Formula one spent several weeks in Bahrain for winter testing, before staying there for round one of the 2021 season. Couple that with the two races in Sakhir last year, and F1 has been very Bahrain heavy recently.
So time to freshen it up a bit, and the circus has travelled just over 5000 kilometres north-west to the legendary Imola circuit for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, following an enormous three-week break.
Almost as sizeable is the official name of the race, which really is not worth going into, but either way, going racing again is a relief as we gear up for what will feel like the first race of the season following such long breaks between the last few races.
But if we can cast our minds back three weeks, we seem to have a title fight on our hands. Lewis Hamilton saw off Max Verstappen by just under a second, after the Dutchman was controversially denied a race-winning overtake.
Verstappen took pole for Red Bull, and Sergio Perez’s magnificent last to fifth drive means that we have the mouth-watering prospect of a Constructors’ battle between Mercedes and Red Bull.
Which brings us to Italy, where things were tight between the two teams last season too – Verstappen passing Valtteri Bottas before seeing his miserable Italian season capped off by another non-finish following a puncture.
Hamilton, though, got himself a win, as he did so excellently on many occasions last year en route to his seventh title, but he will know that the pressure to win the eighth has been ramped up in 2021.
Elsewhere, things are equally as ambiguous as the battle up top. There were inconsistent results for many of the midfield teams in round one, with Sebastian Vettel making painfully familiar errors, and the returning Fernando Alonso’s race being wrecked by a sandwich bag in Bahrain three weeks back.
Alonso’s Alpine team managed a podium here last year though with Daniel Ricciardo, and given the competitiveness amongst themselves, McLaren and a handful of other teams, this year’s race will hopefully be every bit as exciting as last year.
In 2020, some of the racing was tremendous, some of the crashes were painful – just ask George Russell – and let’s hope that this year’s race will be every bit as enticing as November. It is great to be racing again as a title battle for the ages finally resumes.
Champion Sir Lewis Hamilton came through a tremendously exciting battle with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to win the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
The Milton Keynes-based team were dealt a rough hand before the race even began, as Mexican driver Sergio Perez, who was eliminated from Q2 yesterday, suffered a problem on the formation lap, and thus was forced to start from the pitlane.
Verstappen led from pole on an opening lap that saw Haas’ number 9 car spin off into the wall on the exit of turn 2. As a result, the Aston Martin safety car made its race debut, as Verstappen began to complain of problems under throttle just two laps into the race.
Hamilton’s team mate Valtteri Bottas, who was leapfrogged by Charles Leclerc off the start, managed to etch back ahead of the resurgent Ferrari, as the 2021 season got off to a frenetic start.
The returning Fernando Alonso instantly made some waves, taking full advantage of Aston Martin’s team orders to pass Sebastian Vettel; the German was going long on strategy after a grid penalty for ignoring yellow flags compounded his already-calamitous qualifying. The four-time champion, however, came back at the Spaniard as Alonso’s team mate Carlos Sainz got involved in the battle on his Ferrari debut.
Alonso’s first race back however, ended in retirement just over midway through the race due to a mechanical issue.
The other Alpine did not fare much better. Esteban Ocon was punted and spun by Sebastian Vettel at Turn One after the Frenchman had passed him down the home straight, and failed to score points after the incident. Vettel has now been given two penalty points in what turned out to be an abject Aston martin debut.
Back out front, it was a strategic war between Mercedes and Red Bull for the victory. Mercedes blinked first, bringing Hamilton into the pits to attempt the undercut on Verstappen on the Hard tyres. Red Bull refused to bite though, opting to stay out and pit later onto the mediums, sacrificing track position as a result. Interestingly, Mercedes pitted Bottas just a lap before red Bull’s change, but he was sent back out on Hards.
One more stop each for the leaders meant that Verstappen was chasing Hamilton with 17 laps to go, and we were set for a grandstand finish. We got a controversial one.
