The 2021 Formula One season has officially begun. Tell me you got up Sunday morning to watch the Bahrain GP on ESPN2! If not, it should. Я… But, to quote old Obi-Wan Kenobi, from a certain angle.
This POV was taken while driving an Aston Martin Vantage in a sprawling parking lot in Los Angeles. Marty Smith and I were surrounded by panoramic views of the Hollywood Hills and got to see Ferrari’s, Bugatti’s, Lamborghini’s and all sorts of other supercars, right down to the ones neither you nor I can afford.
While we watched the race with the owners of millionaire supercars and the Southern California social media influencers who wrote about the supercars (let’s just say there were a lot of young men in tight jeans and glittery tops with their own photographers), we didn’t just witness the 96th running of the race. Lewis Hamilton’s career victory. We also looked at the foreshadowing of what awaits Formula 1 this season, from Bahrain to Abu Dhabi. It is the longest season in Formula 1 history, with 23 races lasting 10 months and taking place on every continent except Antarctica. The season includes the return of the GP of the Netherlands, which has not been held since 1985, and the first event in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
So what can we expect in 2021? What could surprise us? Have the events in Bahrain changed our minds in this regard? And what kind of car can you get for $2 million? Read on as I try to type this story as a passenger while Marty drives our Aston Martin across the 405 like James Bond so we can catch our flight home from LA.
Lewis Hamilton, on his way to his record eighth Formula One championship, started the new season with a win in Bahrain. Florent Goodin/DPPI/Icon Sportswire
Lewis Hamilton is heading for his eighthworld title .
Well, you should already know this one, even if you don’t know Yugo’s Mercedes W12. Believe it or not, but there has been speculation as to whether the 36-year-old Briton will return in 2021 to break the title with Michael Schumacher for most world championships. And after a 2020 season in which he challenged Schumacher for the title and scored a career victory, Hamilton also overcame a diagnosis of COVID-19 to become one of the sport’s leading voices calling attention to social and racial injustice.
He signed a one-year contract with Mercedes last month and said the process was delayed by his desire to get assurances from the team that it would help him promote social justice and environmental awareness. These negotiations may have been slow, but as we learned Sunday morning in Bahrain, Hamilton’s race car is not.
Max Verstappen and Red Bull Racing are expected to challenge Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton this season. Dan Istitenet/Formula 1 via Getty Images
Red Bull overtakes Mercedes
Literally closer, in inches. On Sunday, Max Verstappen appeared to be driving the final laps of the race, only to be told to give the lead back to Hamilton as officials said he had stopped overtaking by going too far off the track. Yet he lost to Hamilton by a measly 745 seconds.
Even after a heartbreaking defeat, Red Bull know they will be on Hamilton’s heels all season. When Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner talks about rivals Mercedes and their current run of seven consecutive championships, he is careful to say that, yes, they are a dominant team at the moment, but that won’t last forever. He knows this to be true because it was his team that won four consecutive titles before this Mercedes.
Current RBR drivers Checo Perez and Verstappen looked incredibly fast during pre-season testing in Bahrain two weeks ago, were fastest in practice in Bahrain on Friday, qualified first and eleventh on Saturday and went all the way with that on Sunday in Bahrain to finish second and fifth, even after an electrical fault in the warm-up sent Perez to the back of the field. Now they have to take him to places not called Bahrain. By the way, did I mention that Horner is married to Ginger Spice? I called it out to one of the influencers on Sunday morning and he gave me a thumbs up, like, okay, cool, man.
Kimi Räikkönen won the championship in 2007 with Ferrari and now drives Alfa Romeo. VALDRIN XHEMAJ/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
The Masters are back
Besides Hamilton, there are three former world champions on the grid every weekend. Kimi Räikkönen will drive for Alfa Romeo, also known as the little brother of Ferrari, the team with which he won the Formula One title in 2007. At least, I think it’s Raikkonen. It could be a cardboard cutout of a former NASCAR Truck Series driver. It’s hard to say.
Sebastian Vettel, the man who won those four world titles while working for his spouse Ginger Spice, will be the same as Marty and McGee, the Aston Martin driver from the team formerly known as Racing Point. His boss is Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll and his teammate is Stroll’s 22-year-old son Lance. Lance Stroll finished 10th on Sunday and Vettel didn’t come back from a penalty and finished 15th. So keep your eyes peeled for that always funny veteran vs. the son of the boss situation.
But the former champion is the returning Fernando Alonso, 39, who announced his presence with authority last weekend when asked on Thursday if he was as good as Hamilton, Kimi and Seb. The Spaniard replied: No, I’m better and I beat two in Bahrain, even though I only finished tenth. After a two-year absence, he returned to drive for Alpine Racing, formerly Renault, aka the team with the red, white and blue cars that look like the fireworks ice creams you used to eat at your local pool.
Ferrari is still not back…. But maybe more than we thought.
Ferrari is the Yankees’ version of Formula One. You can love them or hate them, but when they’re good, their sport gets more exposure worldwide. But even if they are bad, they are still the main story. And, Mio Dio, were they bad? The racehorse has not won a world title since Raikkonen in 2007, has not won a world title since Vettel won in Singapore on the 22nd. September 2019 hasn’t won a race since and had to fight for a sixth title last year in the race for the constructors’ title. They also had an awkward moment with Vettel at the start of last season, when they brought in Carlos Sainz from McLaren to support Charles Leclerc.
Leclerc finished fourth on Sunday, while Sainz battled with his hero Alonso for eighth place. Despite the promise of a brand new engine, team boss Mattia Binotto admits the team is likely to be rebuilding this season. And if you’ve never seen Mattia Binotto, close your eyes and imagine what a man named Mattia Binotto looks like when he builds Ferraris for a living. That’s exactly what it looks like.
What kind of car can you get for two million dollars?
The same Aston Martin Vantage borrowed by Marty & McGee for the F1 Drive-In L.A. was recently featured in Car and Driver and costs $150,086. That makes it the only 150-pound car whose front axles were pulled to the curb at In-N-Out, as we did on Saturday (don’t tell anyone in Gaydon, England). But on either side of our row for the big screen on Sunday morning were a $1.7 million McLaren Elva and a Ferrari Monza SP2, which can fetch up to $2 million. What’s in it for you? Cool, definitely.
But that’s not enough to buy a windshield. Finally, I have been told by NASCAR fans that the Cup cars are not allowed to have a windshield on the dirt track at Bristol Motor Speedway (Tennessee). I shouted through an Instagram influencer wall to ask the owner of Monza, who was wearing a helmet, if he would donate his car to someone to drive to Bristol on Monday. He remained unmoved.
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