaining confident that he can give Ferrari fans a lot of satisfaction:
"Calm at the start? I wanted to do this race and do all the laps. Then at the start I made a mistake with the clutch and with the gears. After the first lap I was much more relaxed than with the McLarens to see how the car reacted to the wind and dirty air from the cars ahead. Then with clean air I learned about the car and I must say I'm happy because I was quite fast. The first lap was also my fault, I was too calm. The pace is very good, better than I expected for the first race. If we look at the stints with the medium and hard tires I was really very fast. Too bad about the first lap, without that I could have been closer to the McLarens and attacked them. With that start I did the whole race backwards. Promising start? Yes, I'm really happy. The eighth position is nothing special, but if we look at the degradation and the pace I had, we should be very happy. First lap to improve, but I was calm and not in attack mode. There are another twenty-two races to attack".
Even the Scuderia Ferrari team principal, Mattia Binotto, is happy with Sainz's performance but more generally with both drivers, not hiding too much a dig at his former driver Sebastian Vettel, author of a very negative 2020 and a debut with Aston Martin equally difficult.
"Finally we can count on both riders, Carlos did a very good race in terms of pace, I'm very happy with our two riders. We had an intense race, this was the first of twenty-three stages of a very long season and we have to face them one at a time with determination and lucidity, as we did this weekend. In the race we struggled more than in qualifying but we gathered good indications. The analysis will allow us to understand the areas for improvement. There is a long way to go but we will continue to work hard to grow in every aspect. Now we will start thinking about the next round, that of Imola, which has a special flavor for us since it is, together with Monza, our home race".
Two-faced day for the AlphaTauri team, which arrived at this appointment with high hopes dashed almost immediately by a contact that ousted Pierre Gasly from the top ten. the French driver does not hide his disappointment:
"I am obviously very disappointed right now. We had a very strong weekend from the start. Starting fifth I was hoping for some good points today, but my race was practically over after the contact with Daniel on the first lap. I broke the front wing, had bottom damage and was obviously way behind after just one lap, so my race was gone. It's a shame because we have shown good pace all weekend. We didn't manage to get the payoff of that today, but I think there's still a lot of positives to take and that's what we'll be looking at for Imola".
Emotions and first points at the debut, however, for the Japanese rookie Yuki Tsunoda, who redeems himself after having competed in a qualifying in which he was unable to express his full potential:
"I'm happy to be able to score points in my first Grand Prix, I think this race showed how great the car performs. I have to say that I'm still a bit disappointed because I lost some positions on the first lap due to being too careful and I had to work the whole race to recover them. I learned a lot here in Bahrain. This is good. I will take the lesson with me to Imola. Overtaking Fernando was quite an emotional experience, he is a Formula 1 superstar and I grew up watching him. I'm proud of my performance and can't wait to see how we go next time".
Despite this, the class of 2000 has already framed various aspects on which he will have to work and cannot be completely satisfied, proving to have very high ambitions:
"Yes, I think the last part of the race was the best, also in terms of tire management. I had a good pace, I would say much better than in the previous stints. I overtook Stroll while braking into the first corner on the last lap. I really threw in but told myself I wouldn't sleep at night if I didn't try. I'm happy I succeeded, also because I struggled a lot in the last two laps, especially with the dirty air coming from Lance's car. Ultimately, I'm happy but also a little disappointed, because I think I lost too many positions on the first lap and it took me a long time to recover them".
Red Bull Racing team adviser Helmut Marko, who followed him closely during his growth, has positive words for him:
"Will he become the first Japanese world champion? Surely. He will soon be a new star in Formula 1. He is a very bright and intelligent boy and driver. Let's remember that he's only twenty, but he's very mature, it's normal that everyone likes him. He's a very interesting guy who also has a sense of humor. We took him to Europe, we gave him a season in Formula 3, another in Formula 2. A category he would have easily won last year without all those technical failures he had. No one had noticed and now he's surprising everyone in Formula 1. He's given us problems with one thing: the pedals! We had to move them forward for him. In the simulator, we still struggle to get the right seat for him".
A more complicated race instead for Alpine, which comes out of the Bahrain Grand Prix without any points scored; a step back from the performances shown at the end of the 2020 season. Fernando Alonso fought tenaciously before being forced to retire, however, when he was already out of the points:
"First of all, it was good to be back racing in Formula 1. The start was fun, we gained some positions and I had some nice battles with my old colleagues. However, it was disappointing not to see the checkered flag at the end. The problem we had after the second stop was related to the rear brakes: some debris entered the ducts and overheated the temperatures of the car. Looking at the race the battle in the scrum pack was very close, a couple of tenths made you move up significantly. I think it will be a very interesting season, we will fight hard at Imola".
