Well, with Sebastian Vettel’s second victory of the season in Sakhir, we now know that there will be no repeat of 2012, with eight different race winners in the first eight races of the season. In Bahrain, at least, though, we did have a carbon copy of the 2012 top three, with Vettel being joined on the podium by Lotus pair Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean. While Vettel was untroubled at the front of the pack, the battles raged behind him.
It was a tumultuous, topsy-turvey race; different cars and drivers looked quick at various stages of the race, with McLaren looking extremely strong at certain points, while Mercedes looked to be struggling at times. At the end of the race, though, the only team that maximised the result for both of their drivers was Lotus, with a double podium. Unusually for me, I’m going to take a look at the race, team by team, for the top seven at least.
Let’s start with Red Bull Racing. As we know, Vettel took a thoroughly deserved and fairly straightforward victory. He battled with Nico Rosberg and Fernando Alonso at the start of the race and initially dropped back from his second place starting slot as Alonso opportunistically sneaked around the outside of the reigning world drivers’ champion at turn one. Vettel was back past the Spaniard later on the lap, though, and although it took him a two more laps to find a way past Rosberg’s Mercedes, once he did so on lap three he never looked back, winning the race by just under 10 seconds, looking perfectly in control throughout.
Mark Webber on the other hand had another torrid race. Eventually, the Australian finished where he started, in seventh place, but aside from a spell in second place after the first round of pit stops he never really looked in contention. Webber, of course, was hampered by a three place grid penalty carried over from Shanghai and his collision with Jean-Eric Vergne, but he never looked like he had the pace to compete at the very front of the race. Nevertheless, he battled hard throughout, eventually losing out towards the end of the race as he lost two positions on the final lap. Things could have been even worse for Webber, though, had the stewards decided that his coming together with Nico Rosberg on lap 38 was worth more than just the reprimand that he received after the race.
Force India had an excellent result with a fourth place finish for Paul di Resta. The Scot looked fast throughout the race and can consider himself unfortunate not to be able to take his first formula 1 podium. He led the race at times, and did an excellent job on a two stop strategy, but was overtaken five laps from the end by a charging Romain Grosjean. In contrast, though, his team-mate Adrian Sutil had a poor result. The German had started the race alongside his team-mate in sixth place, but contact with the Ferrari of Felipe Massa on the first lap of the race meant an early pit-stop for Sutil, from which he never recovered, eventually finishing the race down in 13th position – hugely disappointing considering the race that had clearly been in the car in Bahrain.
Next up, I’m going to have a look at the race for Mercedes. A dominant pole for Nico Rosberg on Saturday, their second pole in two races after Lewis Hamilton’s in China, promised much for the race. Rosberg’s previous pole position, in China in 2012, saw him take victory for Mercedes. Sadly for the German, though, there was no repeat in Bahrain in 2013. As many feared, tyre wear was a problem for Mercedes and Rosberg dropped further and further backwards as the race went on. He eventually had to stop four times due to excessive tyre wear, one of just a handful of drivers that needed to do so, eventually finishing in ninth place.
Ninth place was where his team-mate Hamilton had started the race after receiving an unfortunate five place grid penalty after a tyre delamination at the end of third practice on Saturday forced the team to change his gearbox. Hamilton’s pace was poor through much of the race, and it looked unlikely that he would score points at times. He fell back at the start and spent much of the race on the periphery of the top 10. In the second part of the race, on the hard tyre, the Englishman came alive, though. As his team-mate fell further back Hamilton pulled himself further forward, passing both McLaren’s and Webber’s Red Bull to take fifth. As he explained after the race “My race didn’t start well at all. I was looking after the tyres but I really struggled on the first two stints and was falling back. But as the temperatures dropped, the car picked up and then I had the grip that I needed to push and close the gap”. A good result for the 2008 world drivers’ champion, who moved into third place in the world drivers’ championship.
Hamilton’s old team, McLaren, looked transformed through much of the race. Both 2009 world drivers’ champion Jenson Button and Sergio Perez were solidly in the top 10 throughout the race, despite their modest 10th and 12th place starting positions. It looked, at times, like a complete turnaround in fortunes between McLaren and Mercedes, but it didn’t really last, at least for Button. The Englishman was the second man to have to make four pit stops due to excessive tyre wear – amazingly for a driver that’s usually so kind to his rubber. Like Webber, he eventually finished the race exactly where he started, in 10th place.
The reason for Button’s excessive tyre wear was probably the battle that raged between him and his Mexican team-mate throughout much of the race. The two drivers came together at the first corner and again later in the race as they pushed to, and sometimes beyond, the limit. Perez, after a disappointing first three races for McLaren had been told to ‘toughen up’ by team boss Martin Whitmarsh earlier in the week, and he did just that. The 23-year-old drove like a man possessed, with Button complaining about his team-mate’s driving over the team radio. The Mexican eventually came out on top, though taking sixth place.
But what about, Ferrari? It had been a race which had promised much for the Italian team; both cars started the race on the second row of the grid, with Alonso ahead of Massa. Indeed, the Spaniard had looked tremendously fast all weekend and was many people’s pick to win the race, myself included. Disaster struck for Alonso on lap eight as he was forced to pit because his DRS had jammed open. His team managed to force it closed, but Alonso was back in the pits just a lap later as his DRS jammed open yet again. Again, the Ferrari pit crew forced it closed, but the Spaniard would be without DRS for the rest of the race. Considering the loss of a crucial overtaking aid, and the time that he lost in the pits, Alonso worked wonders to finish in eighth position.
Things went from bad to worse for Ferrari, though. Like his team-mate, Felipe Massa was forced to make two unscheduled visits to the pits during the race. Unlike Alonso, though, it was tyres rather than DRS that were the problem for the Brazilian. Massa suffered not one, but two right rear tyre delaminations. The first came on lap 18 and the second on lap 37, destroying his race. Massa eventually finished in a lowly 15th position, behind the Williams of Valtteri Bottas.
As I’ve already mentioned, Lotus, in stark contrast to Ferrari, had a brilliant race. Both cars had qualified comparatively poorly with eighth place on the grid for Kimi Raikkonen and 11th for Romain Grosjean. In the race, though, the Enstone based team came alive, making a two stop strategy work for Raikkonen and a three stop strategy work equally well for his French team-mate. Raikkonen admitted after the race that Lotus “did not have the speed to beat Red Bull this weekend” and given that the team did as well as they could have with a double podium.
The man with the biggest smile on his face was Sebastian Vettel, though. There was none of the controversy of his win in Malaysia this time and he extended his championship lead to 10 points over Raikkonen. As I mentioned, Hamilton has moved into third – albeit a huge 17 points behind Raikkonen – with Ferrari’s Alonso a further three points back in fourth place. Next up it’s the start of the European races in Barcelona. It’ll be a crucial point for all of the teams as big upgrade packages will be bolted on to all of the cars. Will any of those upgrades mix up the current pecking order? We’ll find out in three weeks time…