Verstappen passed Hamilton at Turn four, but was adjudged to have completed the move off the track, forcing him to return the position. This prompted Red Bull to protest Hamilton’s extensions at the same corner, as yet more stewarding inconsistencies reigned in the desert.
But it was Hamilton who survived the mammoth challenge from Verstappen to win the opener by just half a second.
Valtteri Bottas took the other spot on the podium, as Lando Norris scored an impressive fourth for McLaren. Sergio Perez recovered excellently to finish fifth, while Yuki Tsunoda scored points in his first Formula One race for Alpha Tauri.
For the second year running, Albert Park in Melbourne finds itself unable to host the Formula One curtain-raiser, so instead the circus rolls back to the scene of the pre-season test – the 5.4 kilometre Sakhir International Circuit.
The venue played host to two races at the back end of last year, meaning that F1 has spent a lot of time here over the course of the last three months, but this now is set to be our last visit to Bahrain for at least a year.
Just as the two races last year, there is a sense of anticipation that this year’s edition will be an exhilarating one to watch.
Red Bull and Max Verstappen looked exceptional in pre-season testing, while Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton looked decidedly average, leading many to believe that we have a title fight on our hands this season.
Conversely, however, Mercedes have a history of “sandbagging” in testing – take 2019 for example – so exactly how much validity Red Bull’s title credentials have will be revealed when the cars are properly unleashed for the first time in qualifying on Saturday, but the outlook is certainly positive for Red Bull. Let’s not forget of course that Red Bull’s new driver Sergio Perez won the second of the two races last year for Racing Point.
Looking further down the grid, the midfield yet again promises to be a dramatic one. Fernando Alonso’s new-look Alpine team sport an eye-catching new engine cover, and they hope to achieve an equally flamboyant championship finish, but they face stiff competition from McLaren, Ferrari and potentially Aston Martin for what has become a coveted third spot.
Alonso’s return not only coincides with Renault’s transformation to Alpine, but also Racing Point’s re-brand as Aston Martin. They looked shaky in the test in Bahrain, with Sebastian Vettel completing the second-lowest tally of laps last weekend.
Bahrain will be the first of 23 races in 2021, but this calendar has already been adversely affected by the Coronavirus pandemic, so just how this year will shape up remains to be seen.
One thing that is certain for now, though, is that Sakhir will play host to its third F1 race in four months this weekend, and we can get the long-awaited 2021 season underway
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen set the pace as pre-season testing came to an end on day three, as Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda sprung a surprise to finish second.
The second session on day three brought some more big names into play, with the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen joining the fray.
Early doors, Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda went for a spin through the chicane at turns six and seven, but left the incident completely undeterred, going on to set a an exceptional 91 laps.
Kimi Raikkonen, who completed 91 laps in the earlier session, briefly occupied top spot before being displaced once more by the scintillating Dutchman Verstappen. The Finn took his tally up to 166 for the day.
The second session saw seven drivers topple the Sergio Perez lap that led the opening three hours of the day. The slightly cooler conditions as night began to fall allowed for more ideal one-lap conditions.
The Ferrari of Carlos Sainz struggled with gearbox issues midway through the session, but recovered to put the Prancing horse into the top three, six tenths off the pace.
Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel had to abandon a long run to allow the team to make some significant changes to the body of the car; he ended the day 17th fastest.
Mercedes’ unexpected struggles persisted, as Lewis Hamilton contrived to finish the day fifth fastest overall, seemingly fighting to the tame a volatile back-end; it is an issue over which his team mate Valtteri Bottas has been outspoken during the three days of testing.
The session ended dramatically, with Carlos Sainz and Kimi Raikkonen reportedly making contact into turn 10 – an indication that nobody can wait for the real racing to get going in two weeks’ time.
On a day in which Formula One was looking forward to the final day of testing and the anticipated start of the season, we were instead hit with the mourning of Formula One legend Murray Walker. The former F1 commentator and “voice of F1” passed way on Saturday, tainting what was to be an exciting day of F1 action.
