A change of scenery was supposed to rejuvenate a jaded Sebastian Vettel. Unfortunately what we witnessed in Bahrain was more of the same from a man who has been on the decline since the 2018 F1 season.
At the other end of the grid, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton pulled off a surprise win after getting the best of Red Bull and Max Verstappen. A driver who has won it all, with seven world championships and 96 wins to boot, Hamilton is undoubtedly F1's most successful driver at least from a statistical standpoint. However it's the British driver's continued improvement that not only pushes him forward, but more importantly motivates his team to always do more.
If you asked any F1 pundit or fan in 2013 which of the two drivers was most likely to beat Michael Schumacher's record of 91 Grand Prix wins, many would have said Vettel. The German had just won four consecutive world championship doubles with Red Bull and ended the 2013 season with a remarkable nine straight wins. Fast-forward to 2021 and Vettel looks like a shell of his former self.
Hamilton on the other hand has constantly sought to improve himself. From defeating Nico Rosberg in two out of their three seasons together, to outperforming Vettel himself in 2017 and 2018, the British driver has consistently found a higher gear when it's mattered most. While we're only one race into the 2021 F1 season, the way Hamilton showcased his talent and never-say-die attitude while hauling an inferior Mercedes car across the finish line ahead of the fast Red Bull is something we haven't seen from Vettel in a very long time.
A quick summary of the German's race weekend showed that he started dead last - though that wasn't entirely his fault - while his race was compromised after a silly incident with Alpine's Esteban Ocon. The crash earned Vettel a 10-second penalty he and ended the weekend with five penalty points, seven short of a race ban.
Yes, Vettel's time on track in testing was limited and he is in a completely new environment. However, if Bahrain is anything to go by then don't expect the German to bring that burst of energy to Aston Martin that Hamilton brought to Mercedes back in 2013.
Vettel's former employers at Ferrari took a subtle dig at the German when they hinted at the fact that they can now count on both their drivers. The Italian team were heavily criticised for the way they treated the German in 2020, though in hindsight they might have made the right decision.
Having said all that, Vettel still has 22 races to turn things around. Calls for his retirement are certainly premature, but it could prove to be another very long season for the German driver if he doesn't turn things around sooner rather than later.
Vettel remains one of the paddock's more amiable drivers as the former Ferrari man has always carried himself with poise and class. Unfortunately that hasn't helped the German's cause on track as he has developed a habit of getting into unnecessary incidents. The latest one involving Ocon follows the same pattern, with Vettel making an unforced error that either ended his race or compromised it.
While many cited the pressure of driving for Ferrari as a major cause for his decline, his incident with the Alpine driver will have raised a few eyebrows at Aston Martin.
The 2021 season could be a defining one from the four-time world champion. If Vettel continues to struggle while Hamilton continues his push for more records and honours, those raised eyebrows will be hard to wipe away.