Early Winners, Losers From F1 Silly Season after Bahrain Grand Prix

There was a fair bit of movement of drivers between Formula 1 teams after the 2020 season. In fact, only 12 drivers in the 20-driver field for 2021 are with the same outfit they started with just one year ago.

It is still a little early to grade most of the offseason moves, but some veteran drivers in new surroundings clearly passed the first test of the 2021 season better than others.

Discounting for this project the three rookies and returning Fernando Alonso, here’s a look at how the old faces who moved to new places this year fared in Bahrain:

Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin

The biggest name on the move was four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel, who switched from Ferrari to Aston Martin, admittedly not by choice, as the Italian team chose not to renew his contract.

Vettel had a shocking time in Bahrain, qualifying 18th and then receiving a penalty for ignoring yellow flags and so started he started the race from the back of the grid. And he finished 15th, behind the Williams of George Russell. The Aston Martin team decided to take a risk on tire strategy and run the race on one pit stop because of the poor qualifying. It did not work out well.

“I think we made the right decision to try it,” Sebastian said. “But by the end of the race, my tires were falling off the cliff. I made a good start but it was not easy to make progress after that. I picked up a small flat spot and we had to extend the first stint to try and make the one-stop strategy work. In the end, it just wasn’t possible to score points today.”

Having said that, Vettel also made a serious mistake that ruined Esteban Ocon’s race and resulted in a 10-second penalty for causing a collision. Vettel later apologized to the Alpine driver.

Given that the team won at Bahrain back in November, this was not a very positive race for Aston Martin, as Lance Stroll finished only 10th,

Carlos Sainz, Ferrari

Vettel’s replacement at Ferrari, Carlos Sainz went to Maranello knowing that it was going to be tough, even if it Ferrari’s lack of performance was not obvious when he signed the deal early in 2020.

By December, it looked like a pretty disastrous move, as Ferrari finished sixth in the Constructors’ Championship, the team’s worst result in since a 10th-place finish in 1980. That’s life in Formula 1. Luck does play a part and being in the right place at the right time is key.

“I can wait one more year for sure,” Sainz said back in the autumn. “I think you need to accept that 2021 is going to be a tough year for everyone. I think every team needs the rule changes (in 2022), everything needs a bit of a fresh start. I think in the first year when you are new to a team, it’s very important to spend some extra hours there. Experiencing that with McLaren for me was very important to know how important it is to get close to a team.”

Normally, Ferrari drivers make occasional visits to Maranello. They live in tax havens and don’t get into the life at Ferrari. The staff love them nonetheless, because that’s how it is at Ferrari, but Sainz is a bit different. He has found an apartment in a small town near Maranello and is living there, visiting the factory most days.

For Carlos and Charles Leclerc this could be a frustrating season. However it must be said that this is Ferrari’s youngest driver lineup in Formula 1 since 1968, when the team ran Chris Amon and Jacky Ickx. This means that while they may be frustrated or not as competitive as they think they should be when driving for Ferrari, both men can look at the mid-term in the hope that things will come right. Leclerc, 23, and Sainz, 26, are both are intelligent as well as fast.

It is also the first time in a quarter of a century that Ferrari has not had a World Champion in its driver lineup, the last time being in 1995 when the team ran Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi. Team boss Mattia Binotto admits that running to youngsters is a gamble but says the team is happy to take on that challenge.

“We want to begin a new cycle,” he says. “It’ll be a tough path but putting faith in youngsters is also geared towards that, not just for the drivers, but also for the mechanics.”

So, Ferrari fans must be prepared to wait a little bit longer, although hopefully the team won’t finish sixth in 2021. The result in Bahrain suggested that Ferrari was a bit better than in 2020, with a stronger engine, but Leclerc still finished almost a minute behind the winner with Sainz seven seconds behind him.

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren

Sainz’s seat at McLaren went to Daniel Ricciardo, who switched from Renault (now Alpine). Ricciardo’s race in Bahrain didn’t look great. He finished 1 minute, 6 seconds behind winner Lewis Hamilton and 20 seconds behind his McLaren teammate Lando Norris.

But, it wasn’t quite as bad as it looks on paper.

“Post-race we found damage to Daniel’s floor from the impact of Pierre (Gasly) running into the back of his car at the beginning of the race,” said McLaren team principal Andreas Seidl. “The level of damage cost a considerable amount of downforce. Despite the performance loss Daniel used his experience to cope with the issues and score important points for the team.”

With the switch to Mercedes engines and the opportunity to make a few more changes than some other teams as a result of that change, McLaren looks to be third in the team pecking order behind Mercedes and Red Bull, although Norris in fourth was still 45 secs behind Hamilton at the finish. That is still a big gap.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull

Ironically, it was Sergio Perez’s win in Bahrain in November that really sealed his deal with Red Bull Racing. It was clear until Vettel was announced as Lance Stroll’s 2021 team-mate that Perez was hoping to stay at Racing Point (now Aston Martin). It looked for a while that he would be out of F1, which was clearly not right, nor fair, but his end-of-season success made him the primary target for Red Bull, which wanted just a little but more from the second driver than Alex Albon was producing.

Ironically, Perez’s race in Bahrain looked a little like some of Albon’s performances last year, with a poor qualifying and then a great comeback drive. Perez’s adventures were made all the more interesting when his car cut out during the parade lap and he had to start from the pitlane. It was a good solid race through the pack, but fifth place was not as good as he had hoped.

“I was just happy to complete the race and get that important mileage under my belt,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of data to analyse now so that we understand everything and make sure we come back stronger at the next race in Imola.”

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