The highly anticipated 2021 Formula 1 season finally got underway on Sunday, March 28, as a fairly refreshed F1 circus descended onto the Bahrain International Circuit for what would become a gripping Bahrain Grand Prix season opener.
Ahead of the first race day of the year, a determined Max Verstappen dominated in practice and qualifying, as the flying Dutchman took pole position ahead of defending World Champion Lewis Hamilton. Having started at the front of the pack, the young Red Bull seemed to have the competition under control, but a series of tactical pitstops saw Hamilton and Verstappen lock into a dramatic duel in the desert.
As the final few laps approached, a thrilling finale was set up. Verstappen pushed his Red Bull hard to bridge the gap between himself and the Mercedes of Hamilton, before making what could have been a fatal blow to the race leader on the 53rd lap. The rapid Red Bull muscled past the Mercedes, but ran wide and as a result of this, Verstappen had to give his hard-earned lead back to the Brit.
This would ultimately be Verstappen’s last chance, as Hamilton managed to hold him off to cross the line and subsequently win the 2021 Bahrain GP with just 0.7 seconds separating the two fierce competitors. Shortly thereafter, Valtteri Bottas completed the podium and took the additional point for the fastest lap on his last lap.
In fourth place was Lando Norris, who put in a big shift in his orange McLaren to hold off the rest of the pack. Meanwhile, a determined Sergio Perez pushed his Red Bull from a pit lane start to fifth place, overtaking Charles Leclerc in the process. The Monegasque driver started in fourth place, but would have to settle for sixth at the end of the race. Still a marked improvement compared to last season for a weary Scuderia Ferrari team.
The first race of the season was not exempt from crashes either, as several drivers clipped and collided into one another as tensions ran high. Returning F1 veteran Fernando Alonso did not have a dream debut with the fresh Alpine F1 team, as a brake issue forced the Spaniard to retire on the 33rd lap.
So there we have it, the return of Formula 1 in 2021 was as dramatic as some may have suspected it would be. A heavyweight battle between the reigning champion and the young challenger seems to signal the dawn of what could become a tight struggle for supremacy between Mercedes and Red Bull.
With the new season now underway, F1 fans will have to wait two whole weekends until the next race on the 2021 season calendar, on April 18 at the Imola Circuit for the Emilia Romagna GP. Hamilton was victorious at the iconic Italian track last year, but will he be able to find success so easily, with an increasingly more threatening Verstappen now very much in his rear view mirror?