Hamilton wins thrilling fight with Verstappen to take Bahrain victory

Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton resisted the challenge from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in a thrilling late battle in Formula 1’s 2021 season opener in Bahrain.

Mercedes and Red Bull Racing deployed differing tyre strategies, with Verstappen’s offset rubber life advantage in the final stint meaning he was chasing Hamilton after leading the early stages from pole.

With four laps to go, Verstappen attacked Hamilton around the outside of Turn 4, which has been heavily policed for track limits by the FIA, and as Max went too wide off the kerb he was ordered to give the place back further around the lap.

Verstappen was able to get back close to Hamilton on the final tour but was not able to attempt another move and lost out by 0.7 seconds.

At the start, Verstappen had covered Hamilton by quickly moving to defend the inside line into Turn 1, successfully defending the lead while Leclerc put the slightly-slower-starting Bottas under pressure for third.

Verstappen led Hamilton around the rest of the first lap, with Leclerc passing Bottas at Turn 4, shortly before the race was neutralised after Haas driver Nikita Mazepin dropped his VF21 by himself running through Turn 3 and spun off into the barriers.

The race, which was cut to 56 laps after Sergio Perez ground to a halt on the initial formation lap before restarting his engine and getting going again to start from the pitlane, restarted on lap four, with Verstappen leaving it as late as possible to head back to racing speed due to the headwind blowing down the pitstraight.

After hitting the gas again just before the finish line, Verstappen quickly stole to the inside to again defend the line on the run to Turn 1, with Leclerc also attacking Hamilton to Verstappen’s left-hand side.

But the race was quickly neutralised again as Mick Schumacher became the second Haas rookie to have an incident all by himself as he spun exiting Turn 4 on the safety car restart lap, while just ahead Pierre Gasly clipped Daniel Ricciardo’s left rear and lost his front wing, and Carlos Sainz Jr and Lance Stroll clashed at the final apex of the double Turns 9/10 complex.

Clearing up after the various incidents was covered by the virtual safety car, which ended as the leaders approach the Turn 8 hairpin on lap five – meaning Verstappen did not have to worry about a third Turn 1 defence.

But a suspected differential problem was causing the Red Bull driver issues as he had reported a strange feeling when applying throttle, which caused Mercedes to instruct Bottas that the lead was “all to play for” once he’d battled by Leclerc using DRS into Turn 1 on lap six.

The problem did not appear to be causing Verstappen any further issue during the next phase of the race, as he and Hamilton extended their gap over Bottas with a string of laps in the low one munute, 36 seconds, with the second Mercedes a chunk further back each time.

The gap at the front stabilised approaching the two-second mark, with Verstappen looking in control.

But on lap 13 Mercedes then opted to bring Hamilton in for an unexpectedly early stop – just two laps after Fernando Alonso had become the first soft tyre runner to come – and switch his mediums for hards.

Hamilton’s pace on new rubber was so strong that it was quickly apparent than a like-for-like strategy would mean Verstappen losing out in any case, so Red Bull kept him out until lap 17, when he came in to take another set of mediums – a lap after Bottas had taken hards.

Hamilton’s lead when Verstappen emerged from the pits was just over seven seconds, but the Red Bull driver quickly began to erode that advantage.

A series of laps in the 1m34s vs Hamilton touring in the mid one minute, 35 seconds meant Verstappen had nearly halved the Mercedes driver’s lead by lap lap 24, before the gap stabilised for a time.

But Verstappen was able to get back into the one minute, 34 seconds and again began to home in on Hamilton, getting to within two seconds on lap 28, at the end of which Mercedes brought Hamilton in for another set of new hards, wary of a Red Bull undercut.

Verstappen therefore retook the lead and stayed out on his mediums until the end of lap 39, with Hamilton steadily having cut his lead at the front to just under 16 seconds.

The result was Verstappen facing an 8.8 seconds deficit as he emerged from the pits, but with 10-lap fresher rubber, which he quickly used to eat into Hamilton’s lead once again – setting a fastest lap at one minute, 33.228 seconds on his first full lap out of the pits versus Hamilton’s one minute, 34.334 seconds.

After quickly cutting the gap with several more laps in the mid one minute, 33 seconds, Verstappen’s chase slowed a touch – although he continued to reduce Hamilton’s advantage as they negotiated lapping traffic by around half a second a lap each time.

Verstappen eventually got within DRS range with five laps to go, using it to set up his briefly successful Turn 4 pass.