On track though, it was back to business. The first half of the session was largely dominated by low fuel, quick-paced runs, before the teams began to switch their focus to long-run pace. The swelteringly hot conditions were not conducive to running the soft tyres, prompting the majority of the runners to use the medium and hard compound tyres.
It was Sergio Perez, with 48 laps, who topped the timing sheets at the end of the session with a 1:30.1. He took the lead from Charles Leclerc, before lowering the lap time after bolting on a fresh set of softs.
In a largely uneventful three hours, a big back-end loss for George Russel and some skittish front and back-end moments for Mick Schumacher proved the most entertainment for the morning. Red Bull meanwhile, with Mexican Sergio Perez in the car, looked far more swift to get onto the leaders’ pace than they have in previous years, with Perez exchanging fastest lap times with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc with just over 90 minutes gone. The Monegasque driver set impressively consistent lap times, chartering 80 in total by the end of the morning session.
Valtteri Bottas and Lance Stroll were the first drivers of the session to surpass the race distance 57 laps, with the Finnish Mercedes driver completing the champions’ most laps in any session so far this test. It was as much progress as it was an indictment of what has been a surprisingly difficult three days for Mercedes. Bottas and Stroll set 86 and 80 laps respectively.
But it was Kimi Raikkonen, who set a brilliant 91 laps, who topped the lap counter, in spite of a ninth place finish by the end of the running. He spent the morning focusing on long run pace, along with Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, who was 10th.
The news that Murray Walker had died aged 97 was as heart-breaking as it was sudden, but he was a man who lived a long, excellent life – and he spent it entertaining and inspiring generations.
The more you look at the fallout from Murray’s passing, the more you realise that it was not just British fans that treasured the voice of Formula One, but the death of such a lovely human being is being mourned by motorsport fans around the world.
Murray was the voice of some of the most amazing moments in the history of Formula One and motorcycle racing; he even provided his emotive and unmistakable voice to the British Touring Car Championship too.
Honestly though, so much adulation and collective sentiment for a perpetual hero of Formula One cannot be summed up by one person in an article. Murray produced some infamous quotes, provided notoriously emotional soundtracks to some of the most incredible moments in motorsport, and touched the lives of many, so we thought we should include some thoughts from all of us here at the PitCrew Online.
For me, Murray Walker was, and always will be, the voice of Formula 1. I grew up listening to Murray and loved the way he could convey the excitement of F1 and his absolute passion for the sport. My fondest memory is of Damon Hill crossing the finishing line and winning the championship when he says he has a lump in his throat making you realise he had known Damon as a man and boy and obviously knew Damon’s father, Graham. – Karen
“I watched, F1 in the 80s, wanted to be a racing driver, then i choose more boring things, anyhoo. James and Murray guided me through F1, with James’s hate of slow back markers, and Murray’s enthusiastic and over optimistic ‘comms’. Oh and he had the curse all right, Australia’86 will stick in many peoples’ heads. Talking of heads. I’m sure Damon and Nigel, have forgiven him many moons ago. “Oh and he had the commentator’s curse all right” – Taras
My favourite moment was the 1998 Belgian GP at spa when Murray commentated on the biggest accident in F1 history on lap one, he showed genuine shock and concern for the drivers involved. He nearly jumped out of his chair when Michael Schumacher rear-ended David Coulthard in the rain, then saw Damon Hill and Ralph Schumacher secure the Jordan team’s first ever win and one-two in one of the most exciting and unforgettable races ever. Murray was not just a commentator he was a real F1 fan and that is why so many people loved him, he was captivating to listen to and embodied the essence and excitement of racing. – Mandy
Murray Walker is synonymous with Formula One. In fact, he IS Formula One. He was always more than just a commentator: He was the friendly voice that encouraged you into the sport, he was the passionate fan that infected you with his enthusiasm and he was an orator capable of wonderful storytelling. He was a man that simply wanted to share his love for motorsport with the rest of the world, and we thank him for that. We will miss you Murray. – Adam Wheeler
Mine and many others’ first voice of F1. The only voice of F1 for some. Murray Walker was a treasure to me, to Formula One and to Great Britain as a whole. An imperfect genius behind the microphone, and we’ll never see his like again. – Jack Prentice
As a small boy mum used to sit me down in front of the TV whenever Murray was on, it was the only way to keep me still and quiet, he’s literally responsible for my life’s greatest passion!
