Before the 2021 Bahrain GP began, all eyes were transfixed on one engaging narrative. It was the fact that no driver had won at Sakhir starting from second on the grid since Nico Rosberg in the 2016 race. So while it was all pressure for Lewis Hamilton up first, starting from P2, it didn’t take long for the 2020 World Champion to exhibit sheer class, proving, in the end, a point that popular theories stand little chance in front of unfailing grit.
And it was pure grit and faultless consistency, in the end, using which the seven-time world champion opened his account in a true winner’s fashion, eclipsing the threatening charge of Max Verstappen in the Red Bull on a day where victory could have belonged to just about anyone out in the front.
But how did the 2021 Bahrain GP pan out and which moment and efforts truly made the race a must-watch contest of nerves and thrill?
Let’s find out!
Hammertime vs Mad Max run- the contest that sparkled the 2021 Bahrain GP
It was clearly meant to be the contest to watch out for between two of the grittiest and famed warriors of the track and in the end, did transpire into an ‘edge-of-the-seat’ duel that gave the fans their money’s worth.
The last time a Hamilton versus Verstappen battle lit up our screens with vivd joy and endless anticipation, it was the the double-header at the famous Silverstone. But this time around, buoyant Dutchman Verstappen fired the opening salvo by clinching the first of two mega battles in the form of taking the all-important pole on Saturday.
Though on race-day, a different strategy by Mercedes, one that proved to be a stellar calculative move in the end proved to be the undoing of Max Verstappen.
It was always going to be about which team would pit first enforcing pressure onto the other and on Sunday, an excellent early call by Mercedes to box Hamilton, beginning from second on the grid, put early pressure onto Red Bull to react.
On Lap 14, Hamilton worked the undercut on Verstappen, becoming the first man on the grid to box for harder compounds. Four laps later as Max pitted for medium compounds, it was the eventual race-winner Hamilton out in the lead.
What would follow from the onset of the midway stage would be a literal see-saw between two of the fastest men on the track for the battle of ascendency, with Verstappen seeming untouchable for the better part of the contest here at the 2021 Bahrain GP.
On lap 28, with nearly as many to follow, Max, pursuing Hamilton in the race-lead would bring down the gap remorselessly to just 2 seconds.
Was Lewis feeling the heat- there were no prizes for guessing and no time for speculation.
Later on, on lap 40, the race would become wide open with Verstappen pitting for a second time as Hamilton gained the advantage having demonstrated better tire management than Lewis (who’d used his first set for only sixteen laps).
But lap after lap from that point on, Verstappen would begin to close the gap to the race-leader. On Lap 46, Max was only four seconds behind Hamilton’s Mercedes, a difference he’d successfully contract to under 2 seconds by lap 50 (with only six more to go).
This epic juggling for authority between Hamilton and Verstappen formed the key highlight of the speedy, topsy turvy battle for supremacy at the 2021 Bahrain GP.
With no more than 2 laps to go, Hamilton would find Verstappen only three tenths behind his Black Arrows.
And along with sheer panic and pressure, there came the moment that would change the complexion of the contest once and for all as Verstappen finally managed to get the nose of his Red Bull out in front albeit with only one wheel on the field, gaining therefore, unwanted advantage over Lewis.
It would soon be a position he’d hand back over to Hamilton as he’d begin fresh pursuit of a Mercedes that he’d never eventually chase down.
On his part, Hamilton didn’t put a foot wrong, despite battling with rear tires that had completely worn out while Verstappen on his part, did pretty much all in his capacity to chase down the eventual race-winner.
But in midst of this struggle for glory, fans bonded over a titanic duel between F1’s magnanimous hero and its most impressive talent as on date, a contest that shall hopefully weave new chapters as the season progresses.
