The 2021 Formula 1 season begin in spellbinding fashion as Bahrain conjured up the most exciting opener to a campaign in years as Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen diced it out for the win.

Hamilton ultimately prevailed in a dramatic and nail-biting finale after Verstappen had to concede the lead following an illegal overtake, with Mercedes and the reigning world champion striking the first blow in what promises to be an enthralling title race.

As usual, there were mixed fortunes up and down the grid as the 2021 season kicked off in style. Here are our winners and losers from the Bahrain Grand Prix…

Winners

F1 and the fans

The 2021 opener delivered on the pre-season hype of a closer battle between Red Bull and Mercedes with the Bahrain Grand Prix producing an epic sparring match between F1’s two heavyweight drivers, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton.

Hopes of a season-long fight between seven-time world champion Hamilton and the young challenger Verstappen were given a real boost as the pair diced it out for a win that went right down to the wire.

Red Bull may have held the upper hand in qualifying, but Hamilton was able to turn the tables on Verstappen on Sunday thanks to an inspired strategy call and brilliant drive. The last 10 laps were as intense as they were thrilling as Verstappen hunted down Hamilton, who remarkably fended off the Dutchman’s pursuit despite having a tyre disadvantage.

If the rest of the remaining 22 rounds follow in a similar fashion, we are in for a truly memorable season.

Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton’s 96th victory of his career will surely go down as one of his best, having defeated Verstappen on merit in arguably inferior machinery on the day.

Hamilton certainly went some way in dispelling the notion that his success has been borne out of driving ‘the best car’, as he overturned Red Bull’s pace advantage and scored his first win at a season opener since 2015.

The Briton had to work hard for his latest triumph as Verstappen pushed him all the way, even forcing him into a rare mistake at Turn 10 with only a handful of laps remaining.

But Hamilton regained his composure and after regaining the lead following Verstappen’s illegal Turn 4 overtake with four laps remaining, the Mercedes driver was not going to be caught out again as he held on in a grand-stand finale for one of his hardest-fought wins.

Lando Norris

Lando Norris’ sublime drive was overshadowed by the fight for the lead, but the Briton turned in an excellent performance to finish fourth as the lead midfield runner.

Having snuck past Daniel Ricciardo on the opening lap to get one back on his new teammate after losing out in qualifying, Norris pulled off some ballsy moves on the likes of AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc on his charge to P4.

Briefly, it seemed as though a second career podium could be on the cards when Valtteri Bottas had a terrible pit stop, but it wasn’t to be. Norris ultimately held on to claim a distant fourth and score an important early result for McLaren.

Sergio Perez

After only being able to muster a time good enough for 11th in an underwhelming qualifying debut for Red Bull, it looked as though Sergio Perez’s race was over before it started when his RB16B conked out on the back straight during the formation lap.

The Mexican re-found drive and was able to take the start from the pitlane, before turning in a remarkable recovery drive with a performance that underlined why Perez is considered a master on Sundays.

Perez made short work of carving his way through the field en route to a brilliant fifth place at the flag. With more time in the car, Perez will only get better and Red Bull will be relishing the prospect of having two cars in the fight against Mercedes in the coming races.

Yuki Tsunoda

As anticipated, Yuki Tsunoda proved to be a real star on his F1 debut as he became the first Japanese driver to score points on their maiden grand prix outing.

The 20-year-old was left disappointed to only qualify 13th - having ended Q1 second-fastest - but he made up for it in some style on Sunday by battling into the top-10.

Tsunoda passed world champions including Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen as he moved into the points-paying positions with some daring and bolshy overtakes, before pulling off a last-lap move on Lance Stroll to snatch ninth. A driver who is guaranteed to deliver plenty of excitement this year and surely destined for a bright future.

Losers

Sebastian Vettel

Fans hoping for Sebastian Vettel’s recent F1 nightmare to come to an end following his fresh start at Aston Martin would have been disappointed as the German endured a dreadful Bahrain GP.

Things had already got off to a bad start on his debut for the Silverstone outfit when Vettel was eliminated from Q1 in 18th place, only to then pick up a five-place grid drop for failing to respect yellow flag rules in qualifying.

Vettel was always going to be up against it in his bid to salvage a decent result from the back of the grid but he was ultimately let down by his race craft - a common theme in recent years.

14th was all the four-time world champion could muster after picking up a 10-second time penalty for clumsily running into the back of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon in what marked a bad start to life at Aston Martin.

Red Bull

After storming to a commanding pole position, the Bahrain Grand Prix looked to be Red Bull’s race to lose, and lose it they did.

Red Bull dominated practice, claimed pole and led the opening stint as Verstappen appeared to have the fastest car underneath him. But Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes had other ideas as they hit back in the race and snatched an unlikely victory.

Overall, Red Bull will leave the opening weekend of the season in a buoyant mood knowing they have finally been able to hit the ground running and look capable of mounting a serious title challenge this year. But there will also be a feeling of frustration at the missed opportunity to make the perfect start to 2021.

Pierre Gasly

While Yuki Tsunoda shined on his debut to grab two points, AlphaTauri would have been hoping to come away from Bahrain with much more after a brilliant qualifying saw Pierre Gasly start P5 on the grid.

But the Frenchman failed to capitalise on AlphaTauri’s strong pace after contact with McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo at Turn 5 led to Gasly losing his front wing and suffering floor damage.

With Gasly left with no hope of points and over a lap down, the decision was taken to retire the car in the closing stages, leaving AlphaTauri rueing what could have been.

Spinning Haas duo

Seeing a Haas spinning off at high-speed at Turn 3 in Bahrain brought back unwanted flashbacks of Romain Grosjean’s terrifying fireball crash last year, but thankfully on this occasion, Nikita Mazepin’s first-lap accident was nowhere near as serious.

Mazepin endured a troubled debut weekend hampered by a number of spins, and that’s exactly how it ended on the opening lap as the Russian crashed out when he lost control of his VF-21 and hit the barriers.

Mick Schumacher suffered his own spin while getting on the throttle at Turn 4 a few laps later, highlighting just how difficult the American squad’s 2021 F1 car is to drive. It looks set to be a long and tough year for the all-rookie pairing.

 

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