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Formula One returns for its bumper 2021 season when another year of grand prix action begins this weekend under lights in Bahrain. Join The Roar for a live blog from 2:00am (AEDT).
The Bahrain International Circuit hosts the opening round of the 23-race championship, which is shaping up to be one of the closest yet in terms of the competitiveness up and down the grid.
Drivers have new homes and even teams have new titles. Big names such as Daniel Ricciardo and Sergio Perez have moved to McLaren and Red Bull Racing respectively, while Sebastian Vettel and the returning Fernando Alonso head up new names in Aston Martin and Alpine.
Following preseason testing, seven-time world champions Mercedes were left to scratch their heads at issues with their W12, which Red Bull Racing were pleased with given they left testing as the best-placed team.
Some gains have been found for Mercedes, even though Valtteri Bottas claimed during the second practice session that the car was undrivable. However, in qualifying Lewis Hamilton was beaten to pole position by 0.388 seconds by title hopeful Max Verstappen.
Both the Silver Arrows line up in second and third but have the strategic upper hand against Red Bull, whose second car of Perez was a shock elimination in Q2. A comeback will be on the cards for Perez, who typically has a better Sunday than Saturday.
Behind the top three appears to be a competitive gaggle of cars led surprisingly by Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari. Their power unit gains in the off-season have proved a success, but it remains to be seen how they race against the surprise package of Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri. The Frenchman bested hot midfield favourites McLaren, with Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris qualifying sixth and seventh.
The 5.4-kilometre circuit promotes plenty of overtaking opportunities, which should produce an exciting race across the 57 laps. Drivers such as Ricciardo, Perez and Alonso all relish such conditions.
The 2011 Australian Grand Prix was the last time Red Bull won a season opener, and that season they went on to win the world championship with Sebastian Vettel – if that could be seen as a good omen.
However, the energy drinks giants are yet to win a race in Bahrain during the turbo-hybrid era. Could this be their first Skahir success since 2013?
Tune in on The Roar for live blog coverage of the Bahrain Grand Prix from 2:00am (AEDT) and what should be the start of another cracking season of the Formula One world championship.
Lights out: 2am (AEDT)
Venue: Bahrain International Circuit
TV: Fox Sports 506
Online: Kayo Sports, Foxtel Now, Foxtel Go
Previous winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing), 2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), 3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes), 4. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), 5. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri), 6. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren), 7. Lando Norris (McLaren), 8. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari), 9. Fernando Alonso (Alpine), 10. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin), 11. Sergio Perez (Red Bull Racing), 12. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo), 13. Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri), 14. Kimi Räikkönen (Alfa Romeo), 15. George Russell (Williams), 16. Esteban Ocon (Alpine), 17. Nicholas Latifi (Alpine), 18. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin), 19. Mick Schumacher (Haas), 20. Nikita Mazepin (Haas)