Following this weekend’s Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix, it is safe to say that Lewis Hamilton has been left behind while his expected championship rival Sebastian Vettel claims two wins out of two.
Starting from Pole Position the German got away well and took an early lead with Hamilton Team-mate Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen closely in tow.
STRATEGY AND PITSTOPS
Strategy is and has become a huge part of a Grand Prix in the last decade of racing. With changes to the cars, the rules on overtaking and the elimination of refuelling, the pitstops and stop strategy has now seen pressure being pilled onto the pit crew and the strategists who call them.
As the lights went out, it was thought that Hamilton would be on a one-stop strategy, hoping to make his medium tyre last. However, when Mercedes put his team-mate Valtteri Bottas on the same strategy, Ferrari were hit with the decision of copying them, though they didn’t have the tyres to do it, or to maintain strategy on a two-stop with the hope that Vettel has the pace to take back the lead in the closing laps of the race.
Such pressure on the pit crews eventually gave way when Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen came in for his second stop of the race. The left rear soft tyre wasn’t coming off but the Finn had already been given the green light to leave the pitbox. As a result, the mechanic stood at the left rear tyre was bowled over by the wheel-spinning Ferrari, suffering a broken leg. Aside from the obvious worries and thoughts with the mechanic, Ferrari had hurt themselves also. The pitbox was now out of action temporarily and it was their ideal opportunity to service Sebastian Vettel with new tyres.
Now Forced to go to the end, Vettel had to make his tyres last. A chasing Valtteri Bottas did close to within a second of Vettel on the penultimate lap but could not secure first place as the German used his battery pack or Energy Recovery System (ERS) to maximum effect.
Britton Lewis Hamilton had started the race from 9th on the grid after qualifying fourth. A gearbox change meant he had a five place grid penalty for the race. Quickly however, Hamilton was chasing down the front three drivers of Vettel, Bottas and Raikkonen.
The one-stop strategy and his pace had worked well. Unfortunately though, there did seem to be a lack of communication as the ending of the race closed in. Hamilton was heard on the team radio asking for updates on his pace to which the team said “you are on target, tell us if you are in Tag-2.” But Lewis wouldn’t tell them he was in “Tag-2” until after more stressful words had been exchanged. That “on target” pace was not quite enough for the reigning champion to challenge his team-mate on the last lap. Hamilton rescuing a far-from-perfect weekend to finish on the podium and with 15 points for the championship.
RED BULL DOUBLE TROUBLE
The two Red Bulls were hopeful of a successful day with the possibility of sneaking onto the podium thanks to the low qualifying of Hamilton and the fight up ahead between the Ferrari’s and Bottas. However those hopes were soon dashed with complete effect.
Daniel Ricciardo had a powercut in the car in the first few laps as the steering wheel display vanished, rendering him helpless in the car. That was his race done.
The only hope now lay with Max Verstappen who had crashed out in qualifying at turn two. But he came a cropper again as he collided with Lewis Hamilton on only lap 4. Verstappen had made a great start from 15th on the grid to be fighting the Mercedes but a small front wing contact meant he suffered a left rear puncture.
Verstappen would return to the race only to stop a lap later with too much damage done to the floor of his Red Bull car. The image of Max slowly creeping past the parked car of his team-mate was the image to sum up the Red Bull weekend in Bahrain.
Torro Rosso’s rookie Pierre Gasly was the star of Saturday’s qualifying by putting his Honda powered car into sixth on the grid. With the Hamilton grid penalty he was promoted to the engine provider’s best start in the new hybrid era of Formula One.
Not only that, but on lap one, Gasly was able to snatch fourth place and would go on to maintain this position until the chequered flag on Sunday. Forgetting the personal triumph of his best finish in Formula One in only his sixth Grand Prix but the second race of his first full season as a team driver, this was Honda’s best result since the introduction of the new hybrid engines.
Torro Rosso had parted with Renault last year who now provide McLaren with their engines. The supplier swap was under the gazing eyes of the F1 paddock and now questions are set to be asked as the McLaren’s were convincingly beaten across the weekend by their former and expectedly weaker engine supplier in the shape of the Torro Rosso’s.
CHINA NEXT WEEK
The Chinese Grand Prix of 2016 saw some of the most frenetic overtaking we have seen, certainly in this new era of the sport, with the highest number of overtakes at 128 yet the following year only harboured 54. Having said this, the action that we saw in the first few laps of the Bahrain Grand Prix, including Hamilton’s triple overtake into turn one, can only be a good omen.
It will be the third round of the 2018 championship and another Ferrari win, or specifically a Sebastian Vettel win, will rock Mercedes as they search for their first foot to be placed on the top step of the podium this year.
What I think we can expect is a lot of the same intense racing that we saw in Bahrain. The drivers that have seen a lot of mid-field action such as Kevin Magnussen, won’t see any reason to slow down in their pursuit of a top of the grid battle.
The mid-field fight does seem just as busy and exciting as the fight for the championship after these first two rounds. It has been a while since we have been treated to this kind of racing. It would be harsh to be putting teams in positions of power over others so soon in the season. Just look at the first 10 laps of the Grand Prix in Bahrain and you’ll notice teams with their two cars split all throughout the field, showing that dominance is not present in the middle of the constructors table. Stay hopeful that it continues but I’d say it will only get better as the teams work out their position in the standings.