After giving back the lead Verstappen appeared to make a significant slide into Turn 13 approaching the end of lap 53 and he struggled to close back up quickly to the rear of the Mercedes, eventually running out of time.

Bottas finished 37.3 seconds adrift of Hamilton in third after a slow second stop had dropped him ten seconds further from the leaders, and took a late extra stop to successfully chase the fastest lap bonus point on the final tour.

Lando Norris finished fourth having battled by Leclerc shortly after the Ferrari driver had been passed by Bottas in the early stages, and he was followed home by the charging Perez, who recovered from his formation lap issues to take fifth on a three-stop strategy.

Leclerc came home fifth ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and new team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr, with Yuki Tsuonda beating Lance Stroll to ninth at the end of the top ten.

Sebastian Vettel was classified P15 after being hit with a penalty for colliding with the rear of Esteban Ocon’s Alpine late in the race. Ocon eventually finished P13.

Gasly and Nicholas Latifi retired in the pits late on, while Alonso was the other retirement after suffering a suspected rear brake problem in the middle part of the race.

So a fantastic fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen for the race wheel. The seven-time world champion resisted the pressure to take victory in the season opener.

Bahrain Grand Prix race results:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:32:03.897
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull 0.745
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 37.383
4 Lando Norris McLaren 46.466
5 Sergio Perez Red Bull 52.047
6 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 59.090
7 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1:06.004
8 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:07.100
9 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:25.692
10 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:26.713
11 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo 1:28.864
12 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo +1 lap
13 Esteban Ocon Alpine +1 lap
14 George Russell Williams +1 lap
15 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin +1 lap
16 Mick Schumacher Haas +1 lap
17 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri DNF
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams DNF
– Fernando Alonso Alpine DNF
– Nikita Mazepin Haas DNF

Verstappen wins qualifying battle from Hamilton to take pole in Bahrain

Max Verstappen faced off the challenge from seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton to score the first pole position of the new Formula 1 season, as the Red Bull driver grabbed the Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying by over 0.3 seconds.

The Red Bull Racing star was in the zone as he was fastest in all three practice sessions at the Sakhir circuit, and Hamilton was fighting Max for the top position through Q3, with the latter twice taking provisional pole before being upstaged.

Hamilton’s first Q3 run of one minute, 29.549 seconds ended up 0.023 seconds behind Verstappen’s one minute, 29.526 seconds.

On the second Q3 runs, Hamilton improved to a one minute, 29.383 seconds, but was not able to improve his personal best time in the middle sector.

Verstappen, by contrast, swept to the session’s fastest times in all three sectors on his final run, as he took pole with a time of one minute, 28.997 seconds.

Valtteri Bottas improved on his final run in Q3 to take third, with Charles Leclerc fourth for Ferrari.

Leclerc, like Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso, only did on run in Q3 and used his one shot to knocked AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly back to fifth position.

Daniel Ricciardo beat his new McLaren teammate Lando Norris to sixth, with Carlos Sainz eighth for Ferrari.

Sainz had had a nervous moment at the end of Q1 when his engine appeared to cut out on his final run after he’d clattered over the kerbs at the exit of Turn 2 and was forced to trail slowly back to the pits.

Alonso’s Formula 1 qualifying return resulted in ninth position, with Stroll shuffled back to tenth after completing his sole Q3 run in the gap between the majority of the runners doing their first and second laps.

Verstappen, the two Mercedes drivers and Gasly will start the race on the medium tyres after getting through Q2 with a significant strategy advantage over the rest of the top ten, as the soft tyres the rest will use are likely to degrade heavily in the opening stint.

Sergio Perez’s first qualifying at Red Bull did not go to plan, as he was knocked out by Norris’s final improvement at the end of Q2.

The Sakhir Grand Prix winner had had his first Q2 time deleted for running too wide and falling foul of the track limits policing at the exit of the Turn 4 wide right-hander, while running on the medium tyres.

Perez went again on the mediums at the end of Q2 and even though he went over a tenth faster than the deleted lap, other cars improving behind him meant he was shuffled out of the top 10.

Antonio Giovinazzi scored his best dry qualifying result since the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix with P12, ahead of Yuki Tsunoda, who also could not get through Q2 on the medium tyres.
The AlphaTauri driver had finished Q1 in P2 but could not replicate his teammate’s effort on the yellow-walled rubber and was knocked out in P13.

Kimi Raikkonen finished P15, ahead of George Russell, who got out out of Q1 for the tenth time since the start of last season.

In Q1, a late Turn 1 spin for Haas driver Nikita Mazepin, who also spun off at Turn 13 at the start of the final sector in the early minutes of the opening segment of qualifying, cost two high-profile drivers.

