Bahrain Grand Prix – The Race

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Back in my angst-heavy teenage years (think Morrissey, long cardigans, Doc Martens, cider and a lot of Deep Meaningful Conversations because that’s how we rolled back in 1991) I had a diary (remember those?) with a logo saying “stop the world I want to get off”. Because clearly life was an exhausting place for a 16 year old. Fast forward 23 years (weeps at the mental maths involved in calculating the passage of time) to an existence where you are lucky to find time to finish a coffee, go to the toilet or god forbid read An Actual Book – that’s when you need a break from the world. All of which in a very roundabout way is to explain away the fact that I actually wrote a blog for the Bahrain Grand Prix ON THE SAME DAY OF THE RACE and then forgot to finish it off or post it. Obviously. Which, when you have actually bothered to write a blog, is (a) stupid and (b) quite annoying.

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So Bahrain. You gave a stonking humdinger of a race in 2014. What went down in 2015?

#MartinsGridWalk – Toto Wolff said they needed to take Ferrari seriously and only fools were confident. And Toto is no one’s fool. Martin asked whether they might need to alter strategies to fend off the Ferrari’s. “Yes”. Lets hope Nico wasn’t listening. Martin then braved the Roninator for a quick word. The ERS on the McLaren wasn’t working properly and likely to fail so Button wouldn’t even be starting. Apparently qualifying for Monte Carlo (when/what was that?!?!?) was the most pain the Mighty Ron D has taken in F1. Petrolhead Nick Mason was in town. So was the ever charming and eloquent Crown Prince of Bahrain (natch). Martin was granted an audience with Bernie who told Martin that changes to the engine configuration were in the pipeline and hopefully they will have a bit more noise. He doesn’t think Lewis will go to Ferrari. Obviously not that it has anything to do with Bernie.

Before the start there was a problem with Massa’s car and he would be starting from the pitlane. Sainz got a penalty for exceeding the maximum time on the reconnaissance laps. Clearly some eagle-eyed intern has been trying to impress Charlie by dusting off an obscure volume of The Rule Book. I hate that intern. It should have been a younger me.

27BEFEA400000578-3045954-image-m-12_1429463756148Go! Go! Go! at the 11th (how is it 11 – I feel like I have lost around 6 years of my life  <remembers I am a mother>) Bahrain Grand Prix with an unbelievably long wait for the lights to go on. Hmmmm what was Charlie checking there? Looked to me like a car was slightly out of its grid box (and it duly turned out to be Pastor Maldonaldo). At the off Kimi jumped Nico to move into 3rd place, with Hamilton and Vettel maintaining P1 and P2 respectively. The only thing Nico had to do was keep just one Ferrari behind him or ideally pass Vettel to act as a buffer to both. #Fail. But he wasn’t going down without a fight and he showed some real cajones to muscle his way past Kimi. The reborn kickass Nico Rosberg was now gunning for Vettel and, on the start of lap 9, he overtook him to regain P2.

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Breaking with protocol (but rightly so as he was under SEVERE pressure from Vettel), Rosberg was the first Mercedes into the pits. Hamilton pitted on lap 16 to put Kimi Raikkonen in the lead of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Kickass Nico executed a stunning move a couple of laps later to sweep past Sebastian Vettel. Rosberg appears to have turned into Nigel Mansell overnight. That’ll teach me for making the unfavourable Schumacher-Hill comparison yesterday.

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Kimi was the final frontrunner to pit. Ferrari switched strategy to put Kimi onto the slow tyres first and save the fast tyres for the final stint. A big hand to Massa for climbing up to P10 (and scrapping like a loon with the Hulk and Nasr for P9) after starting stone bottom last. Yes the Williams is a fast car but still you need to do the moves on track and there are a lot of feisty drivers out there. Rosberg was now on Strategy Six which apparently is a ‘different fuel mix’. So with that technical nugget of information hanging in the air, time for a halfway point roll call:

  1. Hamilton 2. Rosberg (+2.8 secs) 3. Vettel (+3.8 secs) 4. Raikkonen (+5.9 secs) 5. Bottas (+9.1 secs).

How do you solve a problem like Kimi? He is quicker on the slower tyre than Vettel. Which is weird but very Kimi. So do they pit him before Vettel to give him more time on the faster soft tyre at the end? Or do they put Kimi on the same tyres again? Kimi is being told to move to ‘SOC 6’. Clear. As. Mud. What was clear was that Kimi’s long stint on the allegedly slower tyres was putting him right into contention. Kimi told his team that he wanted to stay on the medium tyres. They won’t let him but he had a point.