‘Firstly, can I just say it’s the first time I have seen fans in a long time, it’s so good to see people out here and everyone keeping their distance and staying safe. I’m so proud of what Formula One has been able to do, to start on a normal schedule this year and wow, what a difficult race that was! Definitely by stopping early, we knew it would be difficult, but we had to cover Max and keep the track position in the lead. They have had an amazing performance all weekend, so it was going to take something pretty special to get the win tonight. We stopped for that last stint and trying to find the right balance between pushing hard and saving tyre performance for the end of the race was difficult. And Max was all over me right at the end but I just about managed to hold him off. It was one of the hardest races I’ve had for a while so I’m really grateful for it and massively thankful for the men and the women back at the factory and here, for continuously pushing the boundaries and never giving up, even if we do feel we’re behind. But we love the challenge, I love the challenge, I love what I do,’ said Hamilton at the conclusion of the epic battle.
For now, let’s contend with the fact that the 2021 Bahrain GP was quite the thriller we’d all been so patiently waiting for.
Valiant effort by Fernando Alonso
One of the key narratives as also among the crucial talking points of this 2021 season has been the return of the racing ace Spaniard Fernando Alonso, a double world champion. Not a driver you’d ever treat lightly, not a man you can ever rule out of a fighting points finish, regardless of the machine he’s been paired with.
And for the better part of his comeback race, the Oviedo-born star lit up the 2021 Bahrain GP through some gritty efforts right in the middle of a challenging contest.
Demonstrating he still possesses the grit and the ebullience akin to a rip-roaring teenage racing fighter, Alonso first hogged the limelights this race weekend by putting his Alpine machine onto a competitive ninth (P9) at the end of the Qualifying run.
Later on in the race, he was engaged in closely-fought battles with the likes of Lance Stroll and later, Sebastian Vettel, a single Alpine machine proving good enough for the better part of the race for as many as two Aston Martin cars.
Putting pressure on his closest target for the evening, the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll, Fernando Alonso worked the undercut in his Alpine A521 by pitting on lap 12.
He’d emerge fifteenth and would succeed in keeping Stroll, who’d react immediately behind in sixteenth.
A psychological battle won, Alonso would realise that for him to be able to sneak further up into the points, he’d have to charge on the likes of Sainz, with whom he’d be embroiled in a fight at the latter stages.
By lap seventeen, finding Stroll, on fresher tires, coming in close proximity to his Alpine machine, Alonso defended his track position with all might only to concede the position to the roaring Canadian.
But there were more troubles in queue, with the other Aston Martin of Sebastian Vettel approaching the Alpine from behind the straights.
Then, on lap 21, the troika of Alonso, Vettel and Sainz would put on a mini duel that would last no more than a lap, the experienced Spaniard finding his straight line speed comfortably undermined by the faster, rapider machines Vettel and the younger Spaniard were contesting with.
Yet, during all this while, Alonso upped the ante of the battle and somehow found a way to keep himself in business for grid slots like eleventh before finally finding too much pressure to hang onto his twelfth.
From laps 27 to 34, he experienced difficulties in his rear tires that were clearly giving up. What didn’t help furthermore were braking issues prompting the fighting Spaniard to dive into the pits slowly before retiring on lap 34 with 23 still left to play.
‘Firstly, it was great to be back racing in Formula 1. The start was fun, we gained some places and I had some enjoyable battles with old colleagues. However, it was disappointing to not see the chequered flag in the end. The issue we had after the second stop was a rear brake issue as some debris entered the brake ducts and overheated the temperatures of the car. Looking at the race it was very close in the midfield, and just a couple of tenths seems to change the order quite significantly. I think it’s going to be a very interesting and competitive season to watch. We’ll go again and fight hard in Imola,’ added the former champion,
While it may not have been a spectacular fashion to return to the top of the draw, the 2021 Bahrain GP showed clearly that Alonso still has the stomach to put together a strong fight. Should his car support his intentions in the upcoming contests, we could well see something special from El Nino.
Spare a thought for Sergio Perez
For a driver who last emerged right on top of the podium in the evening sky here in the heart of the Persian Gulf in 2020, the 2021 Bahrain GP unfurled a rather dramatic albeit heartily-fought contest for Sergio Perez.
