The inaugural race weekend of the 2021 Formula One season is underway at the Bahrain International Circuit. Following a shortened pre-season test and now shorter free practice sessions from this season, we believe to have caught a more realistic glimpse of a new pecking order on the grid. Friday Practice sessions for the longest time used to be open for 90 minutes. But from the 2021 season, it has been shortened down to 60 minutes. In the first session of the year, it was Max Verstappen in the Red Bull who was the fastest while Mercedes seemed to still be on the back foot since testing.
Red Bull as expected after testing seems to finally have a car that can help them battle Mercedes for the Championship. In the first practice session, Verstappen and Perez both looked strong and comfortable in their cars. Whereas Mercedes continue their struggles to find their footing in the same form witnessed in the past.
It must be noted that practice sessions usually have no bearing on race results. However, behind Verstappen, was Valtteri Bottas in the Mercedes who was second fastest with Lando Norris in the McLaren was third. Lewis Hamilton, defining 7-time World Champion was fourth fastest, half a second down of the pace set by Verstappen.
As for other drivers and team themselves, the pecking order seems to have been impacted by the subtle regulation changes made for 2021. Ferrari seems to have regained some lost ground after their dismal 2020 campaign. Charles Leclerc was fifth fastest with Sergio Perez getting to grips with the Red Bull car in sixth.
After testing it was AlphaTauri who seemed to be most impressive. And in the first session, Pierre Gasly looked extremely comfortable. Both the AlphaTauri cars looked easy to drive offering good grip through the fast corners of the track. Additionally, Alfa Romeo seems to have climbed up the order with Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen comfortably near the top 10.
There would be some head-scratching going on down in the garages and factories at Aston Martin (formerly Racing Point) and Alpine (formerly Renault) Both rebranded teams who were fighting for third place in the championship last year seem to be struggling. Sebastian Vettel and Lance Stroll at Aston Martin and returning former world champion, Fernando Alonso with Esteban Ocon find themselves in the bottom of the midfield.
However, Williams who used to find themselves at the back of the pack has made improvements this year. Both George Russel and Latifi seemed more confident in the cars than the rookie pairing of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin at Haas at the bottom of the order. We do not expect any miracles from the duo at Haas this year as the team have decided not to develop the car for 2021 but focus on the new regulations in 2022.
While these are just preliminary standings at practice, the fight at the top, the battle in the midfield both currently show signs that the 2021 season could be an interesting one. Whether Red Bull can beat Mercedes or can Lewis Hamilton take his eighth world title this year? The full picture may only arrive later, but it cannot arrive soon enough.
If you wish to watch the Formula One season, and the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend from India, tune into Star Sports on your respective service provider platforms. Should you wish to follow the season on-demand, Hotstar subscribers can watch all three practice sessions, Saturday qualifying and the race itself on the platform’s sports section.
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