F1 2021 Bahrain Pre-Season Testing Review
Formula One returned with three days of Pre-Season action round the Bahrain International Circuit. Teams and drivers had precious time to get to know and understand their 2021 machinery ahead of the upcoming season.
Formula One Pre-Season Testing has always been taken with a pinch of salt. Nobody knows how much fuel each car has when it's going round the track and nobody knows the maximum potential of the car. Nobody except the teams and drivers. Pre-Season is all about sorting out all the little niggling issues the car has. Mileage and overall reliability are the main objectives as well as getting the drivers comfortable with their new machinery.
Here are just some of the highlights and talking points from Pre-Season Testing in Bahrain.
Reigning Champions on the back foot
After seven years of total dominance at the top of the sport, Mercedes endured a difficult and challenging test. Valterri Bottas ran in the morning session on the opening day but was restricted to just six laps due to gearbox issues. Lewis Hamilton took over in the afternoon but the sandstorm meant that the Reigning Champion couldn't string many laps together.
Hamilton, however tried to remain upbeat. He said: “Yeah, these things are sent to try us."
Meanwhile Team Principal, Toto Wolff warned that the Silver Arrows could not afford any more ‘stumbling blocks’ after their ruined first morning of the test.
The second day was a bit more productive with the team getting over 100 laps on the board despite an uncharacteristic error from the Seven Time World Champion. It now looked like the team was struggling with the rear of the car with stability nearing on boaderline.
Bottas opened up on the overall drive of the W12 after ending the second day quickest. He said: “I would say that one of the big issues with the car is the rear end."
“It’s quite snappy and it’s quite unforgiving and that, topped up with the new tyres that feel quite sensitive to the sliding – it’s not that easy."
For 2021, Mercedes have kept their primarily black livery but have hinted on the engine cover at some silver - in reference to their nickname as the 'Silver Arrows'. However, fans have found the spam of AMG - the performance side of the team - too much to handle while Ineos have upped their stake in the team.
FIFTH TIME LUCKY: Since 2017, Valterri Bottas has failed to beat Lewis Hamilton in the championship but can the Finn launch a title-challenger this year?
The third and last day of testing was more promising for the team as Hamilton managed to finish the afternoon session in fifth with nearly 50 laps. The Brit continued to struggle, with having to make several corrections over the course over several laps while a spin wrecked a chance to go even quicker.
The amount of mileage doesn't look good as the team racked up 304 laps over the three days while mid-field teams, Alfa Romeo and AlphaTauri, completed the most on 422.
Red Bull looking solid as car looks stable and planted
Winner of the last race in 2020, Max Verstappen picked-up where he left off as the Dutchman set the pace on Day 1 of Testing. His lap time, two tenths quicker than his nearest challenger, wasn't the most impressive feat that day as he completed 138 laps. Equivalent to two whole races round the circuit, he was left feeling confident.
He said: "We had a very positive day. We could do a lot of laps, even though the track conditions were quite difficult - very warm, a lot of wind - and of course we know the degradation around here is quite high and it’s not easy to do a lot of laps in a row."
“I mean, we don’t need to speak about pace or whatever, we just did our programme, the car felt nice to drive which I think is always very positive to start the test like that."
Red Bull's new signing, Sakhir race winner Sergio Perez, stepped into the RB16B on Day 2 and racked-up 117 laps. The Mexican lost some track time as some bodywork on the engine cover broke off which caused the session to be halted. The left-handside of the car was quickly repaired with Perez echoing his team-mates comments on the team's 2021 car.
On the third and final day, the team split the driving duties with Perez in the morning and Verstappen in the afternoon. Perez topped the morning with 49 laps under his belt but Verstappen was able to his time by 1.2 seconds to top the afternoon.
Red Bull have had a tendency in the past couple of seasons of racing where the team starts slow but come the end of the season, they've found pace and reliability. All the signs are showing that they have a competent car to be challenging from the off with Verstappen and the team in the fight for both championships.
