Bahrain Grand Prix: Weekend PreviewMarch 22, 2021
Uralkali Haas F1 Team is poised to kick-start its 2021 FIA Formula 1 World Championship campaign with the Bahrain Grand Prix set to open the new season.
Last season was a challenging campaign for Uralkali Haas F1 Team and Formula 1 alike, with the world having to adapt to new rules and protocols. While the 2021 season will commence with restrictions still in place the light at the end of the tunnel is getting both closer and brighter.
The opening round marks the start of a new chapter for Uralkali Haas F1 Team with rookie drivers Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher poised to participate in their maiden grand prix.
Schumacher, supported by the Ferrari Driver Academy, joins Uralkali Haas F1 Team as the reigning FIA Formula 2 champion. He will be the third member of his family to grace the Formula 1 grid, with father Michael winning 91 races and seven world titles, and uncle Ralf victorious on six occasions. Schumacher began his assimilation with Uralkali Haas F1 Team in December 2020, partaking in FP1 at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, before running in the young driver test.
Mazepin first drove a Formula 1 car aged 17, debuting at Silverstone in 2016 with Force India, and has since tested machinery with reigning World Champions Mercedes. Now with Uralkali Haas F1 Team Mazepin will make his championship bow off the back of a runner-up position in the GP3 Series and multiple wins in Formula 2, classifying fifth in the overall standings.
Pre-season testing afforded Mazepin and Schumacher the opportunity to gather valuable experience with the VF-21. Despite the abbreviated program, with testing lasting just three days, Uralkali Haas F1 Team completed 394 laps of the Bahrain International Circuit – equating to 2132.328 kilometers (1325.022 miles) – split between Mazepin (213 laps) and Schumacher (181 laps).
The Bahrain International Circuit will act as Formula 1’s curtain-raiser for the third time in history, having held the honor in 2006 and 2010, and marks a return to familiar terrain for Uralkali Haas F1 Team, with the venue hosting two championship events last fall. Uralkali Haas F1 Team has scored 24 points at the Sakhir-based track in its history, taking a strong fifth place on two occasions, 2016 and 2018. Schumacher made his Formula 1 test debut in Bahrain in 2019, with Scuderia Ferrari, and sealed the Formula 2 championship at the venue in 2020. Mazepin also has experience of the circuit, mounting the Formula 2 podium last November, having debuted at the circuit in 2019.
Three practice sessions, each now just one hour in length, will take place across Friday and Saturday, building into the qualifying session that will set the grid for the 57-lap race. The Bahrain Grand Prix is scheduled for Sunday at 18:00 local (16:00 GMT/11:00 EST).
Guenther Steiner, Team Principal
A lot of focus has been placed on 2022 and therefore Uralkali Haas F1 Team has modest expectations for 2021. How important is it to keep everyone motivated throughout a long campaign knowing it is going to be a challenging year?
“I think we’ve got a few things to keep us motivated through the year. We’ve got two young drivers that we need to develop, and we will develop over the year. That will come with some excitement, I’m sure of that. Then the light at the end of the tunnel is 2022 where we will be back at our full strength because we regrouped last year and we made a step back to make two forward. For sure, some things will be challenging – also personally to keep on pushing, but I think we can do this. In the end, it’s all in nine months, but it’s 23 races. We are prepared for it and we’ll get it done.”
It’s no secret that Ferrari targeted straight-line speed gains this year. How encouraging was the performance of the upgraded PU during testing?
“For us it’s very difficult to have a back-to-back with the power unit from last year. But I fully trust Ferrari in what they are saying to us as well as what they’re doing. We can see on their car that it’s better. For us, our testing was mainly focused on getting the two rookies as many laps as possible. We couldn’t really do back-to-back as Mick, for example, was only in last year’s car for one full day after Abu Dhabi, and Nikita only drove a Haas F1 car for the first time on our shakedown in Bahrain this year. I fully trust in Ferrari and I’m sure that the power unit is more powerful.”
F1 2020 had a heavily revised calendar but this year the schedule features 23 events and a return to a more normal schedule. How much are you looking forward to getting back to regular venues?
“To be honest, I didn’t like last year’s calendar, at least I didn’t like the reason why it came to be due to the pandemic. There was a little bit of excitement though visiting new places or going to places we hadn’t been in a long time. Now it appears to be more of a normal year, not completely though. Imola as the second race for example, normally that wouldn’t be there, but it came back last year. It’s good but hopefully the pandemic settles down or goes away completely soon and we go back to things being very normal. Normality, at the moment, is not being normal.”
If you were to fast-forward to December’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix what would you regard as a successful season for Uralkali Haas F1 Team?
“I would hope that our two drivers have learned as much as possible and maybe even more than that in order to get ready for next year. If we can get a point or two at some stage – that would be a fantastic result. But we are realistic, and points will be hard to come by. As long as we learn, we improve, and can get back to where we were in the past – I’m happy. It’s going to be a hard climb this season, but we will get something good out of it, we always do.”