7:42 AM ET
- Nate Sanders.
F1 Deputy Editor
– He has previously worked in rugby and British Superbikes.
– Studied history at the University of Reading
– Member of ESPNF1 in February 2014
- Lawrence Edmondson
– At ESPN since 2009
– F1 journalist accredited by the FIA since 2011
The first race of the Formula 1 season always gives rise to some generalizations about the year ahead. Sometimes they believe it, but often they don’t.
Now that the dust has settled after the Bahrain Grand Prix, Nate Saunders and Lawrence Edmondson analyse some of the key points from the first race.
Aston Martin made the mistake of signing Sebastian Vettel.
Sebastian Vettel made a difficult recovery during the race after being last on the grid. Dan Istitenet – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images.
Sebastian Vettel had a terrible start at Aston Martin. The four-time world champion, who had qualified 18th, was relegated and collided with Esteban Ocon while lying 15th in the race. This incident, which was not delayed by the yellow flags during qualifying, earned him five penalty points in the first weekend.
So was it a mistake for Aston Martin to sign the four-time champion?
The story circulating this year was that Vettel needed a transfer to Aston Martin. His career at Ferrari was so promising, but the last two and a half years, following his infamous crash at the 2018 German Grand Prix, have been painful to watch.
This struggle at Ferrari has not stopped Aston Martin owner Lawrence Stroll. The signing of Vettel was a resounding confirmation of the Stroll team’s grand vision, adding a world champion to a team with championship aspirations.
Would a change of scenery help Vettel rediscover his talent and forget his past mistakes and poor performances?
In this respect, the Bahrain Grand Prix was a disaster. It was just a lousy weekend from start to finish. He got out of that position and spent most of the race on a very optimistic one-stop strategy trying to fight for the last spot.
The clash with the iconic driver was also uncomfortable, and Vettel didn’t help himself by accusing the Frenchman of making a mistake when he clearly hadn’t.
But it’s too early to say Vettel isn’t worth the investment. On the one hand, he is driving for a new team and has to get used to a new car and engine – Daniel Ricciardo and Sergio Perez also deviated from their usual performance levels in their first races in similar scenarios.
From time to time, even great drivers are allowed to have a bad weekend. Vettel’s problem, however, is that his good weekends in the recent past have been well over the top.
Whatever you think of Vettel’s time at Red Bull, he is a four-time world champion and deserves the benefit of the doubt in this situation. If he can recover quickly from his first appearance in the British green and make a purposeful return to the European stage that now awaits him, he will hopefully begin to regain some of his old personality.
If he doesn’t, that statement doesn’t start to sound so hyperbolic. But we’re not there yet.
Yuki Tsunoda is the real deal.
Yuki Tsunoda gained a lot of fans at his AlphaTauri debut. Peter Fox/Getty Images
The hype surrounding AlphaTauri rookie Yuki Tsunoda and his Bahrain Grand Prix has only added to the excitement.
Tsunoda finished ninth, scored twice and made some impressive saves. In ninth place going into the final lap, Tsunoda bumped into Lance Stroll by a considerable margin.
Is he the most exciting rookie since the 2019 George Russell and Lando Norris?
Verdict: DO NOT OVERREACT
Tsunoda seems like a fantastic candidate. His season in Formula 2 last year, in which he won three races and finished third overall, showed that he remains on the right side of the gap between aggression and excitement during races.
His overtaking manoeuvres on Sunday showed Daniel Ricciardo’s talent for late braking, something he has demonstrated time and time again. Ricciardo is considered the best late bloomer in Formula 1, but the Red Bull program seems to have discovered another candidate for that label.
Of course, Tsuonda is still inexperienced and we can expect ups and downs this year. Saturday was a good example of how Tsunoda’s considerable talent is still raw. Tsunoda set an excellent lap in Q1 and ended qualifying second behind Max Verstappen, but it was Italian Grand Prix winner Pierre Gasly who saw the true potential of the car and entered the top five. For comparison: Tsunoda missed Q2 and started from a lower grid position than his car should have.
However, this is not a major problem as it seems to be a case of inexperience due to lack of driving habits. On his debut, Tsunoda showed that his racing ability is there – he even saw off Fernando Alonso a few corners ahead of him after overtaking the Spaniard midway through the race – and his qualifying performance will only get better with time.
The situation in Zunda will be exciting to follow in the coming years. With Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon failing to make the senior team after impressive positions in the junior team, Red Bull might decide to play it safe with the Japanese rookie. Sergio Perez has been contracted by Red Bull as Max Verstappen’s teammate for a year, and it seems logical that the team will continue with him until they feel Tsunoda is ready to take over.
Nikita Mazepin is not ready for F1
Nikita Mazepin needed two corners to win the Bahrain Grand Prix. Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Nikita Mazepin spun four times in his first weekend in Formula 1. The last, in the third corner of the race, flew on itself and crashed into the wall.