McLaren comfortable with their new engine supplier
The only team to make an engine change over the course of the Winter break, McLaren look like they've have had no qualms of intergrating the Mercedes power unit. In seasons gone by, Pre-Season Testing has been a nightmare for the Woking team, especially when they were powered by Honda, however have enjoyed a successful three days in the Bahrain desert.
The team split driving duties with Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo getting to drive the MCL35M all three days. Norris ended the first day just over two tenths behind Verstappen's Red Bull while Ricciardo finished in seventh having run in the morning session.
Over the first two days, the team had completed around 100 laps per day with both drivers feeling confident despite a low amount of laps for each individual driver.
NEW SIGNING: Seven time race winner Daniel Ricciardo has settled quickly within the Woking team.
McLaren's aim for this year will be to keep hold of their third place in the championship after a tight battle with Racing Point and Renault. These teams, now Aston Martin and Alpine, along with the likes of AlphaTauri and Ferrari, seem to be ultra-close but it looks like McLaren may have the upper-hand at the moment.
McLaren continued to split the driving duties on the third day with Norris in the morning and Ricciardo in the afternoon. Norris lapped the circuit 56 times while in conditions more suited to the actual race, Ricciardo bagged 75 laps ending a positive test.
The Double Champion is back as Alpine takeover from Renault
Double World Champion Fernando Alonso demonstrated with his driving doing the talking that he hasn't lost the ability to drive an F1 car despite last competing in the sport more than two years ago.
The Spaniard got his chance on Saturday, Day 2 of Testing, to get himself acquainted with the A521 and racked up 127 laps.
Still recovering from his cycling crash that left him hospitalised, Alonso will race this year with titanium plates in his jaw following surgery.
Despite the crash, Alonso is upbeat and raring to go this season and is very confident that his surgery won't affect his racing.
"After the accident four weeks ago I had like ten days to relax at home and after the surgery I had to relax a little bit. After nine, ten days I went back to a very normal routine on fitness, preparation."
Alpine had a solid test with Alonso and team-mate Esteban Ocon putting in the mileage. It's key to note that the team suffered very little reliability issues which hampered the team, Renault, last year and ultimately limited the team finishing higher in the championship.
On Day 1, Ocon lapped the Bahrain circuit 128 times while on Day 3, he and Alonso split the driving with Ocon in morning and the Spaniard in the afternoon. Ocon completed 61 laps while Alonso hammered in another 77 laps to end the day in ninth.
F2 graduates - Tsunoda, Schumacher and Mazepin - settling in well
The last time three rookies from F1's Feeder Series graduated into the highest class of open-wheel racing was in 2018 with Lando Norris, George Russell and Alexander Albon being promoted. They've done pretty well and have set the bar high but the new rookies have fared well so far.
Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda races alongside Pierre Gasly at AlphaTauri and had a good test and ended Day 3 second quickest behind Verstappen. Tsunoda, who finished third in the F2 Championship last year, replaces Daniil Kvyat and managed to bag a lot of mileage, close to 200 laps as he tried to get familar with the AT02.
Son of Seven Time World Champion Michael, Mick Schumacher, last year's F2 Champion, had a good but slightly underwhelming test. With close to 200 laps also, Mick focused mainly on long-runs and getting to understand the Haas VF-21.
Schumacher's Haas team-mate, Nikita Mazepin, also kept out of the limelight as he tried to shake-off the negative attention around him. The Russian driver completed over 210 laps and overall posted quicker times than Schumacher but these times are not to be taken for granted. It looks like it'll be a tough year for both of these rookies at the Haas team.
It was important for all three of these rookies to have made the most of these three days round the Bahrain circuit with none of them having any major set-backs or issues.
BLAST FROM THE PAST: George Russell got his hands on the new-look Williams FW43B which has been voted the worst livery on the grid this year by fans.
SMOOTH OPERATOR: Carlos Sainz Jr switches the Orange Papaya of McLaren for the Red of the Prancing Horse for 2021 who seemed to have clawed back some performance.
BRITISH RACING GREEN: Sebastian Vettel didn't have as smooth a Pre-Season he would have hoped for with Aston Martin as the German suffered gearbox issues but remained positive.