Thanks for all the amazing memories and for giving me a love of motorsports that is such a big part of my life. – Simon Tassie
My Murray Walker Memories
When I think of Murray Walker, I don’t just think of Formula One, but also British Rally Cross and the British Touring Car Championship. He was THE motorsport commentator, and his style was utterly unique! I discovered motorsport in my late teens, and by the end of 1991 was following the WRC, BTCC and Formula One. Murray was commentating on the BTCC and Formula One for the BBC and this meant that you would hear Murray’s commentary throughout the year as the races came and went.
He retired from commentating during the 2001 Formula One season, but remained a much-loved man, and would pop up from time to time with great interviews with the drivers and other characters from the motorsport community.
As we’ve seen, he will be massively missed by everyone. My thoughts are with his family and friends – Thank you for sharing him with us. – Warren Nel
Growing up in South Africa, Murray was the voice to an F1 world that we could only see on television. He made me feel connected to this world that was so far away (as a child I felt that way) and is the reason my love of F1 grew. He was and will always be the voice of the greatest sport ever and the voice I always hear in my head at lights out. – Rhea Morar
Murray was the best of us. His child-like enthusiasm was infectious; it resonated with us all. It was Murray who said that those who can do and those can talk about it, which is true to all of us who contribute to the PitCrew Online. Murray laid the foundations so we could run, and we are all eternally grateful. Murray’s unrivaled passion for racing has driven every single one of us. Thank you for everything Murray – Luca Munro
As a kid growing up my parents bought me a VHS – Murray’s Magic Moments. I watched it again and again, enthralled by his infectious commentary over some of F1’s most iconic moments. So much so that I know quote them verbatim when I see them on TV. Murray Walker was more than just a commentator, he was a fan first and foremost, and brought that passion to millions around the world. He’s an icon and a pillar of motorsport. His BTCC commentary is also hugely popular and something I love watching again and again. Sleep tight Murray, a gentleman and in a world of egos, his humble nature and passionate commentary will live on. “And now I’ve got to stop, cause I’ve got a lump in my throat.” – Aaron Irwin
Murray was the voice of F1 across the world not only the UK; he was just a legend in motorsport. The word legend at times is used too frequently, but I grew up listening to his iconic voice and murrayisms like ‘Go Go Go!’ He, in my view, should be immortalised at Silverstone on the national circuit as he was there when it all began! His legacy will continue to inspire all; he was truly unparalleled in knowledge and how to put it through the microphone. – Chris Lord
Murray brought races to life with his enigma and his pure passion for racing. He has inspired and will continue to inspire generations in motorsport and broadcasting. We will miss you, Murray.
Aston Martin have revealed the car they hope will take them up into the top three in the Constructors’ standings in 2021, as the famous motoring name returns to Formula One for the first time since 1960.
Formerly Racing Point, Aston Martin have incorporated classic British Racing Green Colours into this year’s challenger, throwing back to their earlier days in Grand Prix Racing under Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford. It still sports the pink colour that has been synonymous with the team since 2017, but these tones are much more subtle at the front, rear and sides of the car.
Aerodynamically, the car looks much the same as last year, barring some small changes on the sidepods. It rocks the same front nose as last year, while the chassis remains the same, as per the regulations stipulating that this is not to be altered from last year.
2021 sees Sebastian Vettel join the team following his Ferrari exit, and the four-time champion is excited for the new season, saying: “I go racing to win, and obviously it is a very exciting project, a new start, a new chapter for me and the team, so I am very much looking forward to it. Winning is maybe a bit ambitious straight away, but it is definitely everybody’s goal.”