Esteban Ocon did not go beyond P13, but he is still optimistic in view of the next seasonal appointments:
"It's not the result we wanted today, but there were certainly many positive aspects. We fought for most of the race with different cars, wheel to wheel. Vettel collided with me on lap 44. He apologized, we all make mistakes and sometimes it does. Qualifying didn't help us, because we had a lot of positions to gain. We showed our fighting spirit during this race and that's quite important. We move on to the next race as a team, with the aim of getting back to scoring points".
Sebastian Vettel's race was even more difficult, protagonist of a contact against Esteban Ocon, still showing numerous difficulties in adapting to his new single-seater:
"It was a rather complicated race. We tried to do something different with the strategy by only stopping once, but in the end it wasn't the best solution. I think we made the right decision to test it, but by the end of the race my tires were crumbling. The start was strong: I had a good start and was well positioned after the first lap, but it wasn't easy to make progress. I flat-spotted the right front slightly with a lock in turn 1, but we still had to extend the first stint to try and make the one-stop strategy work. In the end, however, we didn't get any points. There are a lot of things we learned in the race that we have to deal with. We'll see how quickly we can fix them. I don't feel at home in the car, there are a lot of things I have to fight against. This way I can't really concentrate on driving. We need to address and try to solve these problems. Obviously I adjust to how the car wants to be driven, but there are a lot of things that add inconsistencies that don't help. So we need to get to grips with these aspects. There is a lot of work ahead of us and we must take it step by step. We tried a lot of things with the car, with the setup, and there are a lot of things that still don't work the way they should. Once we have fixed them and we know how to put the car to be fast, we can only improve".
Lance Stroll can smile at the end of a very positive weekend. The Canadian driver made the most of the qualification in the top ten, and was rewarded by the point obtained with the final tenth place:
"It's good to finish the first race with one point, but it's fair to say we wanted more. We had a good first half of the race and made up some positions. I was comfortable in the car fighting the cars around us. We dropped a bit in the second half of the race on the hard tyres, but there are a lot of positives to see. I also enjoyed some good battles, especially against Alonso at the beginning. We know there are some areas where we can improve and everything we learned this weekend will help us in the next races. We have a few weeks before the next race to work on these aspects".
The Aston Martin team principal, Otmar Szafnauer, instead shifts the focus to the regulatory changes, which according to him would have penalized the performance of his Aston Martin excessively:
"I think the rude awakening came in qualifying, we realized after analyzing the data that the low raked cars were hampered a lot more by the regulation change. So we expected a difficult race. It is the first time ever, in my twenty-four years of sport, in which we have had to homologate the suspensions due to the new regulation made for Covid, they could only be changed if a suspension token was used. So even if we wanted to race with 150mm of rear height, we couldn't".
The Aston Martin team principal also returns to talk about the decision to approve this type of regulation.
"There was never a vote, there was only an indicative vote and three teams voted against. Remember that only two teams have a low rake draw. So one of the highly ranked teams also voted against it. There was no unanimity anywhere. It wouldn't even have passed with the eight out of ten rule, because we voted against it".
Even Alfa Romeo, like Alpine, didn't score points on their debut, but showed a clear improvement over last year's car, running an encouraging weekend. The riders were battling for the top ten for large stretches of the race. Technical director Jan Monchaux explains the differences between the C41 and the C39:
"It's no secret that we will suffer on the power unit side in 2020. We ourselves took too much time to exploit the potential in qualifying, no matter how high it was. The performances in the first qualifying round were embarrassing. Up until Barcelona we didn't have the set-up under control so that the riders had confidence. At the end of the year, we finished eighth in the constructors' championship which reflected our level in the race but not in qualifying. This was due to a number of issues. Set-up, aerodynamics: a little bit of everything. This year we want to place both cars in Q2 regularly and qualify around the sixth row. If you start from there, you're more likely to bring points home. If, on the other hand, you start from P18, something must happen in front of you for this to happen. In general, the car has become more stable, easier to drive. Last year we struggled on tracks that demanded a lot from the tyres, so we invested a lot of time there. We are now a step forward in this regard. We are quite satisfied so far with what we have tried. This is the most important thing, that is, that expectations are met and that the track gives feedback from the simulator. This was our case".