A late improvement for Stroll meant Esteban Ocon was knocked out in P16 and left to rue the spun Haas in front of him at the start of his final lap – but this was still his best time and Ocon may be vulnerable to a post-qualifying stewards’ investigation that will examine all times set under the yellow flags that Mazepin’s off brought out.

Nicholas Latifi ended up P17 after setting his best time in Q1 ahead of Mazepin’s incident, while Sebastian Vettel’s difficult start to life at Aston Martin continued as he was knocked out in P18 – another driver who came across Mazepin’s car at Turn 1 on their final laps, and Vettel was came across yellows for Sainz’s slow travelling car exiting the Turn 8 hairpin.

Mick Schumacher’s improvement on his final Q1 lap boosted him ahead of Mazepin on the all-Haas final row of the grid.

So an exciting qualifying session with Verstappen beating the 2020 champion Hamilton to pole position. The fight between Red Bull and Mercedes is going to be intense and dramatic. This is brilliant racing!

Qualifying positions, Bahrain Grand Prix:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:28.997
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:29.385
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:29.586
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:29.678
5 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 1:29.809
6 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1:29.927
7 Lando Norris McLaren 1:29.974
8 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:30.215
9 Fernando Alonso Alpine 1:30.249
10 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:30.601
11 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1:30.659
12 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo 1:30.708
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:31.203
14 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo 1:31.238
15 George Russell Williams 1:33.430
16 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:31.724
17 Nicholas Latifi Williams 1:31.936
18 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 1:32.056
19 Mick Schumacher Haas 1:32.449
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas 1:33.273

Ferrari unveils new green Mission Winnow branding on SF21

Scuderia Ferrari is the final Formula 1 team to show off its 2021-spec racing car with the SF21 and the most significant visual change is the green Mission Winnow branding from title sponsor.

Ferrari hopes the SF21’s new look can help to bounce back from its worst season in 40 years in 2020.

The SF21 has retained the team’s traditional red livery, but has also incorporated the burgundy colour used to celebrate Ferrari’s 1,000th Grand Prix at Mugello last year towards the rear of the car. The numbering on the car is also the same design as that used at Mugello event.

The Scuderia’s main sponsor Mission Winnow has returned to the car for 2021 after its branding was not used at any race this year, most notably through a bright green logo on the engine cover.

Ferrari will give the SF21 its first on-track shakedown during a filming day at the Bahrain International Circuit before the start of pre-season testing at the same track.

The three-day test will be the only pre-season running afforded to teams before the opening round of the season in Bahrain on March 28.

New arrival Carlos Sainz, Jr. has been working with the team over the winter to get up to speed following his switch from McLaren, by running in Ferrari’s 2018 and 2019-spec cars.

Ferrari suffered a miserable 2020 season as it struggled with a draggy car and a lack of straight-line speed after its power unit performance took a hit following a settlement with the FIA regarding its 2019 engine.

The team has designed an all-new power unit ahead of the 2021 season, and has sought to improve the car where possible despite the freeze in the technical regulations for this year.

Team principal Mattia Binotto explained that the signs were encouraging regarding the recovery of its straight-line speed.

“I think that last year the main issue was the speed on the straight lines, not only the power but both power and drag,” he explained.

“Based on our simulations today, based on what we can see in terms of power output from the dynos, and the drag of the car from the wind tunnel, I think that we recovered quite a lot of speed on the straights.

“So I’m expecting the speed not to be such an issue as it was. We hope to be competitive, but we will know it only when being in Bahrain, because it’s always relative to what the others are doing.

“But we believe that our car is certainly more efficient compared to the one we had last year, and when I’m saying efficient, again, it is both from the aero point of view, and from the power unit point of view.”

Refreshing new look to Williams

This is the new livery design for Williams as the Formula 1 outfit revealed the FW43B, which will take part in the upcoming season.

Williams had planned to present its new racing car via an augmented reality app, only for hackers to force the team to abandon the idea and remove the app from digital platforms.

The team issued the first computer generated renders of the FW43B, revealing a striking new livery for the new car that will be raced by George Russell and Nicholas Latifi.

While the front of the car has retained its largely white-base design, the rear looks completely different, sporting a blue striped pattern that also incorporates the Williams ‘W’ logo.

The livery is also accompanied by some yellow elements around the sidepods, bulkhead and front wing endplates.

2021 marks the team’s first full season since its takeover by American investment group Dorilton Capital in August, which led to an overhaul of its senior management team.

