GPR Awards – Bahrain 2021

The 2021 Bahrain Grand Prix was run last Sunday. After a fantastic, yet controversial, race-long duel between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, the defending champion came out on top. But the race win isn’t the most important prize of the weekend at Grand Prix Rejects. Those are the coveted Reject of the Race and Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race awards, elected democratically by the GPR community. Who were the unlucky and lucky ones for the opening grand prix of the season? Let’s find out.

Nikita Mazepin earns our prestigious Reject of the Race Award on Debut

The Reject of the Race trophy is one that is coveted by one and all, and at the first race of the season in Bahrain, Nikita Mazepin joined a prestigious club – that is, the club who have not only earned the GP Rejects Forum’s coveted Reject of the Race trophy, but on their debut as well!

Three corners into his debut and Mazepin found himself out of the race.

Three corners into his debut and Mazepin found himself out of the race. Photo: Formula One

Mazepin came into the season in the kind of controversy Formula 1 hasn’t seen in years. Starting off-season with reported sexual misconduct that he had to publicly apologise for – which he then deleted – he regardless joined Haas for the primary reason of having a very rich dad. But we wouldn’t be fair here at GP Rejects if we judged someone harshly for being a pay-driver – after all, Formula 1’s last great pay-driver, Lance Stroll, has turned out to be perfectly talented in his own right. Therefore it was only fair to give Nikita’s on-track ability in a F1 car the benefit of the doubt.

And boy was it a spectacle. The guy had a lot to prove, and he really didn’t prove much that was positive in Bahrain. First of all, the Haas seems to be possibly the worst chassis on the grid this year, what with upper management focussing all their efforts on 2022. Nikita had an uphill climb regardless of context. However, spinning twice in qualifying, and then not even getting halfway round the first lap before yet another unforced spin straight into the wall and into a DNF – that’s reject gold.

There were other candidates who got off easy though. (A friendly reminder that he is a) Four-time F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel was another driver with much to prove this year. After a disastrous final season with Ferrari (where have we heard that before?), blame was apportioned in many places, to Ferrari management and strategy as well as Sebastian’s lacklustre performances. Therefore, a new environment, a new Vettel, right?

Well, sadly, the German driver did not have the weekend he was expecting. He got caught out in qualifying and didn’t even make it out of Q1. Yet another controversial stewarding decision from Michael Masi (we’ll get to that) saw him relegated to last behind the two Haas cars on the grid, and from there on in it seemed that Seb’s weekend was basically over already. Whilst his first half of the race was consistent enough, as he tried to make an unorthodox one-stop strategy work – a consequence of being on the backfoot after his early Q1 exit – his silly collision with Esteban Ocon ended up being the icing on the cake of his debut with Aston Martin.

Despite having apologised to Ocon after the race was over, his initial reaction to the crash over team-radio left people wondering if Vettel really did feel or see the same crash. That type of awareness, while expected from a rookie, is not expected from a man who was expected to use the more relaxed atmosphere of Aston Martin to blossom again. Well, luckily for him, he still has another twenty-two races to focus upon, and try to regain back his mojo that, if you believe the romantics, he lost somewhere in Hockenheim in 2018.

But of course, it wouldn’t be an F1 race without some kind of controversial stewarding decision(s). In some good news, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton had a surprisingly decent fight throughout the race, and even though Hamilton and Mercedes won, it does appear that there is at least some semi-decent competition to the unbeatable German squad. However, Verstappen’s overtake and subsequent driving over the track boundaries led to a big stink throughout the paddock as to the enforcement of track limits. GP Rejects‘s member Rob Lomas looked deeper into this discussion and its possible consequences.

Steward Ops: Michael Masi’s Inconsistent Line

Yuki Tsunoda impresses on his first start to earn our Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race Award

Yuki Tsunoda impressed with his racecraft on his debut. Photo: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Yuki Tsunoda impressed with his racecraft on his debut. Photo: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

While one rookie found himself out of the race three corners in, another one made the eyes of F1 fans shine bright. Yuki Tsunoda will be beaming from ear to ear after easily finishing best of the rookies and scoring decent points in a race where many established acts failed to deliver. While his Q2 exit was disappointing, he made the most out of his strategy on Sunday, pulling out some mega moves that his compatriots Takuma Sato and Kamui Kobayashi would be proud of. By finishing 9th and taking points on his debut race, Yuki earns himself the Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race award!

Tsunoda wasn’t the only impressive performer during the 2021 season opener. To start, Lando Norris had an excellent race, not just in terms of consistent driving and fantastic points finishing for himself and McLaren, but also that he seemed to completely hold the measure of his teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who many expected to become team leader this year. Their intra-team competition will be one to watch this year, and it was a pleasant surprise to see Lando do so well against his more established teammate.

It was a case of all’s well that ends well with Sergio Pérez, who almost failed to start the race, after he found himself with no power in the final part of the formation lap. A pitlane start came beckoning, and after the race got under away, he made his way strongly and consistently through the field to nab 5th place and 10 points by the end of the race. In context, he had a huge fight to be able to climb that many places, and it allowed Red Bull to breathe a sigh of relief after their post-Ricciardo disappointment in Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon. The improvements to the rear stability of the RB16B seems to have worked! If Pérez can keep up this pace all year, he will be a worthy number two and might even keep that Red Bull seat another year.

Full Results

Reject of the Race Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race
Nikita Mazepin 68% (23) Yuki Tsunoda 59% (17)
Sebastian Vettel 18% (6) Lando Norris 21% (6)
Michael Masi 15% (5) Sergio Pérez
Number of votes: 34 Number of votes: 29

Disclaimer: The ROTR and IIDOTR awards are purely for fun purposes.

The IIDOTR is a democratically-decided award, based on the assumption that, at any moment in time, there is a non-zero probability that even the slowest, most inexperienced and least reliable of underdogs might win the race. That under every rock, there might be a gold nugget. This is the award for that first podium that we all celebrate, for the overtake no-one was expecting, for the underdog’s first win. This is the award, in short, for the driver or team that makes you go “Woah! Where did THAT come from?!”.

The ROTR is a medal of dishonour that celebrates the most noteworthy failure of a Grand Prix weekend, based on expectations heading into the weekend and general performance. That one brainfade, the silliest mistake or the most patent nonsense going on, all that is what being the ROTR is all about.