Bahrain Grand Prix: From Sebastian Vettel's show-stealing win to Force India's impressive recovery
The Bahrain Grand Prix saw Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari steal the show, along with a generous dose of overtaking, some wild crashes, wily pit stop games and a last-minute charge by Lewis Hamilton.
I am loving this new era of Formula 1! Just when the ball swung back in Lewis Hamilton (and Mercedes’) favour in China, Bahrain saw Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari steal the show. We had a generous dose of overtaking, some wild crashes, wily pit stop games and a last-minute charge by Hamilton (which eventually proved to be futile) that made this race an absolute cracker.
Hamilton vs Vettel
It was a start to remember as Vettel (starting in P3) got past Hamilton (starting in P2) at the very beginning. Poor Hamilton could do nothing but anxiously look towards his left as Vettel’s scarlet car streamed by, slotting in ahead. It was a move that set the tone for the entire race, as Vettel ran away with the race. Vettel is now leading the Drivers’ Championship, and surely the quadruple world champion already smells a fifth title this season. Ferrari, as a team, seem recharged, rejuvenated and ready to strike (did you see the fervour with which they sang the Italian anthem?)
The only blip in Ferrari’s perfect day was that Kimi Raikkonen continued to underperform. He was asleep in the first half of the race but came alive in the second — Raikkonen needs to figure out with the team how to keep pace all through. My prediction is also that it is his seat — and not Valtteri Bottas’ — which will become the most coveted one in the silly season.
I am sure Mercedes wishes they had a time capsule that could take them back to last season where their biggest issue was their sparring pair of drivers. Although they managed a double podium (as Hamilton finished P2 and Bottas finished P3) it was far from a perfect show. They are still three points behind Ferrari in the Constructors' points. It is evident that Mercedes is struggling to come to terms with their sudden change in fortunate from champions to challengers — and to accept competition outside the team, rather than just internally.
Hamilton earned himself a five-second penalty for backing up Daniel Ricciardo — a penalty that cost him dearly, especially since the gap between him and Vettel at the chequered flag was 6.6 seconds. Mercedes’ struggling pace (Bottas) and sub-optimal tyre utilization (Hamilton) allowed Ferrari and Red Bull to perform the undercut on Mercedes, a worrying sign in an era where overtaking on track is difficult. Mercedes also had problems with their wheel gun, leading to long pit stops for both Hamilton and Bottas.
Hamilton, blast from the past
In a lot of ways, Bahrain was an unfortunate blast from the past for Hamilton, beginning with his terrible start where Vettel jumped him (something that we saw a fair share of in 2016).
Later, Hamilton was penalised during the race for holding back Ricciardo — something that took me back to the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, where Hamilton’s tactic of slowing down the field to deny his teammate Rosberg the world title became a huge controversy. Surely Rosberg will consider Hamilton’s penalty a retribution of sorts for Abu Dhabi.
If there’s one place Hamilton absolutely detests, it is second best. If losing out to Rosberg last season was not bad enough, Hamilton is in the same place again as Vettel charged into the lead of the World Championship.
Hero to Zero: Bottas
Bottas, after stunning everyone, including Hamilton, by clinching pole, went from hero to zero. His race pace was awful (though Mercedes put it down to faulty tyre pressure), I am not sure whether they were just trying to cover for Bottas. There were flashes of brilliance — Bottas trying to challenge Vettel at the restart into Turn 3 — which I would also rate as the moment of the race. It clearly showed Mercedes' engine advantage for the first time, something we have only heard about till now.
The manner in which Bottas was asked to let Hamilton through is also telling — has Bottas already resigned to his status as Mercedes’ No 2 driver (this would also explain why Hamilton and he are still friends!) Also, if that is the case, could and should Mercedes have swapped their drivers earlier? Especially since Bottas didn’t have the pace to win, but perhaps Hamilton did.
Red Bull Racing: Riding on potential
Red Bull Racing could only manage fifth place (Ricciardo) after Max Verstappen lost his brakes and retired. Honestly, it was a bit strange watching Formula 1 without Verstappen on the grid. Luckily, the race had enough overtaking action and we didn’t miss him all that much. Verstappen said post-race that he could have finished second after Vettel since Red Bull Racing pulled off the undercut on Mercedes. This multi-constructor battle has all the makings of a saga.
The joke’s (still) on McLaren
We love making fun of McLaren, and they did not disappoint in Bahrain. Stoffel Vandoorne recorded a DNS (Did Not Start). Seems that the team is so bored of recording DNFs (Did Not Finish) that they decided to shake things up with a DNS instead. Vandoorne must be bitterly disappointed as he is yet to finish a race this season. When you're in a McLaren-Honda, retirements happen far too often, just ask Vandoorne. No wonder then that Jenson Button wanted to call it a sabbatical.
Fernando Alonso had a forgettable race, as usual. He was raging on the radio though, declaring that he has “never raced with less power in my life.” More blushes for Honda, and embarrassment for McLaren in front of its Bahraini owners?
Once again, Force India proved that what they lack in qualifying, they can make up in race pace with their third double-points finish in a row. Sergio Perez had an unbelievable drive from P18 to P7. Unfortunately, we didn’t see much of him on TV, but it must have been a hell of a drive. Esteban Ocon went from last to P10. The team are now back in fourth place in the Constructors’ battle.
Williams were reminded that they can’t score big in the Constructors’ Championship by relying only on one car — Felipe Massa had a solid sixth-place finish, but Lance Stroll did not finish as he was taken out by Carlos Sainz. Poor Storll, whose crashing ways have earned him quite a reputation, will be looking to keep out of trouble in Russia and get to the finish line.
Torro Rosso had a forgettable day too as they failed to score any points. Haas and Renault will take comfort in the fact that they have scored good points with Romain Grosjean in P8 and Nico Hulkenberg in P9.
As the action shifts to the Russian Grand Prix in two weeks’ time, we are looking forward to the next round in the Vettel vs Hamilton battle. I also hope that Danii Kvyat is able to impress in his home race, and that Raikkonen and Bottas are able to impress any which way.
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