The exit of the Williams family led to Simon Roberts taking over as team principal, while former Volkswagen motorsport chief Jost Capito has joined as CEO.

“Williams Racing is a sporting icon, and a team that has forged a reputation of success through sheer determination and grit intertwined with innovation, passionate and skillful race-craft and an absolute desire to win,” Capito said.

“Highs and lows are typical in any long-established sporting brand’s journey and historic success can be a strong motivator, but it cannot be relied upon to define future success in the modern era of Formula 1.

“Therefore, we have created a fresh new livery for the 2021 car; one that acknowledges our incredible past and retains the spirit, drive and motivation that remains at the core of Williams’ DNA yet looks to the future and signposts our long-term ambition to return to the front of the grid.

“Whilst we are just starting out on this journey and there is still a lot of work to do, we are happy to see momentum in the right direction and look forward to continuing that progress on track this season.”

Besides Capito, Williams has also been boosted by the return of 2009 world champion Jenson Button, who serves as an official advisor to the team he debuted with in 2000.

The team has finished last in the constructors’ championship each of the last three years, but enjoyed an upswing in form through 2020 as it regularly competed with Haas and Alfa Romeo.

New livery for Haas F1

An American Formula 1 team now becomes Russian, as Haas unveils its new livery for the 2021 campaign featuring title sponsor Uralkali.

The new VF-21 is a big change from what Haas has traditionally run in, adopting red and blue colours on the white base to reflect the colours of the Russian flag.

Uralkali is the world’s largest potash fertiliser producer and is headed up by Dmitry Mazepin, the father of 2021 Haas driver Nikita Mazepin.

“I’m very pleased to welcome Uralkali to Formula 1 as title partner to Haas F1 Team,” said team owner Gene Haas.

“We look forward to representing their brand throughout the season. It’s definitely a case of all change but I’m hoping that we get back to being in the mix for scoring some points at these races.

“It’s been a tough couple of seasons, but we’ve also got our eye on the bigger picture, in particular 2022 and the implementation of the new regulations.”

Haas enters the 2021 season following a difficult season that saw the team score just three points as it finished ninth in the constructors’ championship.

It will begin the upcoming season with an all-new driver line-up following the departures of both Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen at the end of last year.

Formula 2 champion Mick Schumacher graduates to Formula 1 with Haas, making his Grand Prix debut 30 years after his father, Michael, began his illustrious career.

Ferrari junior Schumacher will be joined at Haas by Mazepin, who finished fifth in last year’s Formula 2 standings with two race victories.

Haas has opted against spending its two permitted development tokens on its car for 2021 following the majority carry-over in designs under the revised technical regulations.

The move was taken to ensure the team can focus all of its resources on development for 2022, when there is an overhaul of the technical rulebook.

“It will be quite a challenging season going forward, we know about that,” said Steiner.

“We’ve braced ourselves for it. We’ll do as much as we can for this year for the mid-term, compromise the short term for the gains on the mid- to long-term. That’s our plan at the moment.”

The team has been boosted by strengthened ties with power unit supplier and technical partner Ferrari, which has established a ‘Haas hub’ at its Maranello base and redeployed staff with the American outfit.

Collective testing then runs from 12-14 March at the Bahrain International Circuit before the formal start of the 2021 season with the Bahrain Grand Prix on 28 March.

British racing green returns with the Aston Martin AMR21

The iconic British racing green makes a comeback following the Aston Martin reveal of the AMR21. The famous car manufacturer is marking the return of the constructor to the grid after 61 years away.

Racing Point are no more, with a rebrand to become Aston Martin. The team has adopted the British racing green colour that has long been teased, as well as retaining some pink elements that Racing Point was known for through sponsor BWT.

Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel made his first public appearance with the outfit at the launch event following his winter move from Scuderia Ferrari, joining new teammate Lance Stroll.

Both drivers will sample the new Aston Martin Formula 1 car for the first time when it completes a shakedown during a Silverstone filming day.

The AMR21 car is an evolution of last year’s RP20 following the freeze on wholesale development under the technical regulations in a bid to cut costs following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Technical director Andrew Green said the focus for the team over the winter had been on recovering the downforce lost under the rule changes for 2021, as well as updating the rear of the car to 2020-spec as designed by Mercedes.

“The main drive in performance is aerodynamics, so there’s obviously a big push on the aerodynamic side,” Green explained to select media.

“The regulation change that came through late last year had a big effect on the aero performance and we spent the winter trying to try to recover the losses from the changes in the regulations.

