5 THINGS WE LEARNED IN BAHRAIN
It was great to see the year get underway at the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain, a fitting venue for the season opener. The racing was competitive with endless subplots of teams fighting each other for starting grid positions and valuable points, and the cars looked dazzling in the dark, with many opting to forego the matte paint that has become so popular in recent seasons for some shiny gloss that looked stunning under the artificial lights.
The mood prior to the race in press conferences and the plethora of driver interviews was electric - everyone involved in FORMULA 1 appeared to be incredibly happy and grateful that the season was able to go ahead, and the mood was even higher after the race when the close racing and exciting finish was witnessed by all. We were buzzing, everyone in F1 was buzzing.
Here’s five things we learned during the weekend that we wanted to highlight.
1. Lewis Hamilton has lost none of his speed and skill
We at 4MLA1 certainly do not fall into the category of Hamilton fanboys/fangirls, and we certainly do not fall into the category of Hamilton Haters - we merely have a high level of respect for Lewis’s skill. The race in Bahrain only increased our level of respect. What was evident and clear during the final laps of the race was that despite having older tyres on his slower AMG Mercedes compared to Max Verstappen’s Red Bull Honda, Lewis demonstrated the ultimate level of skill, maturity and absolute raw speed and control of a car on the limit of its capabilities to keep ahead of a flying Max. Yes, maybe without the track limit controversy the result may have been different, and maybe Max did have a problem with the differential on his car that wasn’t clear during the race, but one thing we can say for certain is Max had the advantage, he had the speed to win and he had the pit stop strategy to win, but Lewis used every ounce of his experience and skill to stay ahead at the vital time in the final series of laps. It was an exciting finish and we cannot wait to see more of the same.
2. Perez is awesome
There is a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Sergio Perez this season: he is up against one of the best drivers in FORMULA 1 in Max Verstappen, in a team and car that is seemingly designed to play to the strengths of Max’s style, and Sergio replaces a series of Red Bull Academy drivers that can only be described as disappointing and unable to match the level of their team mate. I am sure he is also mindful of the fact that he has once before had an opportunity to drive a leading car and he will want to redeem himself for that disappointing 2013 season at McLaren.
Sergio would have been determined to start this season strongly and demonstrate his value to his new team, and boy did he pull victory from the clutches of defeat on the Sunday in very impressive style. The car clearly had issues that were discovered between qualifying and race day - it was being frantically worked on by the Red Bull team on the morning of the race with commentators suggesting it was something related to the electrical supply to the power unit of the car. Screens were up in the garage, parts were replaced in frenetic fashion, engineers were on the floor under the car working under extreme pressure moments before the car was due to pull out of the garage to make its way to the grid. Of course, the Red Bull crew, impressive as ever, completed the work in time and all was well for Sergio to take his place… or was it?
On the parade lap prior to the race start, the cameras switched to Sergio pulling over to the side of the track, slowly coming to an agonising stop. Clearly something was amiss and it was easy for even the uninformed (like ourselves) to see there were no lights on the steering wheel, and it must have been something related to the electrical supply that had been worked on moments earlier. Time must have stood still for Sergio in that moment: he had no power, no comms to the pit wall, no way of knowing what the issue was or how to discuss with his crew how to fix the problem in a car that was new and unfamiliar to him… all with literally seconds to go before the race was about to begin.
How Sergio managed to have the mental capacity and presence of mind to methodically go through reset and restart processes using the plethora of buttons and dials on his steering wheel is beyond comprehension. With time ticking away, the steering wheel lights flashed into life and after a final few inputs the car was moving again. Sergio had to start from the pit lane in twentieth and last position on the grid, yet he stormed his way through the field in impressive fashion to finish fifth overall and earn some valuable points for the team. Sergio even admitted after the race when the car was at a standstill on the side of the track he very nearly stepped out of the car. A real example of not cracking under pressure, using your experience and knowledge to calmly demonstrate your value to a team fighting to win Championships. Take a bow, Sergio, that was impressive.
3. Alpha Tauri were very unlucky
The Alpha Tauri rebranding from Toro Rosso to the slick, progressive and modern livery of the blue and white fashion-conscious Alpha Tauri can only be viewed as successful, even after only a relatively short time. The cars look striking on the track, they have an exciting driver line-up in Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda and they already have a win and plenty of points on the board since the inception of Alpha Tauri was revealed to spur them on further.