Lance Stroll enters his third season with the outfit after his 2019 arrival, and partners Vettel this year. “We came so close [to third in the Constructors’ last year] and hopefully we can achieve that this year, if not more”, said the Canadian.
Lawrence Stroll, the owner of Racing Point, asserted that the Silverstone-based team has “always punched above its weight”, and that it will now punch “ever harder” in 2021.
Otmar Szaufnauer, Aston Martin’s team principal, is impressed by his new car this season. “Formula One is all about high-tech innovation and collaboration. And the result, which we call AMR21, is in fact a realisation of that high-tech innovation – conceived, designed, built and delivered by a comparatively small number of talented, expert and ambitious individuals”, he said.
Aston Martin narrowly missed out on third in the Constructors’ standings last season to McLaren, and will be hoping to leapfrog them by the end of 2021.
Aston Martin’s reveal comes after Mercedes and Alpine both launched their cars yesterday, while Haas and Williams will unveil their cars on Thursday and Friday respectively.
At just 103 days, the winter break between 2020 and 2021 is one of the shortest, certainly in modern history in Formula One. In actual fact, it was set to be shorter still, but with the postponement of the Australian Grand Prix, the new season will kick off in Bahrain, but what can we expect from this year?
Well, in truth, this year will probably be a case of “same, but different”, as regulations set in place for 2021 mean that the 2020 cars have been carried over to this year, and only aero parts and PUs are eligible to be changed. Fundamentally, though, the cars must remain the same, and the chassis will be identical to last year, so do not expect any massive jumps in performance.
This means to say that Mercedes should still be top dogs, Red Bull should be a close second, and the midfield will still be as intense as it was throughout the entirety of the 17 races last year.
But while substantial increases or otherwise in performance is too much to expect, little nuggets of gold may just help swing the tide a little as someone, somehow, looks to topple Mercedes’ absolute brilliance at the front.
Sergio Perez, surprise winner of the crazy Sakhir Grand prix last season, will make his highly-anticipated Red Bull debut having replaced the hapless Alex Albon. The discussion has been raging as to whether he will be able to beat their current titan Max Verstappen, and whether the Mexican truly does have the pace to compete at the front and spur Red Bull into serious Constructors’ Championship contention. It is widely expected that, if Perez is dominated by Verstappen the way Albon and Pierre Gasly were, it is a case of the car being geared to the Dutchman, as opposed to a lack of pace from Max’s team mates.
264 points separated Mercedes and Red Bull last year, so it will be fascinating to see if Red Bull’s third driver pairing in as many years will be able to close the gap and make life a little more uncomfortable for the imperious champions.
Speaking of whom, newly-crowned champion Lewis Hamilton has finally put pen to paper on a new contract with the German team, in a deal that takes him to the end of the 2021 season.
Reasons for just the one-season extension have been speculated about; who knows if it could be down to the impending salary cap, or whether it is because Hamilton feels as though he only has one year left with the Silver Arrows, and in Formula One as a whole?
This would make sense. Hamilton is set to win his eighth championship this season, beating Michael Schumacher’s remarkable seven in the process. The sport could certainly do with having Hamilton around next year, and we are likely set to see one of the most historical moments in the history of Formula One.
His team mate Valtteri Bottas could well be going into his last year with the Silver Arrows, but conversely to Hamilton, his future may not be in his own hands. In spite of a second-placed finish in the championship last season, Bottas’ overall performance has occasionally left something to be desired, and he will need to show stronger title credentials this year if he is to remain a part of the team in 2022.
A large part of this equation is the impressive progress of George Russell who, with a good performance in the Williams in 2021, could find himself in line for a drive next season. Particularly after Russell’s magnificent pace last year in the Sakhir Grand Prix alongside Bottas, this season will be a monumental one for both of them.
