Venue: Bahrain International Circuit
Red Bull impressed in testing ahead of the new Formula One season and Max Verstappen is fancied to make a flying start in our Bahrain Grand Prix predictions.
Both Lewis Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas struggled with the handling of the revamped Mercedes car during final preparations at this track.
In recent campaigns, Red Bull have been notoriously slow-starters, but all the vibes suggest they are ready to hit the ground running this year.
Verstappen posted the fastest time of the week in testing and the Dutchman declared: “It is too early to say, but I have positive feelings in the car.”
Mercedes won 13 of the 17 races last year en route to claiming a seventh drivers’ and constructors’ double.
With the make-up of last year’s machines carried over into 2021, Hamilton had been expected to cruise to title number eight.
However, the Briton had two major spins in testing, while Mercedes ran into mechanical trouble, they finished bottom on the lap count and failed to trouble the top of the time charts in any of the six sessions.
“It appears that we’re not quick enough at the moment,” said Hamilton, who also warned: “Red Bull will be a different machine, a different animal this year.”
Silver Arrows trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin added: “From the data we’ve collected over the last few days, on race pace, we’re not as quick as Red Bull.
“We’ve had issues in recent years with pace in winter testing and managed to make good progress before the first race, but we may have our work cut out this time.”
New Red Bull signing Sergio Perez is 6/1 to prevail after claiming a maiden victory for Racing Point at the Sakhir Grand Prix on the outer circuit here, but we’ll stick with team number one Verstappen for now.
How the 2020 Drivers’ Championship finished
1 Hamilton (Mercedes), 2 Bottas (Mercedes), 3 Verstappen (Red Bull), 4 Perez (Racing Point), 5 Ricciardo (Renault), 6 Sainz (McLaren), 7 Albon (Red Bull), 8 Leclerc (Ferrari), 9 Norris (McLaren), 10 Gasly (Alphatauri), 11 Stroll (Racing Point), 12 Ocon (Renault), 13 Vettel (Ferrari), 14 Kvyat (Alphatauri), 15 Hulkenberg (Racing Point), 16 Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo), 17 Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo), 18 Russell (Williams), 19 Grosjean (Haas), 20 Magnussen (Haas), 21 Latifi (Williams), 22 Aitken (Williams), 23 Fittipaldi (Haas)
McLaren, fresh from finishing third in last year’s constructors’ championship, were suitably encouraged by their testing campaign.
Powered by Mercedes this term, and with new recruit Daniel Ricciardo slotting in alongside Lando Norris, the British team are optimistic of another promising year.
A unique diffuser design has got everyone talking and the omens look good for a bold showing in race one.
“I think altogether it’s been a smooth operation with Mercedes power so far,” Norris said on the F1 website. “I think we’re happy with how things have gone.
“We’ve come in from Renault with fresh eyes, different perspective, different feelings, and I think we’ve really been able to add and improve in some areas.
“I think it’s a very good car to start off with. From the first lap that we managed to do, we felt very confident in it and we can push on it a lot.”
McLaren cars finished fourth and fifth in Bahrain towards the end of last season, making great gains on race day following a moderate qualifying effort.
A quick return to the venue may well see them fare even better this time around, especially with Australian ace Ricciardo replacing Carlos Sainz.
The 31-year-old can boast seven grand prix victories and 31 podiums, so 7/2 for him to make the top three here is added to our Bahrain Grand Prix betting tips.
Norris is a decade younger and has only made the podium once, but that was first time out in 2020 in Austria, so we know he can kick off a campaign in style.
Let’s finish off our Bahrain Grand Prix predictions by taking 5/1 for the young Englishman to be in the leading trio.
Past Bahrain Grand Prix winners
2020 Hamilton (Mercedes), Verstappen (Red Bull), Albon (Red Bull)
2019 Hamilton (Mercedes), Bottas (Mercedes), Leclerc (Ferrari)
2018 Vettel (Ferrari), Bottas (Mercedes), Hamilton (Mercedes)
2017 Vettel (Ferrari), Hamilton (Mercedes), Bottas (Mercedes)
2016 Rosberg (Mercedes), Raikkonen (Ferrari), Hamilton (Mercedes)
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