The Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir hosts the opening round of the 2021 Formula One season at this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix (Race: 4pm Sunday; TV: Live on Sky Sports F1).
Lewis Hamilton has dominated in the hybrid era, winning six of the seven drivers’ championships since 2014, including each of the last four. There is enough uncertainty around the pace of his new Mercedes to mean he isn’t the favourite to win the season opener.
It is Max Verstappen who holds that status. It was his Red Bull that went quickest in the three-day pre-season test at the Bahrain International Circuit earlier this month. The general opinion within the paddock is that they currently have an edge over Mercedes, who completed less running that any other team and have also said that Red Bull are ahead.
That was, though, just a pre-season test, and with various technical processes to complete and design elements to test on a condensed schedule, few teams completed the sort of race-length long runs at pace that we usually see in pre-season testing. What was missing were the runs that, once adjusted for assumed fuel loads, give a fairly decent idea of what the likely running order will be.
It is, then, very difficult to get a good handle on what to expect in Bahrain this weekend. There have been brief moments in the hybrid era in which Mercedes have appeared to be a little on the back foot yet have been quickly able to get back on course. We’ve also heard them talk up rivals before only to end up zooming off into the distance on race day.
It is difficult to judge the degree to which Mercedes are truly struggling – seasoned observers still believe them to be the second quickest team – and that has opened up the odds on Hamilton claiming victory on Sunday to a decent price. He has won in Bahrain in each of the last two seasons. There is some value to be found in backing him to do so again this weekend.
Ferrari seem to have somewhat got their act together after a disastrous 2020 season that saw them finish sixth in the constructors’ championship, their lowest finish since 1980. They and their customer teams Alfa Romeo and Haas were very much down on power last year, and just the rectification of those issues is likely to see them move up the field.
Early impressions are that they are still not close enough to the ultimate pace to challenge for victories regularly. They are certainly likely to more regularly find themselves in the top-six reckoning than last season.
Charles Leclerc clearly out-performed Sebastian Vettel last year and he has a new teammate in former McLaren driver Carlos Sainz. Each provides the other with a very useful measuring stick and it will be interesting to see who comes out on top.
As the incumbent, Leclerc is likely to make a better start to the season, and with a faster car now underneath him, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if he were to start off the year with a good result on Sunday. He is perhaps unlikely to replicate his podium finish in 2019, but he has a good chance of bringing the car home in the top six.
Red Bull’s sister team AlphaTauri got through a lot of running in the pre-season test (only Alfa Romeo completed more laps) and also seemed to have good pace, placing them somewhere towards the front of the pack chasing Red Bull and Mercedes. They finished seventh in the constructors’ championship last season, with Pierre Gasly taking a surprise victory at the Italian Grand Prix, and may be even further up the field this time around.
Gasly finished sixth in the Bahrain Grand Prix as one of four top-six finishes last year and also came home fourth in Sakhir in his debut season in 2018. He can be fancied to bring the car home in the top six on Sunday again.
So our Bahrain GP preview’s betting tips’ recommendations are:
- Back Lewis Hamilton to win the race @ 7/4 with BetVictor.
- Bet on Charles Leclerc to finish in the top six @ 13/8 with William Hill.
- Back Pierre Gasly to finish in the top six @ 6/5 with Paddy Power or William Hill.
- Check out all F1 outright and race-winner betting odds’ comparison tables.