Formula One made its annual visit to Bahrain amid the usual furore of violence and protests, but once again this all died down before race day, setting us up for a fascinating grand prix in Sakhir on Sunday.
Sebby’s easiest win yet
Sebastian Vettel has faced few easier challenges on his way to a grand prix victory. The race was always going to be between four drivers: Vettel, Nico Rosberg, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa – the first three on pace, Massa on strategy. Slowly, they all fell away. The moment Vettel leapfrogged Rosberg, he had just the Ferraris to deal with. Alonso’s DRS failure and Massa’s failed strategy meant that he was then free to run away at the front, dropping around one second per lap off his optimum pace. For good measure, the world champion set the fastest lap with three laps to go, and he wasn’t really pushed en route to the race win. A mixture of strategy, pace and good fortune meant that Sebastian Vettel eased to his 28th GP victory, and he will hope for this form to continue into the European races.
Lotus, Force India on the money
Happy days in Enstone. Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean both nailed their strategy to leapfrog Paul di Resta and the squabble between Webber and Hamilton, and it underlined the pace of the Lotus E21. Raikkonen has scored in all four races so far this season, and he is now Vettel’s closest challenger at the top. One good race could see Lotus lead both championships, and they should be preparing for a title fight. Force India so nearly scored its second ever podium via Paul di Resta, but the outright pace of the VJM06 just wasn’t able to match that of Lotus. Adrian Sutil was unfortunate to be tagged early on, otherwise he may have joined his teammate at the sharp end. 2013 looks set to be Force India’s best yet though, especially with Sauber and Williams struggling. If they fail to score a podium this year, it will be an opportunity missed.
Ferrari and Mercedes run out of luck
Ferrari was the only team which could have challenged Red Bull in Bahrain, but circumstances left them impotent and unable to challenge for the win. Fernando Alonso recovered brilliantly, having made an extra pit stop and been out of sync on strategy, so P8 was admirable, and he would undoubtedly have pushed Vettel all the way at the front. Lady luck robbed us of a great battle between the two drivers. Felipe Massa also came unstuck thanks to two punctures, but it was Mercedes who lost the most. Rosberg’s pole position was brilliant, yet his skyfall during the race was sad to see. Hamilton said that his car “came alive” in the second half of the grand prix, suggesting that it may be down to the increased fuel load, further restricting the pace of the W04. If the team is to win a race this season, it will need to improve the tyre wear of the car and its overall performance in order to join Red Bull, Ferrari and Lotus at the front.
Checo sticks his elbows out
Sergio Perez was told in the week by Martin Whitmarsh to “stick his elbows out” and toughen up. So, the Mexican did exactly this, and proceeded to challenge his teammate Jenson Button. McLaren had seen their fortunes change during the race as they rose through the field into the points, but they just could not make the strategy work as perfectly as it had done in China. Instead, Perez and Button became embroiled in their own battle, and the 2009 world champion was forced out by his young teammate. Perez made a good pass on him, and then forced his way past Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber to eventually come home P6, and kick-start his season. Although Button is right to think that his teammate should not be jeopardising both of their races, he must also consider the fact that he was slower. Just as Rubens Barrichello’s strategy was hindered at the 2009 Spanish GP in order to allow Button past, the British driver has to hold his hands up and admit that the Bahrain GP just wasn’t for him this year.
Bernie’s mixed signals; time to turn on the lights?
Bernie Ecclestone sent out a few mixed signals amongst the chaos of Bahrain. Firstly, he inferred that he would happily hold a race in Syria relying on the fee and the infrastructure, before then calling the Bahrain government “stupid.” Therefore, it’s hard to see where he stands. However, the idea of a night race could breathe new life into the Bahrain Grand Prix. If so, then a move to the opening round could also be beneficial, as Moto GP has found out of late. Three night races out of twenty next season would be perfectly acceptable, and the novelty certainly hasn’t worn off yet – although one could argue that the desert setting is part of Bahrain’s charm?
Bahrain saw Caterham trounce Marussia in the battle at the back. Charles Pic had a fantastic drive to finish ahead of wonderkid Jules Bianchi, and he even managed to edge out Esteban Gutierrez in a race to the line. Perhaps the more impressive stat is that he only finished 9.7 seconds off China star Daniel Ricciardo. So, Caterham is back in front for now, with Marussia promising upgrades for Barcelona. Could we possibly see both teams score points in 2013? One thing is for sure: they need it.
No wake-up calls until the Korean GP now!
Yes, Formula One has returned to a civilised time. If you live in the UK, the next few races are all around lunchtime, except the Canadian GP which is in the evening. In the US, it has become a case of “waking up and watching the F1″ at around 8am, which beats the 3am start for the first three races. What does this mean? More conscious fans, and less bleary-eyed journalism (disclaimer: we have an international team to avoid that!). F1 will return to Asia at the Korean Grand Prix (if that goes ahead, without wishing to get into politics), and next time out we visit the Circuit de Catalunya for the Spanish GP. Will Alonsomania strike in 2013? Or could this be the start of Vettel’s dominance? Upgrades will arrive, and the grid could take a very different form at the beginning of Formula One’s European season.
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic and Force India F1 Team.