The 2021 Formula 1 season finally begins this weekend, and there are a number of reasons to be excited about the Bahrain Grand Prix.

After a short winter break and a reduced pre-season test consisting of just three days of running, there is an added sense of mystery heading into F1’s longest-ever campaign, with plenty of questions still to be answered.  

Here are five reasons why we’re excited for this weekend’s race…

1. We will find out the true extent of Mercedes’ issues 

Attention will be firmly on the reigning world champions in Sakhir after a troubled winter test. Mercedes had a far from ideal start to 2021, with reliability gremlins and rear-end instability hampering its programme. 

Mercedes uncharacteristically ended the three-day test at the bottom of the mileage charts due to a number of niggling issues including a gearbox problem on day one which left the team on the back foot. 

Both drivers struggled to tame their updated W12 and reported handling and balance issues with the rear-end, which Valtteri Bottas described as being “quite snappy and unforgiving”. Lewis Hamilton had a pair of spins on consecutive days, the first of which caused a red flag with his Mercedes beached in the gravel at Turn 13. 

Mercedes ended the test convinced it heads into the first race slower than Red Bull, who in turn have been quick to downplay the early favourites tag, leading to intrigue as to which team really is in the best place entering the new season. 

Amid calls that Mercedes is simply sandbagging, come qualifying in Sakhir the gloves will come off and we will know for definite whether Mercedes genuinely is struggling, or whether it has pulled the bluff of all bluffs.

2. The prospect of a Hamilton v Verstappen battle 

Just how bad Mercedes’ issues are, coupled with Red Bull starting strongly, will dictate what kind of title fight we will have in store this year. 

F1 fans are hopeful of a classic, swashbuckling scrap that runs the course of the 23-round season, and the early signs have pointed to the mouth-watering prospect of a battle between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen

While Mercedes enters the campaign as clear favourites following its domination of the V6 hybrid era, teams have been forced to carry over large parts of their cars from last season to save money, and it was Red Bull who ended 2020 on a winning note. 

Red Bull and its engine partner Honda are going all out this year, with the Japanese manufacturer fast-tracking the development of a brand new power unit in its bid to help Red Bull clinch a first world championship title since 2013 before it pulls out of F1. 

Against a strengthened Red Bull and ever-improving Verstappen, Hamilton looks set to have his work cut out as he embarks on his quest to win an unprecedented eighth world title this season. 

3. The pecking order will finally be revealed 

Attempting to predict any kind of competitive order based on pre-season testing alone was a near-impossible task given the many variables at play, but this weekend we will finally get a first proper glimpse of how each team stacks up against each other. 

We will have to wait until qualifying for a true reflection of each team’s respective pace, but following the Bahrain Grand Prix, we will at least have an idea of who has had the best winter and is well-placed for the rest of the campaign. 

The midfield pack was especially hard to try and quantify, with McLaren, Alpine and AlphaTauri enjoying a strong pre-season, while Ferrari, Alfa Romeo and Williams also showed encouraging signs of improvement. 

Aston Martin is arguably the biggest unknown quantity given its reliability troubles and subsequent lack of miles, though Lance Stroll turned in some flashes of encouraging pace on Friday. 

Amid uncertainty one thing looks clear; the midfield battle appears closer than ever and is set to rage for the entirety of the season.

4. New faces in new places 

While much has remained the same heading into 2021, there has been a raft of driver changes following a dramatic shake-up last year that was set off by Ferrari’s decision to replace Sebastian Vettel

The Italian outfit signed Carlos Sainz to form Ferrari’s youngest driver pairing in decades alongside Charles Leclerc, while McLaren swiftly moved to lure Daniel Ricciardo away from Renault as Sainz’s replacement. 

Ricciardo’s exit from the rebranded Alpine squad opened the door for two-time world champion Fernando Alonso to complete a sensational return to the sport after two years away racing in other series. 

Vettel at one stage looked to be down and out of F1 but has been offered a lifeline to rebuild his reputation at Aston Martin, after the former Racing Point team rather unceremoniously booted out Sergio Perez, who in turn found an unlikely but deserved landing spot at Red Bull, replacing Alex Albon after the Anglo-Thai driver failed to live up to expectations. 

In total, just three teams (Mercedes, Alfa Romeo and Williams) remain unchanged for 2021, having opted for continuity and stability. The raft of changes elsewhere on the grid has resulted in some fascinating dynamics and storylines to follow across the course of the season. 

5. The return of a legendary name 

The legendary Schumacher name will return to the F1 grid this year for the first time since the end of the 2012 season following Mick Schumacher’s graduation.

Schumacher will make his hugely anticipated F1 debut with American team Haas at this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, having been crowned Formula 2 champion in 2020. 

As the son of seven-time world champion Michael, there is no doubt that Mick will face an added level of scrutiny and expectation compared to most F1 rookies, but the 22-year-old German insists he sees his name as a positive rather than a burden. 

Following in the footsteps of his legendary father, Schumacher is one of three rookies joining the F1 grid this year, all of whom have graduated from F2. One of them, Nikita Mazepin, will be his teammate at Haas. 

The other is exciting Japanese prospect Yuki Tsunoda, who is highly regarded by Red Bull and Honda and will make his F1 debut alongside Pierre Gasly at AlphaTauri. 

The 20-year-old has enjoyed a rapid four-year rise up the single-seater ladder and has been promoted to F1 after an impressive rookie campaign in F2, winning three times on his way to third place in the championship.

 

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