Further down, Carlos Sainz and Daniel Ricciardo are definitely ones to watch as they make their debuts for Ferrari and McLaren respectively. Ferrari acquired the services of Sainz after Sebastian Vettel’s departure for Aston Martin, while Australian Daniel Ricciardo left Renault for McLaren, replacing Spaniard Sainz. Ferrari’s new engine and aero parts for this season could lift them further into the midfield battle, and above the abysmal eighth place they managed last season with Vettel and Leclerc. Vettel meanwhile, with his new team and new haircut to boot, will attempt to make his presence felt in his new adventure with the new Aston Martin team, who take over from Racing Point this year.
Just as exciting as the German’s new venture, Fernando Alonso makes his comeback in 2021 in the Alpine team that has replaced Renault for this year, and after two seasons out, expectation is high. Frenchman Esteban Ocon, who managed his first podium last season in Sakhir, gets a real test of his ability by going up against a driver who, as well as being a two-time champion, is widely regarded as one of the quickest and most skilled drivers in F1’s rich history.
Alonso, though, comes back probably feeling a fair bit older than he did when he left. He raced against Jos Verstappen and Michael Schumacher during his first 18-year spell in the sport, and he is now about to race against their sons.
While Max had already become a fixture towards the end of Alonso’s first tenure, Michael’s son Mick will now be on the same grid as one of his father’s greatest rivals, as two generations collide.
Schumacher claimed glory in the F2 championship last season with Prema, and he arrives in Formula One with one of Ferrari’s junior teams: Haas. The American outfit enter this year will a new driver lineup; the departing Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen are replaced by Schumacher and car number nine.
As Lewis Hamilton seeks a record eighth championship, and Mercedes try to extend their record of Constructors’ championship successes, the 2021 season is a huge one for a lot of drivers, in what is the last year before the regulation changes in 2022.
In a great start to the new year for the PitCrew Online, we are proud to announce the Formula Playstation League as our new partner.
Founded in 2020, the FPSL has seen 6 incredible seasons of competitive racing, crowning four different champions in the process. They continue to give drivers and commentators the platform to showcase their talent and increase the popularity of the League with their commitment and skills.
This partnership will increase the viewership of the Formula Playstation League and its associated Esports teams as well as the reach of the PitCrew Online to its readers and listeners.
Ahead of Renault’s new identity as Alpine, and a reshuffle at the team, Cyril Abiteboul is leaving his role as team boss effective immediately.
Abiteboul’s journey as a team boss began in 2013 when he took charge of the doomed Caterham, having acted as Renault’s Deputy Director of Sport until 2012.
In 2015, he returned to this role and, having seen the Renault name return under Frederic Vassuer’s leadership, he took charge of the French outfit at the back end of 2016.
Sandwiched in between these stages of his career has been the controversy with Red Bull. On various occasions between 2015 and 2018, he had several public fall-outs with Red Bull Principal Christian Horner. Red Bull’s struggles with Renault power in the hybrid era led to tensions between the two teams, and Horner’s complaints about the performance and reliability of the Power Unit began to irritate Abiteboul.
This relationship came to a head in 2018, when Red Bull announced they would no longer be using Renault engines for 2019 onwards, and would instead turn to Honda, who had supplied Toro Rosso that season to a degree of success.
Renault endured a tough 2019, finishing fifth compared to fourth in 2018, and a long way behind McLaren.
A similar story rang true in 2020, but they were much closer to McLaren and Racing Point, fighting for third during much of the campaign, but ultimately finishing fifth again.
They also managed three podiums last year; Daniel Ricciardo finished third in Germany and Imola, while Esteban Ocon claimed a spectacular P2 in Sakhir, in what was Sergio Perez’s first win in Formula One. The Mexican has signed for Red Bull this year, replacing Alex Albon.
Abiteboul’s tenure will be remembered with a great deal of respect. He fearlessly led the team through thick and thin, and has laid the groundwork for Alpine to progress and achieve the success Renault once enjoyed. He enticed Ricciardo into his project, and having lured Fernando Alonso back to the team after the Australian’s departure, Abiteboul bows out with the team in a far better state than it was in when he arrived.