Formula 1: Red Bull’s thrown win in the opening round

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Formula 1 (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images)
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Formula 1 (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images) /

The opening round of the 2021 Formula 1 season was impactful, as Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton delivered on the potential of a “Big Dog” battle.

Ever since testing, Formula 1 fans have been exploring the possibility of the long overdue rivalry between seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

And wow, did they deliver in the season opener.

Two of the best drivers in the world pushing each other until the checkered flag is a sight to behold.

Can we continue this sort of race throughout the season? Please and thank you.

But, as always in the gift that is motorsport, one driver’s joy is another driver’s sorrow. In this case, Hamilton’s joy is Verstappen’s sorrow, and Mercedes’ joy is Red Bull’s sorrow.

Was it a win that Red Bull threw in the bin for themselves and Verstappen? Well, yes. It was. For whatever reason, Red Bull thought allowing Hamilton to have track position not once but twice was a good idea. Strange.

You do not allow any driver to have track position, let alone your closest rival. And if your closest rival is Lewis Hamilton, what are you doing giving him track position? Twice!

There’s more. Red Bull did not cover Hamilton’s first stop early in the race after Mercedes had swapped his medium tires for the hard tires. Verstappen continued for multiple laps, eventually pitting onto another set of medium tires, only for him to leave the pits around six seconds behind Hamilton.

Why? Surely Red Bull would have learned before the second pit stops came around, right?

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No. They did the same thing. Hamilton had a relatively short stint on the hard tires, which lasted for around 14 laps, before boxing for another set of hard tires.

Suddenly, the idea of Lewis Hamilton three-stopping became a thing, for some reason. But Hamilton pitting three times was, quite frankly, never going to happen.

And it is surprising that some people thought that. Yes, his first stint on the hard tires was short, but his lap times were still good throughout that stint. With his gift in tire conservation, it was going to have to be a masterclass in defending for him to hang on.

Even more surprisingly, Red Bull did not cover the stop — again. It was as if they wanted the margin at the finish to be within a second. The fans enjoyed it, but Red Bull probably did not. This time, Verstappen came out of the pits for the final time on a shiny new set of hard tires, same as Hamilton, but this time, the Dutchman was eight seconds behind the Briton.

Eight seconds. Of course, they like a challenge, but this was a mistake. Not by any means do you sacrifice track position and come out eight seconds behind. Whether you have the fastest car or not, this was a poor error of judgment, and a surprising one by Red Bull. But applause for Mercedes, please; they took a risk with their strategy, and it worked.

On the bright side for Red Bull, their crew did execute the first sub-two second pit stop of the season, which is unreal. So hats off to them. But, at the same time, they cost themselves the race win. Swings and roundabouts.

The well-known “racing gods” were on Mercedes’ side on Sunday. Sometimes teams need that. Bahrain International Circuit is usually a Mercedes playground and they struggled throughout the weekend. Actually, “struggled” is the wrong word. They were behind Red Bull. Struggling is what Haas are doing. Anyway, moving on.

However, there are only two drivers who can hold their tires, run long and be consistent until the end — and close an eight-second gap to within a few tenths of a second and fight for the lead. Those two drivers are Hamilton and Verstappen, the two “big dogs” of Formula 1.

Now, the big question is this: can Red Bull be competitive at every track?

Mercedes could be correct when it comes to their concern about being slower than Red Bull during the next two race weekends at Imola and Portimao.

Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari and Algarve International Circuit are two circuits that have high-speed characteristics and push the cars to their aerodynamic limits. Mercedes’ worries stem from the fact they found themselves losing touch of the Red Bull during the higher-speed turns five, six and seven in Bahrain, three high-speed corners.

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If Red Bull can maintain their speed, strap in for a dog-fight.