Winning the Formula 1 season opener hasn’t translated to a world championship in several seasons, and Lewis Hamilton opened the 2021 season with a win.
He held off a hard-charging Max Verstappen in a clearly quicker Red Bull to secure the 2021 season-opening win in the Bahrain Grand Prix at Bahrain International Circuit, ending a two-race win drought for Mercedes since he won last November’s race at the same track.
There has been much talk about the challenge Red Bull may pose to the seven-time reigning world champion Silver Arrows this season.
The season-opening race weekend lived up to its billing.
Verstappen took the pole position by a sizable margin ahead of Hamilton in second place and Valtteri Bottas in third, and he had the car to beat on race day. Smart tire strategy ultimately played to the advantage of Hamilton, as he held off Verstappen by just 0.745 seconds to win the race.
Track limits controversy aside, he did what he needed to do to take the checkered flag. But might this not bode well for him moving forward? It has been five years since the winner of the Formula 1 season opener went on to win the world championship, and that season is the only season in the last seven years in which Hamilton failed to win the title.
Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg won the season-opening Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit and went on to win the title in 2016.
In 2017 and 2018, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel won that race to open up the year, and in 2019, the win went to Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas.
Bottas won the 2020 season-opening Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring as well. But neither driver won the championship in any of those four seasons.
However, it was Hamilton who won the title in all four seasons, so now that he has finally won a season opener for the first time in six years, perhaps he has even put himself in a better position than he has been in for the last several years. Both times he has won the season opener in the past, he has gone on to win the title (2008 and 2015).
So perhaps he is better positioned to end this unfortunate trend than he is to extend it.
Still, it won’t be easy. No driver has ever won eight world championships, and despite the season-opening race result, Red Bull and Verstappen were the combo to beat throughout the entire weekend at a track where they hadn’t even been remotely competitive in recent years.
The question may very well be how many times Mercedes can put together a perfect strategy — and how many times Hamilton can deliver perfect execution — to actually beat them.
Getting Sergio Perez in the mix should help Red Bull down the road as well, given the fact that he rallied from last (20th) place to finish fifth after his mechanical issue on the formation lap. Without a second Red Bull car in the mix, Mercedes had the two to one strategy edge over Verstappen, as has been the case quite often over the last few years.
And who knows? Had that issue not happened, it would have been a 57-lap race, not a 56-lap race, around the 15-turn, 3.363-mile (5.412-kilometer) road course in Sakhir, Bahrain.
Perhaps we’d have had a different winner and points leader if that had been the case.
Autodromo Internazionale Enzo e Dino Ferrari is scheduled to host the second race of the 2021 Formula 1 season today. This race, the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, is set to be broadcast live on ESPN beginning at 9:00 a.m. ET. Hamilton is set to start on the pole, but with two Red Bull drivers behind him, Perez in second place and Verstappen in third. Bottas is set to start back in eighth.