Three and a half months after the 2020 season concluded, the 2021 Formula 1 season begins with the Bahrain Grand Prix.
It will be the start of a season which will feature a record 23 races, and it is a circuit that drivers will be familiar with after recent months.
Two races were held at the Bahrain International Circuit towards the end of 2020, whilst pre-season testing was held there instead of its usual site in Barcelona, with the FIA looking to reduce travel amid Covid-19.
Formula 1 has returned to Bahrain every year barring 2011 since the first Grand Prix there in 2004, and the drivers will have to complete 57 laps of the 5.412km circuit come Sunday.
The circuit features plenty of straights and a tight section two, meaning the races are often exciting with plenty of opportunities for duels and overtaking.
However everyone will be hoping to avoid the level of drama from 2020, with Romain Grosjean involved in a near-fatal crash at the start of the race.
Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel hold a joint record of four wins at the circuit, and the former will once again be the favourite to win.
Hamilton, who won the race in 2019 and 2020, is backed by most to start his quest for a record eighth championship in style, with the problems that dogged Mercedes in testing likely to have been resolved.
The Brit’s closest rival will probably be teammate Valteri Bottas, with the Finn looking to step out of Hamilton’s shadow in 2021 and win a first world title, while Red Bull’s Max Verstappen is likely to provide the biggest threat to Mercedes.
Verstappen’s new teammate Sergio Perez will be hoping for further success, having picked up an emotional first Grand Prix win at the circuit when driving for Racing Point at the Sakhir Grand Prix in December 2020.
The race provides a Grand Prix debut for Yuki Tsunoda, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin as they embark on their rookie seasons.
Tsunoda surprised many by being the second-fastest in pre-season testing for AlphaTauri, where he drives alongside Pierre Gasly, whilst Schumacher and Mazepin race for Haas who are gambling on two inexperienced drivers after two torrid years.
Several drivers will also make their debuts for new teams at this event, including Vettel, who will make his first appearance for Aston Martin alongside Lance Stroll, who returns with the team under the ownership of his father Lawrence.
Carlos Sainz will be hoping for a revival in Ferrari’s fortunes as he makes his team debut partnered with Charles Leclerc, whilst Daniel Ricciardo joins Lando Norris in racing for McLaren.
The Bahrain Grand Prix also sees the return of two-time world champion and three-time race winner Fernando Alonso, back in the sport with Alpine alongside Esteban Ocon.
Alfa Romeo return with their line-up of 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi, whilst Williams return with George Russell and Nicholas Latifi.
Mercedes and Red Bull will almost certainly be the strongest contenders in qualifying and during the race itself, though the likes of Aston Martin, McLaren and Ferrari could well feature in an interesting midfield battle this weekend.
Practice sessions at the Bahrain Grand Prix will take place across Friday and Saturday, with qualifying at 3pm UK time on Saturday and the race starting at 4pm on Sunday.
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Featured image credit: Habeed Hameed via WikimediaCommons CC-BY-SA 2.0