Bahrain GP 2021 - Haas F1 preview

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By Olivier Ferret

22 March 2021 - 11:24
Bahrain GP 2021 - Haas F1 preview

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).

Günther Steiner

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.”

Nikita Mazepin

Describe your experience of working with the team now you’ve had the off-season to prepare and the pre-season test under your belt. What has surprised you the most on the team-side moving up into Formula 1?

“It’s been a great pleasure to be part of the team, especially in these difficult times when Covid restrictions don’t allow you to be present with them face-to-face all the time. We started the year working together using virtual platforms and then obviously I was able to get to England and meet everyone. I was extremely surprised at how high the motivation is in the team despite knowing that we’re going into a very difficult year. Everyone’s putting in the most effort they can.”

Has it sunk in yet that after all the preparation, the training, and pre-season testing - this is finally it, with Sunday heralding your first Grand Prix start?

“It hasn’t sunk in yet. Obviously, I’m aware it’s just literally a few days away now until the lights go out and the first race is underway. It’s pretty surreal because the waiting time has been very long. Hopefully everything will go smoothly, and I believe that I’m ready, so I’ve got nothing to be hesitant about.”

How does it feel to know you’ll be on the same grid as the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel? Do you view your first start in Formula 1 as both an accomplishment, in joining those illustrious names on the grid, but also just the beginning in terms of making your own mark in the sport?

“To be with these big names in Formula 1, to be sharing the same starting grid, is very humbling and very surreal. I’ve watched these guys race on TV and I’ve looked up to their achievements since I was very young. I’m a big fan of the sport itself, every Sunday I used to sit down in front of the TV and watch it. To be together with them is humbling, and hopefully racing with the best I can also learn as much as possible.”

Looking beyond Bahrain, and knowing the intensity of the planned 2021 Formula 1 23-race schedule - which events are you most looking forward to?

“I’m aware that the intensity is very high, it’s the busiest schedule that there’s ever been planned in Formula 1. I’m aware it’s going to be very difficult to keep the focus and keep in good shape throughout the whole year. But at this exact time, I’m so hungry for racing, and to just get started – nothing else is in my head apart from those positive thoughts.”

Mick Schumacher

Describe your experience of working with the team now you’ve had the off-season to prepare and the pre-season test under your belt. What has surprised you the most on the team-side moving up into Formula 1?

“My experience with the team has been good. Obviously, we’ve had the FP1 session and the full weekend together before the test, the rookie day, in Abu Dhabi last season, which was really good. Now having had the first pre-season test with me being an official driver in the team, it’s been very nice – I feel super comfortable with the team. We’re working hard and I really feel everyone’s super motivated. That’s also then really motivating for me. I’m happy the season’s getting underway now and we really start the work.”

Has it sunk in yet that after all the preparation, the training, and pre-season testing - this is finally it, with Sunday heralding your first Grand Prix start?

“Yes, it has sunk in. Obviously, I’m super excited about the first race in Bahrain. Thinking about it, it’s thirty years since my dad started his first race, and now I’m starting mine. The fact that I’m in Formula 1 and away to be racing – it feels so amazing. I’m so happy that I’m finally there, finally able to race with everybody, and to show my potential working with a great team. I will learn and improve as a driver and as a human.”

How does it feel to know you’ll be on the same grid as the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel? Do you view your first start in Formula 1 as both an accomplishment, in joining those illustrious names on the grid, but also just the beginning in terms of making your own mark in the sport?

“Yes, definitely. I have a lot of respect for all of them both as drivers and as people. It’s going to be nice starting on the same grid as them and being amongst the top 20 drivers in the world. I’m really happy about that. I’m just really happy that things are getting underway now and I’m close to starting my first season in Formula 1.”

Looking beyond Bahrain, and knowing the intensity of the planned 2021 Formula 1 23-race schedule - which events are you most looking forward to?

“I’m definitely looking forward to Spa (Belgium). I think it’s one of the most iconic tracks to race at. Suzuka (Japan) as well, it’s a track I haven’t raced at yet. I’ve driven a lot of laps on it in a simulator so it’s definitely one of the tracks I’m most looking forward to on this calendar that I haven’t raced at. Obviously, there are many race tracks that I love, such as Monza (Italy) too. I’m happy to get to all of those tracks in a Formula 1 car and feel the speed in the car. I’m happy, proud and really looking forward to it.”

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