After the shortest winter breaking in F1 history, just 104 days since the 2020 finale in Abu Dhabi, drivers will take to the Bahrain International Circuit to begin a 23-race calendar season, becoming the longest F1 calendar in history.
Remarkably, this weekend will be the third Grand Prix that Bahrain has hosted in the last five months, just a short period of 110 days between 2020’s Bahrain GP and this weekend’s Grand Prix.
Are Mercedes in trouble?
It has been two weeks since the 2021 cars were on track at the Bahrain International Circuit for pre-season testing, with the World Champions grabbing the headlines. Mercedes suffered reliability issues, lack of grip and balance throughout the three days, which eventually saw Sir Lewis Hamilton beach his W12 in the gravel.
It was obvious that the eight-time world champions were struggling, and while Mercedes is known for their usual sandbagging tactic, this year felt different for some reason. However, if any team can fix these problems in two weeks and return a competitive car ahead of the season-opener, it can be Mercedes.
Red Bull impressed in pre-season testing as Max Verstappen topped the timesheets with a lap time of 1:28.956, but more importantly, it was a plain-sailing day for the team that didn’t suffer any mechanical issues. They also head into the new season with a brand-new partner for Verstappen, Sergio Perez, with his experience and quality likely to provide a headache for Mercedes.
Red Bull looks to hunt down the ‘Silver Arrows’ and prevent their eighth consecutive constructor championship, starting with a potential victory at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
New Line-up, New Faces
Perez and three other drivers were on the move at the end of the 2020 season, with only three teams keeping the same pairing heading into 2021.
Aston Martin, previously known as Racing Point, will make their long-awaited return to the F1 grid this weekend, 60 years since they last competed in a Grand Prix. The British racing company will also bolster a four-time world champion in their ranks after signing Sebastian Vettel to partner alongside Lance Stroll.
With Ferrari not extending Vettel’s contract, the Italian manufacturers brought in Carlos Sainz after an impressive season at McLaren F1 Team, with Ferrari looking to build on the back on one of their worst seasons in 40 years, finishing sixth in the world championship last year. Sainz’ move to Ferrari saw McLaren bring in the experienced Daniel Ricciardo from Renault and welcome the return of a Mercedes-powered engine inside the MCL35M.
F1 will also welcome four new faces to the 2021 grid, well three new rookies, and a return of a well-known figure.
Two-time world champion, Fernando Alonso, has returned to F1 after three years away from the sport, returning to where it all began for the Spaniard in his career. He will compete for Alpine, previously known as Renault, and partner alongside Esteban Ocon.
Then, we have three new rookies, with F2 champion Mick Schumacher lining up at Haas F1 Team alongside Nikita Mazepin in what is set to be a difficult year for the team at the bottom of the grid. Red Bull academy driver, Yuki Tsunoda, also joins the grid for 2021 after replacing Daniil Kyvat at AlphaTauri and will become the first Japanese driver in F1 since 2014.
The start of another unpredictable season
The 2020 season will go down as one of the craziest but most entertaining campaigns in recent history.
Can the 2021 season outdo that?
At the moment, the signs suggest we could be in for an even more unpredictable season. While Red Bull seems to have closed the gap on Mercedes and could produce a thrilling championship fight, but need to start off strong at the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend.
The midfield battle looks as open as ever.
McLaren and Aston Martin set to be favorites for the third spot in the championship despite the latter troubles in pre-season. Although AlphaTauri showed two weeks ago their progression over winter, potentially challenging at the front of the midfield pack.
Plus, we have Ferrari and Alpine in the mix as well, unlikely to be frontrunners, and could definitely stir the pot on a few occasions and score a few podiums along the way.
Friday 26th March 2021
FP1: 11:30am – 12:30pm
FP2: 15:00pm – 16:00pm
Saturday 27th March 2021
FP3: 12:00pm – 1:00pm
Qualifying: 15:00pm – 16:00pm
Sunday 28th March 2021
Race start: 16:00pm