The Bahrain Grand Prix had Formula 1 fans on the edge of their seats. Lewis Hamilton mounted a staunch defense to hold off the charging Red Bull of Max Verstappen to establish an early lead in the championship standings. The midfield, as usual, was a story of hits and misses.
Many drivers and teams started the season at the Bahrain Grand Prix on a positive note, while others had a night to forget under the bright lights in Sakhir.
Here we look at the winners and losers of the Bahrain Grand Prix:
Bahrain Grand Prix Winners and Losers
Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes
Keeping a surging Max Verstappen behind is the hardest task in Formula 1 right now. This is made even more difficult in a slower car, which is what Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton had coming into Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix. Red Bull dominated the reigning champions across all practice and qualifying sessions. However, the seven-time world champion showed why he is considered the greatest of all time by many.
The Brit provided a masterclass in defending and tire wear as he kept the flying Dutchman at bay on older tires. Despite having a faster car, Red Bull were caught out on strategy by the reigning champions, who showed their mettle. Mercedes operated like a well-oiled machine. The team has dominated the turbo-hybrid era, and their experience at the front of the grid showed at Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix.
The team proved they can win races without being the fastest car on a particular weekend, which is an ominous sign for the rest of the grid. Mercedes have thrown the first meaningful punch in this 23-round battle between them and Red Bull for the world championship.
McLaren and Ferrari
The Formula 1 midfield teams are all close in terms of pace, with just a few tenths per lap separating the top and bottom of the pack. However, both McLaren and Ferrari will take heart from their performances at the Bahrain Grand Prix. The two teams were a step ahead of the rest of the midfield and will look to use their early-season advantage to build a gap to the others.
McLaren will be relieved to see that their car suits the new Mercedes engine powering it. For Ferrari, the massive improvements to their car will be a huge boost. The team have been under significant pressure after a disastrous 2020 campaign.
Yuki Tsunoda spent most of the Bahrain Grand Prix under the radar. The young Japanese chipped away consistently to score points on his Formula 1 debut. The AlphaTauri looked pacey at the Bahrain Grand Prix and Tsunoda put the machinery to good use. The Japanese sensation overtook legends like Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel on the way to his P9 finish.
After a disappointing qualifying session for Tsunoda, it was a steady start to life in Formula 1 at Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix. The young Japanese driver
It was a steady start to life in Formula 1 for the young Japanese driver who has already shown that he deserves to be in the series.
Max Verstappen and Red Bull
Red Bull dropped the ball at the Bahrain Grand Prix. After dominating all three practice sessions and taking pole in qualifying, the team should have won this race. By taking the victory, Red Bull could have put real pressure on Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton, setting the tone for the season.
However, it wasn't meant to be, as on Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix, Red Bull were exposed by the reigning champions. Strategy and synergy between Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes were the keys to the victory which left Red Bull reeling. It was a big blow for Red Bull, who were the fastest car throughout the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend. Hopefully the team can bounce back at Imola for the next race.
Alpine's performance at the Bahrain Grand Prix should be a cause for concern for the team. Their former team principal Cyril Abiteboul lost his job after finishing fifth in the standings with the team, however, by positive estimates, Alpine have the seventh fastest car on the grid this year, which could signal trouble for the leaders of the French outfit.
To add to this, the strategy call of putting Esteban Ocon on the Soft compound tire while starting in 16th was questionable. By their own admission, the team was supposed to win races by 2020. It is now the 2021 Formula 1 season and Alpine are struggling to compete in the midfield, let alone win races.
After a spectacular qualifying session, Pierre Gasly was largely anonymous during the Bahrain Grand Prix. In an AlphaTauri capable of fighting for fourth place, early damage to his front wing dented the Frenchman's chances of picking up points and finishing ahead of Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull.
Gasly was also beaten by his teammate, Yuki Tsunoda, who finished in P9. Pierre Gasly is a Formula 1 race winner, but if he wants to stake another claim for the Red Bull seat, he needs to stay out of trouble during races and deliver consistent performances.
Sebastian Vettel had a shocking start to life at Aston Martin. The German was eliminated in Q1, received a penalty for yellow flag violations, was anonymous throughout the race, and then had an altercation on track with Esteban Ocon. The weekend went from bad to worse for the four-time champion after he accrued 5 penalty points over two days at the Bahrain Grand Prix. Sub-par events have become a familiar sight for Vettel in recent years.
There were question marks over which Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin would get. Would it be the man who was dominated by Charles Leclerc at Ferrari in 2020, or would it be the vintage Sebastian Vettel who challenged Lewis Hamilton for the title in 2018?
Sadly, it's looking like the former is here to stay. Vettel seems to lack the passion that drove him to great things early in his career, or he could have simply lost his speed. For his sake, let's hope this is a temporary setback for the four-time world champion, although evidence suggests otherwise.