A fascinating pre-season test came to its conclusion on Sunday and there were contrasting emotions across the grid after an intense weekend of running. Max Verstappen topped the timesheets to confirm Red Bull will be a major threat to Mercedes in 2021.
The Honda-powered cars looked strong in Bahrain with AlphaTauri showing impressing form. Things were not plain-sailing for Aston Martin and Mercedes who suffered reliability issues which left them at the bottom of the standings on the mileage chart.
It wasn't a disaster for the two Mercedes-powered teams but they both go into the opening F1 race of the season on the backfoot.
Winner - Red Bull
We should never read too much into lap times in pre-season testing but what we can see is the handling of the cars. The RB16B looked on rails around the Bahrain International Circuit with Verstappen and Sergio Perez able to put the car exactly where they wanted.
This predictability is something the team can build on to make the car even quicker throughout the season. Perez conducted a full race simulation on Saturday evening prior to his engine cover dramatically flying off the car.
His lap times on the C2 hard tyres and the C3 medium tyres were strong, over one second clear of the likes of Ferrari, AlphaTauri and Alpine who conducted race simulations during the same session.
For Perez to jump straight into the Red Bull an seemingly get to grips with the car quickly is the best indicator for the team that they have an excellent machine.
Everything points to a championship battle between Mercedes and Red Bull.
Loser - Mercedes
Mercedes have admitted the event in Bahrain was their worst pre-season test in the turbo-hybrid era. They had the least mileage of all ten teams, jut 304 laps compared to Alfa Romeo and AlphaTauri who did 422 rounds of the track.
A gearbox issue got the world champions off to the worst possible start and Hamilton was not happy with the balance of the W12, spinning into the gravel trap on Saturday.
We have seen similar handling problems in previous years from the Silver Arrows but never have they had such little running prior to the opening Grand Prix.
"We’ve made a bit of progress with the balance on higher fuel and the car was more predictable but we can see from the data we’ve collected over the last few days that on race pace, we’re not as quick as Red Bull," admitted Mercedes engineering director Andrew Shovlin.
The longer runs for Mercedes looked good, especially from Bottas. It was on lighter fuel loads where the car appeared to be very twitchy and unstable.
Winner - AlphaTauri and Honda
The Honda-powered cars completed 791 laps during testing, equivalent to 4280.9km. Much of the mileage was due to AlphaTauri's great run and Pierre Gasly's long stints at the wheel as the 2020 Italian Grand Prix winner did 422 laps around Bahrain, the most of all 21 drivers.
Yuki Tsunoda has already showcased his talent with a stellar Sunday afternoon session. Even with a messy middle sector, the Japanese driver posted the second quickest time of the entire test on a 1:29.053.
Similarly to the sister Red Bull machine, the AT02 appeared to handle nicely with a predictable balance for its drivers.
Team principal Franz Tost claimed AlphaTauri want to be in the thick of the midfield battle this year and they have got off to a mighty start. Never has the team, formerly called Toro Rosso, finished in the top five of the constructors' championship but 2021 could be their best chance yet.
Loser - Aston Martin
Aston Martin had an underwhelming test, marred by reliability issues. Sebastian Vettel completed just 117 laps over the three days in Bahrain, only Roy Nissany had less running and solely drove on Friday.
An electrical glitch, a gearbox problem and a boost pressure problem meant Vettel sat in the garage more than he was out on track. Lance Stroll was at the wheel for the majority of Aston Martin's running and failed to create any headlines.
There is definitely more to come from Aston Martin, so do not rule them out of the midfield fight. Once they get over their reliability issues they should come good, but it was a far from ideal start to their 2021 campaign.
Winner - McLaren
McLaren will be delighted with their test as they sneaked under the radar for most of the event. They opted to focus on testing and changing new parts on the MCL35M so whilst they did not have much track time compared to other teams, they looked fantastic when they were on the circuit.
When drivers were vying for bragging rights and qualifying pace on Sunday evening, Daniel Ricciardo executed a race simulation. His middle stint on the C2 tyre was on par with Bottas' and Perez' pace from the day before, an impressive run.
Lando Norris has looked good too and it looks like McLaren have the outright third fastest car and may not even be too far away from Mercedes and Red Bull.