An undercut by the German team allowed the current champion to pit first and overtake the Red Bull pole-sitter
By Yuri Coghe
Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton used strategy to overcome Red Bull and Max Verstappen’s favouritism and win the 2021 season opener Bahrain Grand Prix.
A masterfully executed undercut by the German team allowed the current champion to pit first and overtake pole-sitter Verstappen on their first pit stop.
Verstappen then fought to get the position back after their final stop. He had fresher and faster tires and the best performing car in the Bahrain track, considering all this weekend’s free practices, qualifying and the pre-season testing two weeks ago.
The Dutch driver did manage to overtake Hamilton but race control ordered Red Bull to give the position back, as Verstappen went out the track limits to do it. He kept trying to pass the Briton on the remaining laps, but to no avail.
Verstappen said after the race he would have rather stay at first and receive a 5-second penalty for exceeding track limits, claiming he could have opened that much of a gap to Hamilton and therefore keep the win.
Valtteri Bottas completed the podium, putting the two Mercedes in the top three. The result showed the silver arrows are still very much competitive and tough to beat, even though Red Bull confirmed throughout the weekend that they have the best car in the grid – at least for the Bahrain race track.
The Finn also claimed the bonus point for setting the fastest lap on the very final spin of the race, a prize that had Verstappen’s name on it up until that point. Every point counts.
Lando Norris, who made one of the moves of the race with an early overtake on Charles Leclerc, came fourth. His teammate Daniel Ricciardo claimed a P7 finish in his first race for McLaren.
Ferrari also got both their cars in the top 10, confirming the improvement from their terrible 2020 season. Leclerc was sixth and Carlos Sainz Jr, debuting for the Italian team, finished eight.
Yuki Tsunoda, who impressed on Q1 on Saturday, got his maiden career point in his first F1 race. The Japanese driver finished ninth after a good performance that included beautiful overtakes, including one on 2007 world champion Kimi Räikkönen.
Tsunoda’s teammate, race-winner Pierre Gasly had his front wing damaged after tagging Ricciardo early in the race and eventually retired two laps before the chequered flag.
Solid race for Stroll
Lance Stroll, tenth, had a solid and clean Bahrain Grand Prix. The Canadian enjoyed a great move on former teammate Pérez, taking advantage of the Mexican leaving the pit with cold tires.
Stroll’s teammate, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, had a weekend to forget and finished 15th in his Aston Martin debut. He was eliminated on Q1 on Saturday and started last on Sunday after being punished for not slowing down under yellows flags in qualifying.
His race wasn’t much better either, with the German driver crashing into Alpine’s Esteban Ocon back on the final laps of the race. They were both able to keep going.
Both Alfa Romeo cars showed a much better pace than their 2020 challengers, with Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi finishing 11th and 12h, respectively. Not only were they close to the points, but they also got to figure in the top 10 for some parts of the race.
Williams, who also improved since last year, had George Russell finishing P14. Canadian Nicholas Latifi, however, struggled with car issues and had to retire close to the end of the race.
In his debut for Haas and in F1, 2020 F2 champion Mick Schumacher finished 16th. His teammate Nikita Mazepin spun all by himself in the first lap, crashed and retired from his maiden race only the first few turns, causing a safety car to be deployed. The skill level of the Russian driver has been questioned multiple times and his first performance on an F1 race certainly didn’t help.
A virtual safety car was also deployed for a different reason later in the race.
F1 now takes a three weeks break. The following race of the 2021 season is scheduled for April 18th, at Imola, Italy, for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
Further reading: Six reasons to start watching F1 in 2021
Check out the full race classification below: