Max Verstappen eased to yet another victory at the Red Bull Ring in Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix, completing a triumphant triple-header in front of home support.

The Red Bull superstar and Formula One season leader won for the third week running to stretch his drivers' championship advantage to 32 points over Lewis Hamilton.

Verstappen had become the first F1 driver to win three times at this circuit in the previous week's Styrian Grand Prix and led from start to finish again after claiming pole.

Hamilton's hopes of reeling in Verstappen – dismissed as "out of the question" after qualifying – were hindered by another fine drive from Lando Norris, with the Mercedes great starting where he finished in fourth.

Valtteri Bottas was the big mover, up from fifth to second, benefiting from keeping clear of controversy as numerous drivers – notably including Norris and Sergio Perez – tangled in costly fashion.

Verstappen displayed his superior straight-line speed from the outset to disappear into the distance, only to find his early progress checked by Esteban Ocon's crash that prompted a safety car.

The Dutchman – backed by swathes of orange-clad supporters – pulled clear again from the restart but team-mate Perez had more difficulty as he doggedly pursued Norris.

Norris' determination forced Perez off the track in an incident that was subsequently investigated.

Even Red Bull team principal Christian Horner dismissed the clash as "one of those things", but a five-second penalty for Norris was confirmed just as Hamilton passed him, having been held up for 20 laps – already around 10 seconds shy of Verstappen.

Perez's attempts to recover from his early setback saw the Mexican twice earn five-second penalties of his own for nudging Charles Leclerc out of his path.

However, Norris regained his composure in far more impressive fashion, serving his penalty and falling behind Bottas but then attacking Hamilton, getting ahead of the seven-time champion amid Mercedes tyre trouble for a third podium of the year.

MAX MAKING MOST OF HOME COMFORTS

Verstappen now has four wins, six podiums and 139 points at the Red Bull Ring, his best returns at any circuit.

Saturday's pole had seen him make Spielberg – Red Bull's home grand prix – the first track at which he has qualified first twice, following on from last week's effort.

Five victories and four poles have made this is his best season to date, but Verstappen has bigger fish to fry with the title in his sights.

UNLUCKY LANDO STILL THE BREAKOUT STAR

It was hard not to feel for Norris, who so bravely battled against Hamilton and then learned of his penalty for essentially holding his line.

Informed of the punishment, he first replied: "What for?"

Norris added: "What did the guy expect running around the outside?"

Regardless, he had built enough of a buffer to only fall to fourth and recovered to make the podium, meaning the McLaren man has now collected points in 14 consecutive races – his longest streak and the best ongoing run in the series.

Fernando Alonso, in the first 14 races of 2007, was the last McLaren driver to enjoy such a stretch of points returns.

IN THE POINTS

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +17.973s
3. Lando Norris (McLaren) +20.019s
4. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +46.452s
5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +57.144s
6. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +57.915s
7. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +60.395s
8. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +61.195s
9. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +61.844s
10. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +1 lap

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 182
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 150
3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) – 104
4. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 101
5. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 92

Constructors

1. Red Bull – 286
2. Mercedes – 242
3. McLaren – 141
4. Ferrari – 122
5. AlphaTauri – 48

Lando Norris described his "epic" second place in qualifying for the Austrian Grand Prix as one of the best laps he has driven in Formula One.

McLaren are back on the front row for the first time since 2012 after Norris incredibly finished just 0.048 seconds behind Max Verstappen, marginally missing out on a historic pole.

Verstappen became the first F1 driver to win three times at the Red Bull Ring as he beat Lewis Hamilton to victory last time out.

Having also won in France, the Dutchman looks well placed to make it a treble.

He was boosted as his team-mate Sergio Perez qualified third, meaning the two Mercedes of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were left in fourth and fifth respectively.

George Russell – reportedly in the running to drive for the German team next year – took a brilliant ninth for Williams on a day of surprises.

Verstappen – unhappy with his team for the position he was put out in the running order in Q3 – could not improve in his second run, giving surprise challenger Norris the chance to come agonisingly close to pole.

But Verstappen has shown impressive form this weekend and it continued with another strong result, even if Norris was understandably attracting the attention after Saturday's session.

"I feel epic!" Norris said to Sky Sports. "It's one of the best laps I've done – I'm really happy with P2, my best qualifying in Formula One.

"One of my best laps in Formula One. It's a good feeling, so I'm looking forward to Sunday.

"It feels pretty cool. After the last race I wanted to take one more step [after qualifying fourth] – but we went two more! 

"It's nice to be in a good position for Sunday. I don't know how far I was off pole, bit gutted I didn't get pole – Sunday will be tough but we did the best job we could."

 

After a third straight pole and his fourth overall in 2021, Verstappen warned victory would not come easily as he looks to extend his 18-point lead in the drivers' standings.

"I think Q3 was pretty bad. Of course I'm happy to be first but not the way we got it," he said.

"Pole again is good. Hopefully we can finish it off on Sunday – it is never straightforward though.

"Softer compounds compared to last week, so it will be tough to manage those in the race but aside from that, we'll just try to focus on our own race and of course, we'll try to win it."

Both Ferraris and Fernando Alonso – who was angry at being held up by Sebastian Vettel in an incident that could result in a grid penalty – all missed out on progression from Q2.

It meant Yuki Tsunoda and Vettel were able to claim seventh and eighth, with Lance Stroll taking the last spot in the top 10 behind the impressive Russell.

Perez claimed third for Red Bull having initially looked poised to start further down the order after his first Q3 run.

"It's been a hard weekend up to now," the Mexican explained. "We have been chasing the balance and just exploring the car.

"It didn't come easy. It was very hard work – harder than you think.

"In the end we got a good lap and we have a good position. I believe we have got a better race car than qualifying."

Six consecutive top-five finishes have put Perez third in the championship prior to the ninth race of the campaign, with Norris fourth in the standings ahead of Bottas and Charles Leclerc.

 

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1:03.720
2. Lando Norris (McLaren) +0.048s
3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +0.270s
4. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.294s
5. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +0.329s
6. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +0.387s
7. Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) +0.553s
8. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) +0.850s
9. George Russell (Williams) +0.871s
10. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +0.898s

Christian Horner described the "rollercoaster" of Red Bull's Azerbaijan Grand Prix success as Sergio Perez revealed he almost followed team-mate Max Verstappen out of the race.

Red Bull claimed consecutive wins for just the second time in the Hybrid Era, but it was Perez rather than Verstappen who led them to glory.

Verstappen was in complete control and set to head a Red Bull one-two when his left-rear tyre blew out in the closing stages. The same issue had ruled out Lance Stroll of Aston Martin.

That left the door open for title rival Lewis Hamilton to profit, but an error from the defending champion from the restart allowed Perez to race clear.

Red Bull boss Horner told Sky Sports: "I think I've aged about 20 years.

"We were staring down the barrel of our first one-two since 2016. Everything in control, we'd just checked in with Max, all okay, and then boom.

"The tyre went, and we don't know why. It looked like the wear was in good shape, so whether it's debris or something has happened.

"You can see it's a big place to have an accident. Thankfully, he's okay."

He added: "We were feeling at that point like the world had dropped from under us."

Worse might have been to come for Red Bull as Perez finished the race but then immediately broke down, receiving frantic messages over the radio as he celebrated his first victory for the team.

The Mexican, who has five consecutive top-five finishes for the first time in his career, said: "I'm so, so happy for today. Normally, Baku is pretty crazy.

"First of all, I have to say for Max I'm sorry. He did a tremendous race and really deserved the win, and it would have been incredible to get that one-two for the team.

"But at the end, it is a fantastic day for us. We were close to retiring the car but, luckily, we were able to finish the race. It was quite difficult all the way in the end."

Horner lauded Perez, whose victory moved Red Bull 26 points clear in the constructors' championship on a day Mercedes failed to score.

"He's a wily driver, a canny racer. He races really, really well," Horner said.

"We went from the despair of 'We've lost Max, we're going to lose the championship lead, Lewis could pass him at the restart and win the race'.

"It just shows the rollercoaster you go through in this sport.

"Suddenly it not being quite so bad, we've actually maintained the same lead in the drivers' championship leaving here and extended the constructors'."

Red Bull dedicated the victory to Mansour Ojjeh, the McLaren shareholder who passed away ahead of the race.

"He had the biggest heart and always carried the biggest smile," ex-McLaren man Hamilton posted on Twitter. "I am so grateful to have known such a man."

Max Verstappen went top of the Formula One drivers' standings for the first time in his career but admits he faces a huge fight to stay ahead of Lewis Hamilton.

The Red Bull star earned a maiden Monaco Grand Prix victory as Hamilton trailed in seventh, with the Mercedes team as a whole enduring a desperate day.

Valtteri Bottas was forced to retire from the race while running second when the pit crew were unable to remove a tyre, with Verstappen and fourth-placed Sergio Perez nudging Red Bull above Mercedes at the summit of the constructors' standings.

Neither Verstappen nor his team would be presumptuous enough to suggest this changing of the guard at the top of each championship is anything but potentially fleeting though, given the margins are so tight and this was just the fifth stop-off in a 23-race season.

"It's so special around here to win and to be for the first time on the podium here," Verstappen said. "It's an amazing race and you really have to keep your focus, but it's really cool.

"You never know what's going to happen, but it was all about looking after your tyres and finding a good stop gap of course. The others went earlier so that made it a bit easier for me, but it was pretty much in control.

"Of course you always want to win this grand prix. I remember when I was very little watching this grand prix and to be standing here of course I'm very proud.

"But I'm also thinking ahead. It's still a very long season, but this is a great way to continue."

Hamilton has won the last four championships and six of the last seven, while Mercedes are chasing an eighth consecutive team title.

They will have many better Sundays in the coming months, and a team statement on Twitter summed up their dismay at the Monaco outcome.

The statement said: "Tough one to swallow. This has been one of our hardest days as a team in a very long time. We have to accept it, own the failure, learn from it and move on from here."

Carlos Sainz finished second, with Verstappen keeping the Spaniard at a safe distance.

It was close to a nine-second gap at the finish, as Sainz delivered for a Ferrari side who had to stomach the pre-race blow of withdrawing pole-sitter Charles Leclerc.

Monaco native Leclerc majorly damaged his car with a heavy crash in qualifying, and despite subsequent assurances that he would be on the grid, Ferrari changed their minds just minutes before the race began, citing a problem with the left driveshaft.

As Leclerc licked his wounds, Sainz delivered a sterling drive for his first Ferrari podium finish. Even then, it felt bittersweet.

"It is a good result," said the 26-year-old Spaniard. "If you had told me before coming to Monaco that I would finish second, I would definitely have taken that.

"It's just the whole circumstances of the weekend, having Charles on pole, me missing out in qualifying yesterday on a good lap, it just maybe doesn't taste as good as it should.

"But if I reflect back in the week I will be very happy and proud of the weekend. And I think Ferrari as a team need to be proud about the team and the step they've done this year.

"When you see the other car not starting from pole, all of a sudden the responsibility relies on you, trying to salvage the weekend. I felt the team deserved at least a podium this weekend."

Third place went to Lando Norris, whose McLaren team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, a former winner in Monaco, could only finish in a lowly 12th place.

"I didn't think I'd be here," Norris said, at his post-race interview. "It's always a dream to be on a podium here.

"It's extra special, I didn't think it was going to happen. It's special here, so I'll cherish it."

Lando Norris has signed a contract extension with McLaren that will keep him with the team for the 2022 Formula One season and beyond.

The British driver has been with McLaren since 2017, initially joining as a test and simulator driver before getting a seat on the grid two years ago.

Norris made his F1 debut at the 2019 Australian Grand Prix and went on to end his maiden season with 49 points.

He improved to 97 points in 2020 – aided by claiming his first podium finish in Austria - and already has 41 to his name this year after four races, including taking third place at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

"I'm really pleased to have extended my relationship with McLaren from 2022," Norris said.

"Having been with the team for almost five years, I feel very much part of the family here and I couldn’t imagine starting the next phase of my career anywhere else.

"McLaren has been a huge support since my days in junior series and I’ve really enjoyed learning and developing as a driver since."

Norris sits fourth in the championship standings having outperformed team-mate Daniel Ricciardo so far, though his ambitions stretch further than simply being the top performer for McLaren.

"My commitment to McLaren is clear: my goal is to win races and become Formula 1 world champion and I want to do that with this team," the 21-year-old added.

"Since joining in 2017 our progression has been consistent and we have clear ambitions together for the future."

McLaren CEO Zak Brown described Norris as "one of the brightest talents" in the sport, making it a major boost for the team to have him tied up on a multi-year deal.

"I'm delighted with the extension of our agreement with Lando for 2022 and beyond," Brown said.