“That’s been a big focus. We’ve changed the rear of the car now to the 2020 suspension as supplied by Mercedes.

“That was always the plan. So those are the two main areas that we’ve been focused on over the winter.”

Aston Martin will look to build on an impressive year for Racing Point in 2020 that saw the team finish fourth in the constructors’ championship, and score its first victory at the Sakhir Grand Prix.

Team principal Otmar Szafnauer outlined the goals for Aston Martin in 2021, targeting a continuation of its late-season form from last year and greater consistency over the season.

“Success would be to start the season where we left off,” Szafnauer said.

“We were very competitive in the races towards the end of last year.

“Unfortunately, we had a few crucial engine failures towards the end, which meant we didn’t extract all the points we could have out of that performing car.

“If we can start with that car performance where we left off, but do a better job scoring points more regularly, and be a more consistent points scorer, I think that would be a success for us.”

Alpine presents the new A521

Alpine Formula 1 racing team has unveiled their new 2021 race car following the rebranding from Renault over the winter break.

In a virtual launch event hosted from the Enstone base, Alpine presented the new A521 car ahead of its race debut.

2021 will see the Alpine name make its appearance in the sport after Renault opted to rebrand its works outfit as part of a restructuring of the group’s companies and marques.

The team presented an interim livery in January, incorporate the red, white and blue French tricolore colours onto a black base design that was used for private test running with older cars.

Renault finished fifth in last year’s constructors’ championship, but scored three podium finishes to mark its first appearances since returning to Formula 1 as a works outfit in 2016.

Esteban Ocon will continue with the team for a second year, having picked up his maiden Formula 1 podium with Renault last season at the Sakhir Grand Prix with a second-place finish.

Following Daniel Ricciardo’s departure to McLaren, Ocon will be joined by the returning double world champion Fernando Alonso.

Alonso is returning to the sport after two years away racing in sportscars, IndyCar and the Dakar Rally, and will embark on his third separate stint at Enstone, joining on a multi-year deal.

Alonso first raced for Renault between 2003 and 2006, winning the world championship in 2005 and 2006 season. After one year at McLaren, he returned for 2008 on a two-year deal before leaving for Ferrari.

Fernando was not present for the team launch on Tuesday after a cycling accident last month delayed his pre-season preparations. His first appearance in Alpine colours will come at the start of pre-season testing.

The Alpine squad has undergone a number of managerial changes following the rebrand, including the exit of former team principal Cyril Abiteboul.

Former Suzuki MotoGP boss Davide Brivio has joined Alpine as its new racing director, marking his first stint into Formula 1, and will head up the team alongside executive director Marcin Budkowski. Both will report to newly-appointed Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi.

The Alpine A521 will make its first extended on-track appearance at the start of pre-season testing in Bahrain, which takes place from 12-14 March.

World champions Mercedes reveals the W12

Defending world champions Mercedes showcase their new 2021 racer, W12, and will go for the eighth consecutive constructors’ title this season.

Mercedes has retained the black-based livery for this year following its switch before the start of last season in a strong anti-racism message as supported by Lewis Hamilton.

But the team has replaced the speckled-star design on the engine cover, in favour of a series of stickers for its AMG brand against a background that fades to silver.

Although there is a majority carry-over from the W11 following the freeze on development, all Formula 1 teams have been permitted to spend two development tokens on major updates for the 2021 cars.

Mercedes revealed in February that it was battling some “issues” with its updated power unit, but was confident of getting fixes in place in time for the new season.

The German manufacturer enters the 2021 season following a busy winter off the back of its drivers’ and constructors’ championship successes last year.

The team announced shortly after the end of the season that INEOS had become a new shareholder, taking a one-third share in the squad, with team principal Toto Wolff upping his stake to the same level.

Wolff also agreed to continue to serve as Mercedes team principal for at least three more years, having overseen its streak of seven consecutive title wins since 2014.

While there are no changes in Mercedes’ driver line-up, the team only announced in February that seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton had signed for 2021, agreeing a one-year extension.

The deal ensured Hamilton stayed on the grid, but the short deal has led to a number of questions about his future beyond 2021.

Hamilton won 11 out of 17 races in 2020 as he swept to a record-equalling seventh Formula 1 championship, matching Michael Schumacher’s long-standing record.

Hamilton will be joined at Mercedes for a fifth season by championship runner-up Valtteri Bottas, who is also out of contract at the end of the year, making the team a key focus point in the driver market.

The Mercedes W12 will enjoy its first extended on-track running at the start of pre-season testing in Bahrain, which takes place from 12-14 March.