Vettel and Hamilton both pitted to commence the big push to finish. Vettel on his brand-new blisteringly fast tyres passed Rosberg yet again. What a titanic duel between the two German drivers (between whom I strongly suspect there is no love lost). Then in a ‘do not readjust your TV set’ moment, Vettel went inexplicably wide and Rosberg didn’t need to be asked twice to overtake his compatriot. Vettel then had to make an emergency pitstop for a new nose after sustaining damage so his race was well and truly stuffed. Meanwhile Kimi was now on course for P3 with a slender chance of going one better even than that. Hamilton in his bionic unstoppable Mercedes serenely took the lead back from Kimi whose tyres had fallen off a cliff on lap 39 and the following lap Ferrari finally dragged Kimi into the pits for softs.

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Both Lotuses were up in the points which, after their woes and Johnny Herbert luck this season, was a joyous moment. Perhaps just to remind us all he was still actually in Bahrain, Hamilton radioed in to complain his rears had got trashed in all the traffic. Martin observed that he sounded quite alarmed but Lewis’s default ‘at rest’ mode is Mild Alarm. Nothing much to see here Martin.

OMG I am so so sorry to the Lotus team. I am THE KISS OF DEATH for them – Maldonado’s hitherto good race has been ruined by a smoking (not in a good way) car. Gutted for the man – he is having the most awful luck this season – 3 retirements and an eventual 15th place in this race. What he really deserves is a crazy wet Monaco race where he lands a podium after multiple aquaplaning crashes and retirements. Actually we all deserve that kind of Monaco race. Although I would hate to think of all those oligarchs and slebs getting drenched in freezing rain on their luxury yachts.

Move over Hammertime…the Flying Finn was back in the house and he was literally gobbling up the Mercedes lead rapidly lap by lap. Drumroll please. Showtime is about to commence…

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Ferrari told Kimi they should be catching Rosberg in around 5 laps time. Rosberg informed his team he no longer wanted to hear about how much Kimi was closing the gap. They’re a temperamental bunch these Mercedes drivers. Although to be fair its exactly the kind of thing that Kimi would say (but in somehow in a more amusingly laconic way). The battle for 4th was also pretty fierce as Bottas desperately ducked and dived to keep Vettel at bay. I just can’t see Bottas holding him off for 7 whole laps. But I might be wrong. Meanwhile with 5 laps to go, Kimi had closed the gap down to Rosberg to 4.8 seconds.

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What a cracking rollercoaster of a race! Hamilton may be leading the race by a country mile and then some but we were being right royally treated to two tremendous battles between Rosberg and Kimi for 2nd and between Bottas and Vettel for 4th. Three laps to go and Kimi had slashed the gap to 1.2 seconds. But they were now all tangled up in the back-markers. Not what Kimi needed at this stage.

And then…

HEARTSTOPPING DRAMARAMA on the penultimate lap. Rosberg made a calamitous mistake – he missed his braking point* and Kimi pounced to move into 2nd place. Hamilton was now reporting brake problems but he held to take the win in Bahrain. Kimi came home in 2nd and Rosberg finished 3rd. And all hail that man Valterri Bottas who somehow managed to keep Vettel behind him to take a brilliant P4. What do I know hey?

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And in a final flourish of excitement, Ricciardo’s engine spectacularly blew up with enough plumes and smoke to rival the dramatic post-race fireworks moments before he passed the finish line.

  1. Hamilton – A flawless drive but he must be the second luckiest man on the planet (after Ricciardo) to get away with losing his brakes on the final lap. *Apologies to Nico for my earlier surmisings – it was a rare Mercedes reliability issue.
  2. Raikkonen – Anyone would think Ferrari’s kick up yer bum had the desired effect. But I’m not sure Kimi is remotely bothered about such things.
  3. Rosberg – Four races in and still no win. That must hurt.
  4. Bottas – Tremendous drive from start to finish.
  5. Vettel – A rare off day for Vettel but everyone is allowed one of those sometimes.
  6. Ricciardo – Proving yet again his great capability in the relatively inferior Red Bull

So Bahrain you did it again. I have become quite attached to this strangely beautiful desert track in the last couple of years. It was an inspired decision to move the race to dusk/nightfall. This is so what Singapore wants to be (and IMHO fails spectacularly at. Whatever they are putting in the rosewater out there, Bahrain really delivers one hell of a high-octane, tactically fascinating cat and mouse race.

And that concludes the first long-haul phrase of the season. There is a sense that Lewis Hamilton won in Bahrain slightly against the odds (the smart money was actually on a ‘surprise’ Ferrari win) so it is telling that Mercedes managed to delivered the goods yet again.

But next stop, Barcelona. And Barcelona heralds the first huge raft of upgrades for all the teams. That may or may not be a game-changer for some. Tellingly, the 2015 Ferrari seems to have a lot in common with the superb Lotuses produced under the Scuderia’s new technical director, the immensely talented James Allison. Ferrari will be returning to Maranello to prepare for the European leg in earnest after their astonishing return to form. In the words of the charismatic and steely Maurizio Arrivabene “finally we have two strong drivers on whom we can count”.

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