"He's been instrumental in our return of form here at McLaren and we're proud of the growth he's shown since he first started with us back in 2017.

"Lando is one of the brightest talents on the Formula 1 grid and we look forward to seeing him continue to go from strength-to-strength both on and off track."

Lewis Hamilton felt he had got all he could out of his Mercedes as Max Verstappen stormed to an impressive pole position for the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

Red Bull driver Verstappen finished 0.388 seconds clear of Mercedes rival and defending world champion Hamilton in qualifying on Saturday.

Valtteri Bottas was 0.589s back in third with Charles Leclerc taking an impressive fourth for Ferrari.

Verstappen had previously topped every practice session in Sakhir, a circuit where he is due a change of luck having retired there four times – more than at any other track in his Formula One career.

His dominant start to the campaign has fans dreaming of a competitive 2021 season after Hamilton was in a class of his own in winning a seventh world title last year.

"We have already had a great week of testing," Verstappen said.

"There are no guarantees but it's been great so far coming back for the race week. The car has been working really well - really enjoyable to drive.

"With the wind conditions changing, it's not easy to change the set-up of the car for every session but it all worked out perfectly in qualifying and I'm really happy with pole position.

"My first lap in Q3 wasn't amazing so I knew there was more in it – you never know how much - but finally the balance was there and you can push a little bit more. 

"You have to be careful not to overheat the rear tyres but where it mattered we could perform. The car has been steady on the short and long runs - we have a good car."

Hamilton felt grid spots of second and third were solid accomplishments for Mercedes after their struggles in pre-season testing.

The Briton said: "Amazing [to have competition]. Congratulations to Max. He did such a great job, so fast on that last lap.

"I absolutely gave it everything I had but unfortunately it was not good enough. There is always more but it was the best I could do that is for sure and I got absolutely everything I could from the car.

"We did a really good job from testing to come here - everyone in the factory has done an amazing job. 

"To be that close, closer to the Red Bulls [is good] considering in testing we thought we would be further behind."

There was some disappointment for Red Bull when Sergio Perez was unable to reach Q3 as he tried to reach the shoot-out on medium tyres. He will start 11th.

It means Hamilton and Bottas will, as they did for much of last season when Alex Albon struggled, have a strategic numerical advantage at the front as they battle Verstappen.

Bottas said: "Anything is possible and we can only aim for Sunday. We have two cars in the mix at the front with Max, so we'll see.

"The practice this morning wasn't easy, I had a couple of issues with balance.

"It was a bit better this evening. We used two sets of soft tyres in Q2 so in Q3, I only had one set of tyres, so it wasn't easy to compete with Max and Lewis."

Verstappen was just 0.023s ahead of Hamilton after the first runs of Q3, and then had to respond when his rival went fastest with his second attempt.

The Dutchman produced a brilliant answer, though, comfortably taking pole as he looks to win two straight races for the first time in his F1 career, having triumphed in the last race of 2020.

Pierre Gasly was fifth ahead of Daniel Ricciardo for his new team McLaren. Lando Norris, Carlos Sainz, the returning Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll rounded out the top 10.

Sebastian Vettel had a frustrating first competitive outing for Aston Martin, as he and Esteban Ocon were eliminated in Q1, not helped by yellow flags towards the end of the session.

Ocon was 16th with Vettel in 18th, just one place ahead of Mick Schumacher on his F1 debut as the two Haas cars finished on the back row.

Hamilton has won the last two editions of the Bahrain Grand Prix, but no driver has ever recorded three straight victories at the event.

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1:28.997
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.388s
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +0.589s
4. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +0.681s
5. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +0.812s
6. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +0.930s
7. Lando Norris (McLaren) +0.977s
8. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +1.218s
9. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +1.252s
10. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +1.604s

Lewis Hamilton returns to Bahrain four months on from winning an 11th race of a dominant 2020 season knowing Mercedes have plenty of questions to answer from an exciting-looking Red Bull.

It was another season to remember for Hamilton in a campaign disrupted heavily by the coronavirus pandemic, the Briton himself contracting the virus late in the season and missing the second leg of a Sakhir double-header a week later.

By winning a seventh Formula One world title, Hamilton levelled Michael Schumacher's all-time record and also surpassed the legendary German for overall race wins (now 95), and he is now going in search of history.