Sergio Perez may never have wondered about just what was to follow for his Red Bull fortunes even before the start of the contest, the experienced Mexican driver finding his woes further stymied by a problem in the electronics package of his car.
While a P11 start owing to a lacklustre qualifying was already hurting his chances here at Sakhir, it didn’t help to see Perez begin a rather long contest from the pits.
But soon as the five lights turned green, there was no looking back for the one-time Grand Prix winner, with Perez seeming immediately on the charge from the rear end of the field.
In a contest where although his task was to simply do damage-control having begun from a rather undesirable spot, Sergio Perez lit up the 2021 Bahrain GP all thanks to some excellent battles with the likes of the two Ferraris (Sainz and Leclerc) and Daniel Riccardo.
By lap 26, showing raw pace and penchant for good clean racing, the Red Bull driver was already up into eighth (P8), his latest victim the Ferrari#55 of Carlos Sainz.
He would soon thereafter make a fine pass over Lance Stroll‘s Aston Martin, moving up on to seventh. Was this even possible for a driver who at one stage looked so out of sorts, if not entirely defeated?
Later on as the contest expanded and moved beyond the midway stage, Perez, hardly ever struggling for grips stationed himself onto 5th, a position he’d hold onto right until the end of the contest getting the measure of the Ferrari of Leclerc.
‘Considering my race almost didn’t happen today, I think overall we can be pleased with today and take away the positives as the pace was really good and the potential is there. On the formation lap, all of a sudden the car shut down and I was so close to jumping out but I stayed in and somehow the car got going again which was a miracle really. That meant we had to start from the pit lane which wasn’t ideal but we managed to recover and I was just happy to complete the race and get that important mileage under my belt. It was really important to get that and of course it is a shame that Max didn’t win the race for the Team but it will come I’m sure and we will get there. We’ve got a lot of data to analyse now so that we understand everything and make sure we come back stronger at the next race in Imola,’ said Perez.
It’s hardly a surprise therefore that Perez rightfully bagged the driver of the day for demonstrating a stellar run from the back of the field to a very promising fifth in the end. Hopefully, there are a lot many fireworks in the works for the steely Mexican!
Yoku Yatta Yuki Tsunoda
The last time that a Formula 1 debutant scored points in his maiden drive at the top annals of the sport, it was 2016 and Stoffel Vandoorne in his McLaren-Honda was able to collect a vital solitary point.
But over half a decade since that period in time, Formula 1 has finally seen another debutant come and do the daunting, this time young Japanese Alpha Tauri driver Yuki Tsunoda, who with his brilliant P9 not only got off to a fine start but gathered two vital points for his Italian outfit.
Even as young Yuki, formerly Japanese F4 champion began his maiden Formula 1 drive from thirteenth on the grid, the daintily-built driver emerged a live wire on the abrasive Sakhir turf.
Throughout the contest, he was quick to latch onto opportunities going as far as lapping Alpine’s returning star driver Fernando Alonso at the midway stage.
‘I’m happy I managed to score points in my first Grand Prix – I think this race showed how great the performance of the car is. I have to say, I’m a bit disappointed still as I lost a few positions on the first lap – due to being too cautious – and had to work throughout the race to recover these. I’ve learnt a lot here in Bahrain, which is really positive, and I will take this with me to Imola. I had some strong overtakes during the race and, for me, overtaking Fernando was quite an emotional experience, he’s a Formula 1 superstar that I’ve grown up watching, so that was pretty exciting. I’m really proud of my performance and I’m looking forward to seeing how we do next time out,’ said a satisfied Tsunoda.
Demonstrating fine tire management, Yuki Tsunoda, who’s off to a fine F1 start in a career that seems destined to go a long way will take a lot of heart from his performance given that the 2021 Bahrain GP saw the young Japanese collect the only points that his outfit gathered on a testing evening for the ten teams and the twenty drivers.