BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX 16TH APRIL 2017
“We have a fight that is on.” (Toto Wolff)
1. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
4. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)
5. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)
6. Felipe Massa (Williams)
7. Sergio Perez (Force India)
8. Romain Grosjean (Haas)
9. Nico Hulkenberg (Renault)
10. Esteban Ocon (Force India)
Vettel wins in the desert
At Sakhir, Vettel took his 2nd win out of 3 races this season and his 3rd win here in Bahrain. With clever use of tyres, an aggressive strategy and a faster car; Ferrari have appeared to put the years of difficulty behind them. Still outclassed by Mercedes in qualifying – Ferrari are definitely saving their best for race day.
With such a serious challenge to Mercedes’ title hopes; will they have to pick a ‘Number One’ driver and start having to implement team orders? Toto Wolff admits “We don’t like that..but the situation is different now.” Half way through the race in Bahrain they had no option but to order Bottas to let Hamilton pass.
Bottas had started in pole (his first pole position) and Vettel quickly took 2nd ahead of Hamilton. But Bottas lacked pace. He had an issue with high pressure tyres, caused by a generator failure that meant the pressure couldn’t be regulated. As he was at the front, a queue formed behind him: Vettel, Hamilton, Verstappen and Ricciardo.
The Italian Team`s decision to pit early is the key to winning here!
Ferrari’s decision to pit Vettel early on Lap 10 was to prove a success. When the safety car emerged on Lap 13 he may have lost his advantage were it not for Bottas’ delay in the pit. Hamilton’s decision to drive slowly to the pit to allow his team more time (and hold back Ricciardo) earned him a 5 minute penalty. All races have a pivotal moment and this was it.
With Vettel now leading and Hamilton stuck behind teammate Bottas – the German was allowed to build up an advantage of 6 seconds – at which point Mercedes called for Bottas to let Hamilton pass. Hamilton did manage to close the gap to within 4.3 seconds in 5 laps, but it was too late and he was unable to catch Vettel.
This race felt slightly subdued – as Verstappen, always exciting to watch, retired early on. The frustrated Dutchman kicked the barrier after suffering a brake failure on Lap 13 – when his car had been driving well, “the car was performing a lot better and we did the undercut on the two Mercedes so we would have ended up second behind Sebastian Vettel at that point…It’s very unfortunate, you lose a lot of points” (Verstappen)
McClaren enjoyed some good PR this week, with the news that Alonso was to miss the Monaco Grand Prix to compete in the Indianapolis 500 – with Button to replace him at the prestigious Grand Prix. But in Bahrain, an exasperated Alonso struggled again. He was heard to say over the radio that he had ‘never raced an engine with less power’ and he was forced to retire early due to engine failure (the 3rd for McClaren this weekend). With his contract with McClaren running out at the end of the season and his frustration at having raced an uncompetitive car for the last 3 years – why would he stay? But where would he go?
In the last few years Mercedes’ domination of Formula One has given them the luxury of letting their drivers race and battle against each other; with such strong competition now from Ferrari this freedom no longer looks possible. This can only be a good thing for the sport.