But the evidence in pre-season suggests Mercedes are set for a titanic tussle with Red Bull, whose exciting line-up of Max Verstappen – the 23-year-old many are tipping to finally go toe-to-toe-with Hamilton – and Sergio Perez will be out to lay down a marker at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir.

Many have suggested that F1's technical 2021 changes have redressed the competitive balance and certainly there was evidence to suggest as such at pre-season testing where Mercedes posted the lowest lap count of any team and Red Bull set the pace on two out of the three days.

We have been here before with Mercedes, though, where some have questioned whether their period of dominance – the Silver Arrows winning the constructors' championship seven years running – is finally over, only for the German manufacturers to turn it on when it matters.

This weekend should give us a clearer indication as to the strength of both teams, but that is by no means the only talking point on the grid...

LAST TIME OUT

Red Bull can certainly take heart from a strong end to the 2020 campaign, which saw Verstappen coast to victory at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, a race in which Hamilton finished third after returning from his absence due to COVID-19.

In that race, Red Bull were not necessarily favourites but beat Mercedes in a straight-line fight for Verstappen's second triumph of the season – his first coming in round five at the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix.

Perez can also take plenty of confidence from the fact he triumphed at this circuit for the Sakhir Grand Prix a week after Hamilton's last win of 2020, with a power issue in Abu Dhabi meaning his final outing with Racing Point ended in a whimper.

Valtteri Bottas finished second ahead of Hamilton on that occasion and the Finn knows he has a lot to prove against a strong-looking Red Bull line-up, while McLaren cars finished in fifth and sixth and are fancied for another strong campaign after finished third in the constructors' championship.

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR IN SAKHIR

There are plenty of sub-plots in play this weekend after a close-season of change in F1.

Most notable is the return of a legend and the arrival of a rookie aiming to emulate his great father.

Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso is back, racing for the rebranded Alpine Team – formerly Renault where the brilliant Spaniard won his two titles.

Mick Schumacher, son of Michael, has sizeable shoes to fill and will start his career on the biggest stage with Haas alongside fellow F1 rookie Nikita Mazepin.

Sebastian Vettel has a new home after ending his association with Ferrari and will race for Aston Martin, who are back in F1 for the first time since 1960, while the Scuderia signed Carlos Sainz Jr from McLaren to line-up alongside Charles Leclerc for 2021.

McLaren consequently turned to amiable Australian Daniel Ricciardo to partner Lando Norris, with the team starting 2021 12 podiums shy of 500.

TOP FIVE OPTA STATS

- Vettel and Hamilton are the drivers to have won the most races at the Bahrain GP (four), and have taken the most pole positions (three).

- In 2014, Mercedes recorded the first out of their 70 one-twos in hybrid-era qualifying in Bahrain (Nico Rosberg first, Hamilton second). The Germans have achieved 78 one-twos; they are two wins away from reaching Ferrari as the team to have secured one-twos in qualifying most often (80).

- Mick Schumacher will race his maiden grand prix in Bahrain eight years, four months and three days after father Michael's final appearance in Brazil 2012. Both will have started in F1 aged 22 years old, but the younger Schumacher will have done so seven months and 16 days earlier than his dad.

- Sainz will be the third Spanish driver to race for Ferrari. In his maiden race for the Scudería, Alfonso de Portago failed to finish in France (1956), but Alonso won in Bahrain (2010).

- Verstappen has retired three times at the Bahrain Grand Prix (four in Sakhir), more than any other race in his F1 career. The Dutchman has the chance to win back-to-back grands prix in F1 for the first time after 120 races.

After an unpredictable 2020 Formula One campaign ended in wholly predictable fashion, the world's best drivers are back for more in 2021.

The coronavirus pandemic delayed the start to last season and prompted serious surgery to the planned race calendar.

At the end of it all, though, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes again walked away on top of the pile.

As so often in recent years, the task for the rest of the grid this coming year is simply to stop the reigning champion and his Silver Arrow.

While that is easier said than done, of course, the signs in pre-season are promising.

Will testing preparations derail Mercedes in the opening weeks? We are about to find out, as the Bahrain opener is just days away...

 

MORE HAMILTON AND MERCEDES DOMINANCE?

Hamilton's title in 2020 was his seventh, tying Michael Schumacher's competition record. A new benchmark is on the horizon if the Briton can repeat his success.

That is not the only landmark in Hamilton's sights, either: with 95 wins and 98 pole positions – both F1 highs – he can surely look forward to a pair of century celebrations this year.

