If you like plenty of wheel to wheel action in your F1 racing, then Bahrain would definitely have floated your boat. Strategy of course played a part but perhaps less so than in China where we saw a lot of drivers just driving ‘their own race’ and instead of fighting tooth and nail for position. Bahrain was a whole different ball game. After all the controversy surrounding team orders (and my big gripe of the season so far – that F1 teams have become way too conservative with how they marshal their drivers), it was enormously refreshing to see drivers (including team-mates – who knew?) scrapping to the (almost) death with each other. It was a bit like having a whole bunch of Nigel Mansells (what would be the collective noun for a group of Nigel Mansells!) out there driving around like lunatics for 90 minutes. Or maybe I have overdosed on Mario Kart.
As I was home alone ALL weekend with the 2 year old and the 5 year old, all hope of watching the build-up was rapidly extinguished. I’m guessing it probably consisted of Simon Lazenby trying and tragically failing to fit in with the F1 set, Damon and Johnny chirping away about the good old days, a track guide, some faux-hilarious stunt with Natalie Pinkham and a couple of F1 drivers and about 75 Christian Horner interviews ad infinitum.
And so straight to #MartinsGridwalk which kicked off with a nice barbed remark from Martin about putting a request to the French embassy to talk to Romain Grosjean. Er don’t bother Martin, he’s hardly the Stephen Fry of drivers. Our first Random Celebrity at a Race was Nick Mason. Being a member of Pink Floyd, he was naturally posh and loaded but at least a bona fide petrolhead. Lets just give thanks that we were spared another Avram Grant interview.
Then a quick chat with Mikey Muscles (is it compulsory for all race engineers to have bonkers names?) and Jenson Button. Alas no nipple tweaking today as Jenson was in serious mode. He said he was just going to do his own thing and see where he ended up. Well its fair to say Jenson’s race didn’t quite adhere to that plan. <Looks hard at Sergio Perez>
Not sure if the Crown Prince of Bahrain qualifies as a Random Celebrity at a Race. Probably not with it being his country and all that. He came across as quite a knowledgeable chap although lets side step those #awkward political issues rumbling in the background. He was hoping for a good race from Kimi. Weren’t we all.
Ross Brawn was in full philosopher mode saying we were all about to enter into the ‘land of the unknown’ and it would be tough for Mercedes to win though the wind might cause some welcome instability and blow some cars in front off the track. Or words to that effect. Rivalling Ross quite closely on the Socratic front was Stefano Domenicali who solemnly told Martin that winning was easy to say and difficult to do. Indeed.
Finally Martin had a word with Niki Lauda inadvertently breaking up the Austrian mafia meeting between himself and Helmut Marko. I’m starting to think The Sound of Music was the best PR job ever for Austria with singing nuns and mountains and cherubic children leaping around. Niki Lauda and Helmut Marko are deeply sinister figures in the F1 paddock. Quite some achievement when you think who else floats about the F1 scene.
And now for something a bit different. Its not that I didn’t enjoy the race but I had to watch it over 8 hours with massive disruptions AND the proverbial has been hitting the fan big time this week in Power Towers (I won’t bore you but the English conveyancing system totally SUCKS) AND it is already Wednesday so the Bahrain GP is a rapidly, fading memory in people’s minds. So I’m just going to rattle through the main talking points of the race!
The good news is if we are staying put in Power Towers, then I might just have to book a weekend away in Monza in early September to ease the pain. I *may* have done some preliminary research into weekends in Monza while Mr Eau Rouge was away in Geneva. Ahem.
So Bahrain. What happened?
The Race Winner: The Force is Strong
Sebastian Vettel who has now moved across to the Dark Side – certainly according to F1 Racing based on its cover which the 5 year old thinks is the GREATEST THING EVER though I seem to remember making the same point in my Malaysia blog – won the Bahrain Grand Prix. Actually he didn’t only win the race but he utterly dominated from start to finish after passing Alonso and then the race leader, Rosberg, on lap 3. As Sebastian said with typical modesty “it was a faultless, seamless race from start to finish”. I have a horrible sense of foreboding as to how this season might go but it must be a million times worse to be in Mark Webber’s shoes.
The Podium Line-Up: A Title Challenger and a Rebirth
The two Lotus drivers completed the podium line-up – Kimi in 2nd place (impressively from 8th on the grid) and Grosjean in 3rd. And quirkily it was exactly the same podium in exactly the same order as last year’s race. Shall we just call the 2014 race now and have done with it and then actually just add a far more interesting circuit to the calendar. Kimi bucked the perceived three stop wisdom by executing a two stop strategy to perfection. Not many drivers do passive-aggressive as well as Kimi on the track! His key move came when he passed Di Resta (who was also implementing a two stop strategy) on lap 34. Kimi is now 10 points off Vettel in the Championship but definitely within touching distance. Unless Ferrari get their act together pretty damn fast, it looks like the only man who might be able to stop Vettel will be Kimi. Coincidentally, Bahrain was Kimi’s 21st consecutive points finish. And guess who hold the all-time record at 24?