The team hit the ground running in pre-season testing, with Yuki Tsunoda lighting up the timing screens with some sensational hot laps. Gasly didn’t disappoint either, consistently posting fast times. They turned up on race weekend with a menacing presence and they were ready to ruffle a few feathers of the leading teams. Unfortunately the weekend didn’t pan out quite as well as many expected. They gambled during qualifying on tyre selection for Tsunoda and ultimately missed out on getting through to the Q3 showdown, a simple error that cost Yuki dearly and meant he started the race from P13. The tyre gamble for Gasly worked out nicely, comfortably getting through Q2 on medium tyres and he stormed through Q3 to qualify very well in P5, just behind the two Mercedes, the Red Bull of Max and the Ferrari of Leclerc.
After a good start and safe passage through the opening laps, Gasly’s race started to unravel on lap 4, colliding with Daniel Ricciardo as Lando Norris in the other McLaren flew past them both. Gasly lost his front wing and the resultant pit stop put him out of contention for some big points. Gasly went on to finish out of the points in 17th place; Yuki however showed some signs of talent and finished in 9th, scoring two valuable points for the team.
After the race Pierre Gasly commented “We had a very strong weekend since we arrived and starting P5, I was hoping for some good points today, and then it was pretty much over after the contact with Daniel. But I think there are still quite a lot of positives to take away from this weekend and that’s what we’ll look at for Imola.”
We certainly agree with that and we look forward to both drivers putting themselves towards the front of races and competing strongly with the likes of McLaren and Ferrari.
4. Lando Norris means business
We believe Lando’s fourth place finish in the opening race has been a little overlooked and underappreciated. Maybe that is because Lando has established himself as a reliable driver and consistent points scorer during the last two seasons, without ever doing anything spectacular or out of the ordinary.
This 2021 season presents some new challenges for Lando: a rapidly developing McLaren car that is inching its way closer to the front of the grid and closer to the top of the constructors’ championship, which is particularly exciting after an alarming and rapid decline for McLaren not so long ago during Fernando Alonso’s second spell in the team. It’s great to see the papaya car fighting for points and podiums again. This in itself adds an interesting dynamic to Lando’s third season in FORMULA 1. Add to that the pressure of a new teammate in Daniel Ricciardo, an established F1 star, capable of not only winning races but arguably challenging for title wins if he was ever to find himself in a leading car. Lando will be keen to not concede his position in the team and fall behind Daniel to be considered the McLaren number two driver.
Lando didn’t disappoint in Bahrain, stamping his authority on the race by overtaking Daniel Ricciardo on Lap 4 and storming to a fourth place finish. There were no podium celebrations for Lando this time, but he can be proud of his first drive up against Ricciardo in an equal car, who finished behind him in seventh place after a collision with Gasly. Well done Lando, keep it up and we look forward to seeing how that inter team battle develops this season.
5. Mazepin the brunt of internet jokes
Nikita Mazepin has already been in the press over the winter break for all the wrong reasons, I’m sure he was looking forward to trying to put that all behind him and getting his first season in FORMULA 1 started, driving for the underdogs on the grid, Haas. Unfortunately Mazepin had to get to grips with a slow and seemingly difficult to drive car, which looked unstable under braking with often violent oversteer issues on some corners. Nikita was unable to control the car and blamed the brake-by-wire system causing the two spins during his first qualifying session, which resulted in Nikita starting in P20 on the grid.
The weekend only got worse for the Russian driver as he spun on turn three of the opening lap of the race, hitting the barrier and ending his miserable weekend in Bahrain before the rest of the grid had completed the first sector. A disappointing experience for the rookie which only raises the question again: Should Nikita Mazepin be driving in FORMULA 1?
It’s widely known that Mazepin catapulted himself ahead of other talented drivers from the F2 series because of the hefty sponsorship deals that Mazepin’s family and business connections can offer, which will help with funding the Haas team. However, it doesn’t help the team if the driver is incapable of being competitive. Only time will tell if Mazepin deserves his seat in F1 and if Haas made the right decision to accept the sponsorship and funding that comes with Mazepin, but so far we have little evidence that it was the right decision.
In the meantime, we will continue to enjoy the plethora of “Mazespin” memes and internet jokes that have proliferated since the opening weekend... they really are quite funny.