Ahead of the next race in Imola, Mazepin has driven more formation laps (Sunday two) than real Formula One Grand Prix laps (zero).
So he would have won another year in Formula 2?
Verdict: DO NOT OVERREACT
This decision has nothing to do with the extrajudicial disputes that preceded its commencement. In an interview with ESPN earlier this year, Mazepin said people should judge him by his track performance, and he followed that statement with one of the worst debuts in recent Formula One history.
What bothered the Russian driver the most was that they were illegible errors. On Sunday, he admitted that he had put too much pressure on the accelerator after the climb to avoid contact with teammate Mick Schumacher. His spin in practice and the two that followed in qualifying were also unsuccessful and appear to have been caused by similar errors.
During pre-season testing, Mazepin almost lost control on the same section of the track after underestimating the effect of the turbulent air coming from Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo in front of him. Looks like he didn’t take this class to the races.
Mazepin’s teammate Mick Schumacher also spun early in the race, but was able to prevent his car from ending up in the wall. Schumacher was otherwise blameless and finished the race in last place, which means next to nothing for Haas and its rear-engined car this season.
Mazepin showed some talent in his rookie career, winning three Formula 2 races last year, but many drivers with longer careers in Formula 1 have failed to make the step up to the world championship.
Mazepin has 22 games left to overturn this verdict, but he has already withdrawn.
Fernando Alonso’s return was a mistake.
Fernando Alonso left his first race with Alpine after a sandwich bag got stuck in the brake duct of the rear brake. Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
After a disappointing stint at McLaren from 2015 to 2018, Fernando Alonso was expected to return to Formula One with Alpine and join a better team in the midfield.
However, based on what we saw in Bahrain, Alpine fell back to the middle ground and although Alonso managed to get the car into Q3 and make a strong start to the race, he ultimately failed to stay in the top 10 before retiring.
So will Alonso be better off watching the 2021 season from his couch?
The first year of Alonso’s return was always a year of transition. Like many midfield teams, Alpine is aiming for a starting spot next year to accommodate the major rule change in Formula One, but it also has a number of factors against it this year that were always going to make the 2021 season difficult.
For starters, Alonso is racing a three-year-old chassis. The Alpine A521 shares basic principles with the Renault, which will make its debut in the 2019 season. Indeed, the company is involved in a plan to nip development in the bud by delaying an overhaul of Formula One rules until 2022 and introducing austerity measures for 2021.
In early 2020, Renault decided to continue working on its 2019 car in order to devote more resources to the new regulations, which were originally planned for 2021. Then the pandemic hit and not only were the new rules delayed by a year, but teams were forced to move their chassis designs from 2020 to 2021 to save costs.
Moreover, Renault is the only engine manufacturer that has not made any major updates to its engine this year. Again, the French brand is putting everything on 2022, which is also the last chance to rethink the existing engines before freezing development.
Not surprisingly, Alpine lost its momentum against the midfielders.
But that won’t stop Alonso from getting everything out of the car this year, and his P9 grid position was a statement of intent from the two-time world champion. It seems he put too much pressure on his tyres to keep up with McLaren and Ferrari at the start of the race. But now Alonso will store the knowledge of Pirelli tyres in his head for the next race.
It seems there will be no podium finishes for Alonso on his return, and a points finish might even be a struggle, but confirmation (or not) of Alonso’s return to F1 will come in 2022.
Red Bull has the fastest car
Max Verstappen took pole position in Bahrain and finished second in the Red Bull RB16B. Lars Baron/Getty Images
Max Verstappen’s 0.388-second lead over Lewis Hamilton in qualifying allowed Red Bull and Mercedes to swap places at the head of the grid, something that had already been confirmed during pre-season testing.
The race was a refutation of that statement. It showed that the combination of Lewis Hamilton at the wheel and a good strategy on the pit wall could give Mercedes an advantage, but for 56 laps it was clear that Verstappen had the faster car.
So Red Bull has the fastest car on the grid for the first time since 2013?
Verdict: DO NOT OVERREACT
The craze is real. Granted, we only have one circuit (which is in no way representative of the 23-race schedule), but Red Bull was at an advantage over Mercedes in all types of corners at the Bahrain International Circuit.
That’s not to say Mercedes can’t catch up, but in a season where budgets and aerodynamic testing are tighter than ever, it’s extremely important for Red Bull to get off to a good start.
Mercedes believes its biggest weakness lies in the high-speed corners, but also admitted it lost lap times to Red Bull in turns 9 and 10, which require a combination of hard braking and cornering. More downforce would help the W12, but until qualifying, Mercedes was still struggling to find a setup that would provide a solid control platform to move forward.
Mercedes are likely to have fewer problems at the next races in Imola and Portimao, but the fast nature of these two circuits should allow Red Bull to maintain its lead. Combined with Honda’s significant improvements, Red Bull has a package that can win races and championships.
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