But even if this is to be another sublime season for the 36-year-old, he surely will not find it as straightforward as last year.

Hamilton shut out the noise surrounding his future to claim 11 victories in 2020, yet the new contract he belatedly signed at the end of the campaign keeps him with Mercedes only until the end of 2021.

That spells another 12 months of uncertainty for the sport's premier driver, who also does not yet appear entirely at home in the new W12 car.

The Silver Arrows recorded only 304 test laps in pre-season – the fewest of any team – and may require Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas to learn on the job if they are to extend their record-breaking streak of seven straight constructors' championships.

 

WHO CAN CHALLENGE THE DEFENDING CHAMP?

Mercedes team-mate Bottas has finished second to Hamilton in the past two seasons, but it would be a tough ask to expect him to outperform the 'GOAT' in the same car – even before considering potential issues with that machine.

No, if Hamilton is to be dethroned, Red Bull look the best bet.

Max Verstappen is undoubtedly the chief threat at the Austrian outfit, having qualified ahead of his team-mates on 36 of 38 occasions since Daniel Ricciardo departed (including a 17-0 record against Alex Albon in 2020).

Indeed, Verstappen – third last year – had the fastest lap time in testing, his effort of a minute and 28.960 seconds in Bahrain putting Red Bull on top in pre-season for the first time.

The Dutchman is pessimistic, though, saying: "[Testing] doesn't say anything about pure performance.

"I know people are excited and think we are just saying this, but Mercedes are still the favourites. How can they not be when they have won seven world championships in a row?"

Ferrari can never be counted out, but they are starting a season with two drivers yet to win a world championship (Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz) for the first time since 2007, when Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen lined up for the Scuderia. Of course, that year ended with Raikkonen being crowned champion.

 

ELSEWHERE...

There is no shortage of intrigue away from the top teams, with two big names returning to F1 – albeit only one of the two drivers having previously raced at this level.

Former champion Fernando Alonso is back, joining the rebranded Alpine team, formerly Renault – where the Spaniard won two titles.

Alonso's most recent race win came in Ferrari colours at the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix, since when he has gone 110 events without victory.

If Alpine can be competitive and Alonso belatedly returns to the top step of the podium later in the season, he could break Raikkonen's record of 114 grands prix between triumphs (2013 to 2018).

The 39-year-old needs only three podiums to reach 100 in F1.

At the other end of the spectrum, Mick Schumacher is the familiar name but new face at Haas, forming an all-rookie line-up alongside Nikita Mazepin, his F2 title rival last year.

Schumacher, who won that championship, will debut at Bahrain eight years, four months and three days after father Michael's final race in Brazil in 2012.

Michael was also 22 when he made his F1 bow, although Mick will be seven months and 16 days younger.

Ricciardo has joined McLaren, who are 12 podiums shy of 500, and Aston Martin are back for the first time since 1960, replacing Racing Point and bringing in Sebastian Vettel.

Meanwhile, there will be increased attention paid to Williams' George Russell, who impressed when given a chance with Mercedes at Sakhir 2020, qualifying second and finishing ninth.

Lewis Hamilton endured more testing misery after beaching his Mercedes in trackside gravel at the Bahrain International Circuit on Saturday. 

The Formula One drivers' champion, who will be chasing a record eighth title this year, complained about sand in the desert on Friday. 

He said the sandstorms being whipped up were unlike anything he had ever experienced at the track, but it did not appear to be a factor in Saturday's loss of control. 

Hamilton was entering Turn 13, having completed 35 laps, when his rear end went and the car span off the track. 

The Briton attempted to drive away but his car would not move, the tyres spinning and sinking, sending up a cloud of dust. 

Hamilton got out and required a lift back to the Mercedes garage, with the session red-flagged while his car was pulled out of the gravel.

It was not the end of his session, however, with Hamilton soon back on the track. He completed 58 laps overall and was eighth quickest in the morning action, clocking a best time of one minute 33.399 seconds. 

Daniel Ricciardo's McLaren led the way in 1:32.215 while former world champion Fernando Alonso completed 60 laps in the Alpine, with 1:32.339 good enough for second on the morning timesheet.

Australian star Daniel Ricciardo vowed to "close the gap" in the race for Formula One championship glory and the new McLaren driver is refusing to make any excuses.

