Eight drivers - including three rookies - made their first appearances for a new Formula 1 team in Bahrain, but which of them made the best start? 

Drivers had just 1.5 days of running each around the Bahrain International Circuit in F1’s shortest-ever pre-season test to get to grips with their cars ahead of the new season, posing a big challenge for the rookies and those who changed teams over the winter.

So who impressed the most on their first race weekend with their respective new teams? 

Yuki Tsunoda

Promoted to AlphaTauri to replace Daniil Kvyat after a sole season in Formula 2, Yuki Tsunoda had already started his rookie F1 campaign surrounded by hype after ending testing with the second-quickest time. The Japanese youngster further caught the eye as he impressed on his F1 debut with a great showing at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

While Tsunoda struggled to string together a good enough lap to progress to Q3 on Medium tyres, leaving him 13th on the grid, he thrilled on Sunday with his bold, combative style. Tsunoda enjoyed an “emotional” battle with two-time world champion Fernando Alonso and pulled off a last-lap lunge on Lance Stroll to snatch ninth place and claim points on his debut.  

Tsunoda’s performance marked himself out as a future star, leading to high praise from F1 chief Ross Brawn, who labelled the 20-year-old as the “best rookie F1 has had for years”

Our verdict: 9/10 

Daniel Ricciardo 

Daniel Ricciardo enjoyed a decent debut for his new team as he got off to a good start to his McLaren tenure. 

The Australian had qualified in sixth position to edge out teammate Lando Norris on Saturday, but it was Norris who had the upper hand on race day, having muscled ahead of Ricciardo on the opening lap. Ricciardo finished in seventh, three places and 20 seconds behind Norris.

McLaren later revealed that Ricciardo’s performance had been hurt by floor damage sustained at the start of the race when he was hit from behind by Gasly. Without the “considerable” loss of downforce, it is likely Ricciardo would have been much closer to Norris. 

Our verdict: 8/10 

Sergio Perez 

Sergio Perez entered the campaign with arguably the most pressure on his shoulders having been signed as Max Verstappen’s new teammate at Red Bull - a seat that has been something of a poisoned chalice in recent years. 

An underwhelming qualifying display let Perez down as he struggled for pace on the Medium tyre and ended up only 11th in Q2, but the Mexican bounced back on race day. Perez impressively dealt with an engine issue on the formation lap that assigned him to a pitlane start with a calm head, before he charged through the field to salvage a strong fifth.

Perez admitted he is having to adjust his driving style as he continues to get used to his RB16B, but once he is fully up to speed, we can expect to see F1’s newest race-winner joining the battle at the front.

Our verdict: 7.5/10

Carlos Sainz 

Following his winter switch from McLaren to Ferrari, Carlos Sainz made a solid if not spectacular beginning to his Ferrari career, having been comprehensively outperformed by teammate Charles Leclerc, who starred to snatch a stunning P4 in qualifying. 

Sainz had already admitted going into the season that it would take him a handful of races to get up to Leclerc’s level as he adjusts to his new team. Being overly cautious at the start in a bid to avoid an early finish to his first race with Ferrari meant Sainz gave himself more work to do as he was shuffled down the pack, but he recovered well. 

The Spaniard fought back to eighth and almost caught McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo at the end as he finished two places behind Leclerc to help Ferrari record an encouraging double-points finish following its misery of 2020 in what marked an error-free debut.

Our verdict: 7/10


Fernando Alonso 

Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso made his eagerly-anticipated return to F1 following a two-year hiatus in Bahrain, but the first race of his comeback ended prematurely after a stray sandwich bag became lodged in his brakes and acted as the catalyst for the 61st DNF of his career. 

Despite racing with titanium plates in the jaw he fractured in a pre-season cycling accident, it looked as though Alonso had never been away as he dragged his Alpine car into Q3 for a strong ninth on the grid. Things went downhill in the race, with overheating brakes compromising his pace before resulting in his eventual retirement at mid-distance. 

There were promising early signs from the Spaniard despite his non-finish, with the 39-year-old vowing that he and his rebranded team will entertain throughout the year once he gets up to 100%. 

Our verdict: 7/10 

Mick Schumacher 

Thirty years after seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher made his F1 bow, Mick Schumacher followed in his legendary father’s footsteps by making his own debut in the sport. 

Expectations were realistically low for Schumacher given that Haas’ 2021 challenger will contest the season largely undeveloped from its uncompetitive 2019 predecessor, but the reigning Formula 2 champion had a decent start to life in F1. 

The only blemish on his debut came with a spin at Turn 4 after an early Safety Car, but that proved to be Schumacher’s sole mistake of the weekend. The German recovered well to finish 16th, declaring he was “90% happy” with his performance. All in all, a solid first grand prix. 

Our verdict: 6/10 

Sebastian Vettel 


Sebastian Vettel would have been hoping to banish some of the bad memories of the poor end to his Ferrari tenure as he started afresh with the rebranded Aston Martin squad, but he endured a miserable debut in green. 

The four-time world champion felt very much on the back foot going into the first race weekend after his testing programme was hampered by a number of reliability gremlins, and he subsequently struggled to get to grips with his new car. 

Vettel finished a lowly 15th after picking up a 10-second time penalty for clumsily ramming into the back of Esteban Ocon’s Alpine at Turn 1. It followed a dreadful qualifying display in which the German was eliminated with the 18th-best time in Q1 before receiving a grid drop for failing to respect yellow flag rules. 

It may be too early to write Vettel off after just one race, but it was far from the start he was hoping for in a year he is bidding to rebuild his reputation. 

Our verdict: 3/10 

SEE ALSO: Would Hulkenberg be a better bet for Aston Martin than Vettel? 

Nikita Mazepin 

Another driver to suffer a disastrous debut was Haas rookie Nikita Mazepin, whose F1 promotion had been marred in controversy before it even began following his well-documented and abhorrent actions late last year. 

The Russian endured a mistaken-ridden first race weekend as he spun in practice and twice in qualifying on his way to setting the slowest time, before spinning out three corners into his F1 debut when he got on the power too early coming out of Turn 2. 

The brief set by Haas team principal Guenther Steiner to its two rookies for race one was clear; to bring the cars home, but Mazepin failed spectacularly. 

It marked the shortest debut display in F1 for almost two decades. Even Felipe Massa’s brief spell as world champion in 2008 lasted longer...

Our verdict: 1/10