Ahead of the 2021 Formula 1 season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, we fired up the early pre-race report with the headline: LEWIS V MAX, Round 1 and it indeed turned out to be that way!
Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen – undoubtedly the best drivers of this current generation – slugged it out until the very last lap of an enthralling Battle of Bahrain, their battle under floodlights outshone all else on the night. Who finished third? Who cares!
The top two were: P1 HAM; P2 VER after a tussle we all wished for.
That will hurt Verstappen because it was the Red Bull driver’s race to win; he even took the lead only to be ordered to give it back for infringing the very odd track limit rules the FIA confused everyone with including themselves.
Nevertheless, Max gave it all he had in the manner only he does, while Lewis dug extra deep to fend of the attack, as only he can. Hunter hunted, old guard versus young gun, it is the blockbuster stuff we all deserve after too many years of lopsided racing at the highest level. Less David versus Goliath than ever before.
Not to take anything away from the mighty Mercs and their achievements, but as racers, they too relish a proper fight which has been denied them until now. Hamilton and Mercedes might live to regret the wish for a sterner challenge because there was again a hint from them that under pressure they drop the ball.
They dropped it for Valtteri Bottas, denying the Finn a shot at the top step of the podium thanks to a pitstop error, the kind that tends to befall the #77 car more often than the other. If this weekend was anything to go by then this year it will be business as usual for the World Champion and the sport’s best ever Wingman.
Red Bull new man Sergio Perez was also on the receiving end of some dubious luck on Sunday after he and his team got their sums wrong a day earlier in qualifying which confined him to 11th on the grid for his first race in Blue, with his teammate on pole.
Then, to add to Checo’s woes, the RB16B had a tantrum (or whatever hybrid turbo cars have) when it switched off for no reason. It eventually rebooted itself but Checo was forced to the pitlane for his start.
Thereafter he delivered what Alex Albon never did and Pierre Gasly hardly had time to prove he could do, and that is to battle his way up the field, overtaking with clinical precision to come home a handy fifth place and limit the damage.
Red Bull now understand why Perez had to be hired despite their apparent reluctance to do so. A real back-to-back with Max was not really on the cards this weekend, but its fair to say that Checo will not match Max on Q3 pace but rather in the race. The Mexican veteran ticked all the boxes this weekend.
Other questions asked before the start of the Bahrain race in our preview:
What can Sebastian Vettel do about his cascading form and errant ways?
Nothing. It got even worse when the German decided on an ‘alt.strategy’ that went awry and then he botched it again big time. The crisis continues for Vettel.
After being overtaken neatly by Esteban Ocon, Seb tucked behind the Alpine at the end of the start/finish straight and rear-ended it. Moments of brain-fade and brake-fade combined to add another glaring mistake to his large list of self-inflicted errors.
The worrisome part is that in the cockpit, and later in the TV pen, he insisted Ocon changed direction more than once when in fact all replays show Esteban doing no such thing, but rather keeping to a straight line.
It was the Brazil crash with Leclerc all over again. Seb has lost his mojo in close wheel-to-wheel combat and this time his excuse does not cut the mustard.
They say that when a race driver becomes a father he loses a second or so in speed. Maybe that’s the case with Seb? Someone, please do the maths.
Are we watching Esteban Ocon being Vandoorne-ed by Fernando Alonso?
Certainly, he was in qualifying and to a certain extent in the race. Fernando’s return ended with a DNF which one hopes is not a bad omen for the next chapter of his remarkable career. However, he was in just every midfield battle on the night until the Alpine cried enough.
The car that morphed from last year’s Renault is hopeless. probably only better than the Haas and Williams. So we are on full alert not only for the destruction of Esteban but also for when Fernando realises he has himself a Formula 1.5 on his hands…
On the night it was interesting to note that on lap 12 Alonso was the first to duck into the pits for a tyre change, a lap later, most of his rivals followed the example. Some things never change.
Of the two Charlies, Leclerc and Sainz, in Red, who will crack first?
That was a no show. They were too far apart to make comparisons. Like its predecessor, compared to the benchmark teams and their cars, the Ferrari SF21 is rubbish, and let’s face it they have no clue how to make it better, ever.
But there should be no complaints from the Tifosi who were warned this would be a shit year for their beloved team as Mattia Binotto goes about breaking everything he can find at Maranello that worked.
How good is Yuki Tsunoda?
Very good. He even beat the ‘blue-eyed’ boy Pierre Gasly who perhaps provided insight into why Red Bull don’t want him in the big team. After doing a stellar job on Saturday to claim fifth place on the grid for AlphaTauri, he lost his way on the opening lap and with it his front wing. A move that was too impatient and needless, the Frenchman’s own inconsistency is his worst enemy.
Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin and the donkey cart Haas they have to drive…
They may have painted the Haas in other colours but that cannot hide the shitshow that Gene Haas’s team has become. The ‘For Sale’ signs should be up because these guys are there only for the pay cheque.
Their evil car, which has not been developed or update since March 2020, was a handful in the hands of veteran racers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen. The car nearly killed them on more than one occasion, it was undrivable most of the time.
So they fire the veterans and bring in two rookeis, highly rated Mick Schumacher and lowly rated Nikita Mazepin, two rookies learning their craft at a crucial time of their F1 upbringing.
And they hand the youngsters the keys to the same shitbox of last year with zero updates and expect them to race. As expected it was an embarrassment. Maze-spin spun out in qualy a day earlier, and again on the opening lap of the race all by himself.
In his defence, the Haas whipped around on him like a striking cobra, and a couple of laps later the same happened to Mick in the other car, he spun but continued.
One has to wonder how Mama Schumacher ever condoned this catastrophe waiting to happen, for sure Papa Schumacher is not making any of the calls. The Schumi inner circle include the likes of Jean Todt, Sebastian Vettel, Ralf Schumacher – are these people all blind to the damage they are doing to Mick’s career?
It’s startling because something makes me fear those Haas cars in their current state, heaven forbid anything bad happens to the two boys trying to make a name for themselves on stage with no place to hide. Guenther Steiner and Gene Haas should be ashamed.
Another scribbling on my Bahrain notepad: Lap 53 HAM pits too early!
Well, I got that wrong! My maths was telling me they could have kept Hamilton out a little longer. But in the end, it was good Mercedes had their calculator working and it’s fair to say that while Lewis drove the wheels off the thing, his strategy guys had a big role in the triumph.
In closing, what a cracker of race we had thanks to the two top drivers of our era having the almost equal kit, which sets the stage for the 2021 season with LEWIS V MAX the main show, peppered with a collection of captivating sideshows which we witnessed on a great night for F1 in Bahrain.