Ricciardo enters his 11th season in F1 having switched from Renault to McLaren, but the 31-year-old does not expect the transition to hold him back.

Since entering F1, Ricciardo has claimed seven grand prix victories and 31 podium finishes, while he earned fifth place in the drivers' championship during the coronavirus-hit 2020 season.

After moving to McLaren to replace new Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz Jr. and pair up with the returning Lando Norris, Ricciardo has an eye on climbing the ranks.

"What I expect out of myself in 2021 is to really hit the ground running," Ricciardo said.

"Naturally it does take some time to learn a new team, a new car, but I guess I'm going to be hard on myself, not to give myself too much time.

"I think with Renault I was the same. I really wanted to be there by Melbourne, that first race, but naturally it did take a bit of time.

"I don't want to be naive but I also want to make sure I'm just leaving no stone unturned and really by the end of year I've had a big contribution to the team, moving forward and closing the gap."

Carlos Sainz compared Ferrari and McLaren to LaLiga heavyweights Real Madrid and Barcelona, and is confident of a successful transition to the Scuderia. 

The Spaniard spent the past two seasons at McLaren, making the podium on two occasions, but is Ferrari-bound for 2021, replacing Sebastian Vettel.

Sainz spoke about how the objective for both teams is to cut the gap to dominant Mercedes, while he feels the fact he will have raced for both teams proves he is doing something right in his career.

Asked by AS if racing for Ferrari is like playing for Real Madrid, the team Sainz supports, he replied: "It's one way of saying it…but McLaren is Barca, which is also a very good team to be on. 

"It cannot be compared, because in addition both are in a restructuring to try to dethrone Mercedes in the future. 

"But they are the two best teams in history and when you go from one to the other it means that you are doing something right in Formula One."

At Ferrari, Sainz is joining a team where the pressure is always on to be a success and internal politics have historically always been a lingering presence in the background.

But Sainz is confident of being able to bring a harmonious atmosphere like the one he was part of at McLaren.

"That I managed to do it at McLaren means I can do it at Ferrari. If I could create a good team, generate good dynamics at McLaren, why not do it at Ferrari? I can do it," he added. 

"I like the people out there, I like Mattia [Binotto, Ferrari team boss] and I like what I see, what we have talked about. 

"There was no hesitation when it came to signing the contract and going forward. In my head there is no possibility that this environment and similar situation cannot be generated. 

"If I could at McLaren, I can at Ferrari."

Sainz's predecessors at Ferrari Vettel and Fernando Alonso arrived with huge reputations as two of the most gifted drivers of their generations and with world titles to their name.

Neither man was able to end Ferrari's wait for a champion dating back to 2007 but Sainz believes it is wrong to judge their success at Maranello based on titles.

"They leave with a few victories and podiums, if you call that going empty…I only have two podiums," he said. 

"Are they leaving without a championship? Yes. But the same has happened to nineteen drivers, every season for the last 10, when Red Bull or Mercedes have dominated. 

"There are nineteen drivers a year who have gone empty, but I do not include those who have raced for Ferrari. Nobody leaves Ferrari empty."

Formula One rising star Lando Norris has tested positive for COVID-19 while holidaying in Dubai.

The McLaren driver, who had a first career podium among seven top-six finishes last season, said he was largely asymptomatic but had lost his sense of taste and smell.

Norris, 21, was taking a break in the United Arab Emirates and will be confined to his hotel room for two weeks as a result.

On Tuesday, he wrote in a message posted to Twitter: "Hi everyone, hope you are all keeping well. Yesterday I lost my sense of taste and smell so immediately self isolated [sic] and took a test.

“It's come back as positive, so I've told everyone that I’ve been in contact with and will be self isolating for the next 14 days.

“I feel alright and have no other symptoms but I just wanted to let you all know. Take care.”

McLaren confirmed the positive, saying it came before Norris was due to join the team for pre-season preparations.

The team said in a statement: "McLaren can confirm that Lando Norris tested positive for COVID-19 yesterday in Dubai, where he is currently on holiday ahead of a planned training camp."

The 2021 Formula One season is scheduled to start in Australia with a March 21 race; however, reports have indicated that grand prix is likely to be pushed back until later in the year due to Melbourne's quarantine restrictions.

That would mean the campaign getting under way a week later in Bahrain, with pre-season testing switching to Bahrain from Barcelona also reported to be a possibility.

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