Antonio Giovinazzi, in particular, recriminates for the time lost at the pit stop, which cost him the possibility of staying in the top ten until the end of the race, which ended instead in P12:
"Compared to the start of last season we are much faster and have a much better car, we can be happy with the step forward we have made. It wasn't enough to bring home points today, but we are very close to the top ten. We can constantly fight for points. My race was good, I think I got everything I could out of the car but of course we lost time at the first pit stop. Mistakes happen, and we need to learn from them and make sure we don't make them again next time. Without the problem, I probably would have been close to where Kimi ended up. Now my attention is on Imola. I hope to get a good result to make the home fans happy".
Even Kimi Raikkonen is disappointed for not hitting the top ten that seemed to be within his reach, crossing the finish line only in P11:
"We had some good battles and the car handled well, but it's disappointing not to bring home points when you're in the top ten almost the entire race. With a few more laps we probably would have been able to catch the cars in front. The car was fine, like in the tests. We have taken a step forward from last year. We still have to work to close the gap with the top five teams, but we continue to struggle to find that something extra".
All in all, George Russell, the British Williams driver who was the author of a good duel with Kimi Raikkonen, is satisfied, who at the end of the race said:
"It was good to battle, I had some good fights at the beginning, gaining some positions and losing some others. I think it was a well-run race. The first stint was difficult but the second and third were good for what we can do and our pace was quite strong. This was the best we could do and I think our pace was good. Now I can't wait to get to Imola and evaluate where we are".
Nicholas Latifi also finds happy notes in analyzing his race:
"I was pleasantly surprised by how the car handled during the race. We expected quite a difficult situation. Instead, regardless of the problem that caused us to retire, I was surprised by the driveability of the car. It's not yet where we want to be, but I think what we've done has been positive".
The Haas team remains in the rear, confirming the expectations of the event. The team principal of the American team, Gunther Steiner, is aware that the top ten will be out of reach for them, unless there are extremely chaotic races, but he doesn't want this to cause a drop in tension and distract the riders from their goal of learn as much as possible from the dynamics of Formula 1, and improve the feeling with the car:
"I think our drivers have to learn to fight with the car. I think they both pushed the accelerator too hard going over the curb. But they are errors due to inexperience. I don't think it will happen again this season. Or rather, Schumacher and Mazepin will spin again, but not in the way they did in Bahrain. For them it was a new experience: making their debut in Formula 1, racing in the first race of their career, trying to fight with other single-seaters. And these emotions made them too optimistic about the level of traction they had or how much the car or the responses the car could give them".
Mick Schumacher is satisfied with his Formula 1 debut, crossing the finish line in P16:
"Overall, I'd say I'm 90 percent happy because of the mistake I made on the restart after the Safety Car. Luckily the car was still drivable and I was able to continue to build on my first experience of a Formula 1 race weekend. After going from medium to hard at the first pit stop, I felt really, really good in the car. It was a bit of a shame not to have been in the group to be able to at least try to stay close to the others for a few laps. However, I managed the blue flags well and was able to catch Latifi's Williams, so I was able to feel how it is slipstreaming with the DRS. Overall, I feel I learned a lot and hopefully I'll be able to convert that into something positive for the next race".
While his teammate, Nikita Mazepin, was not the author of a good debut in Formula 1:
"The question is simple, I made a mistake. My start was good, I entered the first corner from the outside. Approaching turn 2, I tried to avoid Mick because he was really close, but I opened the gas and the tires weren't yet up to temperature to respond well. That's why I spun. It was totally my mistake, I'm really disappointed. I am very sorry for the team because they deserved to do much better than that. Of course, there are always positives that we can take, including that we learned a lot from that".
To console him, his team principal, Gunther Steiner, thinks:
"He was pretty downcast. I just told him to carry on with his head held high. Sure, it's not ideal what happened, but it happened, and so he returned to the pits quite upset and demoralized. Now he's ready to get back on track, we've cheered him up. On the other hand, Mick Schumacher did a good job: at least we got half of what we wanted. Nikita pushed this weekend, but I think that's his nature, he tries to find the limit and sometimes he exceeds it. I can't even say I'm surprised at what happened, he's a guy who is committed and tries to do his best. Furthermore, our car is certainly not easy to drive".
The next appointment is scheduled in three weeks, when the Circus will move to Europe, and more precisely to Imola, to take part in the Made in Italy and Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, scheduled for Sunday 18 April 2021, with already several reasons of interest awaiting answers, above all the duel at the top between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, and their respective Mercedes and Red Bull Racing teams, the various fights in the middle of the group, but also the disputes with the FIA which will have to be resolved as soon as possible, who have all the potential to make this season truly exciting and compelling.