Grosjean seemed like a driver reborn this weekend and showed great pace after his first stop. He managed to pass Di Resta in the closing stages to snatch the final podium place (and deny Di Resta his first career podium). I have also come to the conclusion that I’d find it easier to understand Eric Bouillier if he spoke French (instead of his ‘Allo ‘Allo English) on the pit wall. I loved his interchanges with Crofty though but has anyone else noticed that Crofty pretty much always responds with ‘great’ or ‘excellent’ when chatting to team bosses during the race.
Team principal: “Well naturally we’re bitterly disappointed that [insert name of driver] hit a passing beaver and crashed on the final corner just as he was on the verge of his first ever race win…”
Crofty: “Brilliant, great, thanks for that.”
The Highest Placed British Driver
Now I’ll admit I’ve been a bit critical of Paul Di Resta but <grits teeth> he drove extremely well to equal the best finish of his career in 4th. He was on course for his first career podium until Grosjean overtook him with 5 laps to go. It remains to be seen whether he is the New David Coulthard or has some real talent worthy of a top drive. Certainly he rates himself highly but talk is cheap and won’t alone entice Luca di Montezemolo to open the Prancing Horse cheque-book. His team-mate, Adrian Sutil fared less well after colliding with Massa on the opening lap and failed to score any points. I fear Melbourne may turn out to be the high point of Sutil’s season?
Ferrari: Nightmare in Bahrain
Having passed Rosberg to move into 2nd place, alas poor Fernando Alonso’s victory chances crashed and burned after he developed a problem with his DRS activator which became stuck open. He had to come into the pits twice early on in the race and eventually the only option was for his mechanics to close his DRS (to avoid Alonso literally taking off from the track during the race). But in good news for racing purists, this meant that Alonso was unexpectedly thrown into the middle pack and we got to see some brilliant racing from him, notably a fantastic battle between him and Perez towards the end of the race.
Poor old Massa didn’t have much more luck sustaining a broken front wing early on and two right rear punctures during the race. And ominously, Vettel already leads Alonso by 30 points in the championship. I’m guessing that tensions will be starting to rise at Maranello. The next few races are Crunch Time.
The Vettel and Webber sponsored Vicious Team-Mate Battle of the Day
And talking of titanic battles, they didn’t come much dirtier and fiercer than the one at McLaren between Button and Perez. It was straight out of the Nigel Mansell School of Aggressive Driving – cars touching, banging wheels at high speed etc. From around the middle of the race, they were having a phenomenal scrap for position and huge kudos to McLaren for not pressing the Red Bull and Mercedes Panic Button and imposing unnecessary team orders. It was quite strange to hear Button for once sounding so agitated over the radio and freaking out that Perez was moving across on him and should be calmed down. Truth of the matter, Jenson, is that Perez was simply just faster than you. Perez finished 6th (after taking Webber on the final lap) and Button in 10th place so clearly the rocket that Martin Whitmarsh inserted had the desired effect on Sergio! After those scintillating performances early on last season back in the history of forever, it was great to see Sergio getting his mojo back. Holding off a driver with supreme racecraft like Alonso is no mean feat! It felt like he was racing with confidence again and as if he had nothing to lose. More please.
Silver Arrows: Can’t take the heat
And what of our pole-sitter? It was fair to say no one expected Nico would cruise to victory but it was equally fair to say that we expected him to be loosely in contention for a podium place. But it all went so terribly wrong. Within the first few laps, he had to watch all the front runners pass him but like a bloodied and half-beaten boxer he never gave up the fight for position (particularly with Button and Perez). But finishing 9th after clinching pole must be a crushing disappointment. It’s a funny old car the Mercedes. Not as obviously crud as last year’s but nonetheless very mercurial and off the pace on race day. I’ve known cars to be brilliantly fast (and claim poles) and then be hopelessly unreliable in races (the Lotuses and Ferrari’s of old spring to mind). But its very strange to have a fast car over one lap which then can’t stay on the pace for a few laps. The Mercedes clearly chows tyres (Rosberg was forced to do 4 stops in Bahrain – compare and contrast with 2 stops for Kimi and Di Resta) and likes cold weather (so quick tenner on Silverstone then if its another mudbath!).
Hamilton had a reversal of fortunes from qualifying and climbed through the field to take 5th. After an atrocious first lap, he struggled in the early stages but came alive in the second half of the race where he engaged in thrillingly close combat with Webber before managing to pass him on the final lap.
So here are the results from the Bahrain Grand Prix of 2013:
- Grosjean – And it is to Grosjean that I give my Driver of the Day. He came into the race under a lot of pressure from fans and the media that I think had really affected his confidence. He started 11th and showed real maturity to finish on the podium through some brilliant clean on-track racing.
- Di Resta
And now F1’s coming home. The season-defining European leg of the season begins at the next race in Barcelona on 12 May. It was at last year’s race where Maldonado claimed a sensational victory for Williams. Twelve months sure is a long time in Formula 1. Will Alonso get his season back on track at his home Grand Prix or will Vettel grind everyone into submission as he did in Bahrain? Or will Kimi put in another cool as you like performance to close the gap in the title race?
Four races down and all to play for.