Bahrain joined the Formula One calendar in 2004, and usually provides good racing with long straights perfect for a good DRS overtake, some lovely floodlights, and a race start time of 4pm – just perfect for that post Sunday roast nap. Sorry 4:10pm start, can’t get used to the races starting at 10 past the hour!
Vettel won here last year, his third win at this track, making him the most successful driver in Bahrain. Schumacher won the first race in 2004, the first of 5 victories for the Ferrari team (Schumacher 1, Massa 2, Alonso 1 Vettel 1). Alonso also won here twice for Renault, Hamilton twice for Mercedes and Button and Rosberg won in 2009 and 2016.
Hamilton entered qualifying knowing he was going to take a 5-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox. Max Verstappen crashed in Q1, Sergey Sirotkin outqualified Lance Stroll – maybe he has been told if he leaves his wallet in the garage it makes the car go faster as its less weight to carry around?!
Q2 saw both McRenaults out and guaranteed to be outqualified by the Toro Rosso Hondas, as Gasly had made the top ten shootout, and Hartley was 11th.
Vettel took pole, from Raikkonen, Bottas, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Gasly, Magnussen, Hulkenberg, Ocon and Sainz rounding out the top ten. (Hamilton relegated to 9th by the penalty.)
Bottas jumped Raikkonen going into turn one as Vettel kept the lead. Hamilton was still 9th and Verstappen had fought his way up to 12th, both taking advantage of the extended DRS zones to swiftly move through the midfield runners. And Verstappen was soon right on Hamilton’s tail.
Hamilton, in a move Marquez would happily replicate several times in the MotoGP race later on, then drove into Verstappen and gave him a puncture, causing him to limp back to the pits. Daniel Ricciardo was forced to retire, and Max soon followed him. How much longer are Ricciardo and Verstappen going to put up with such poor reliability from Renault? Ricciardo’s retirement brought out the virtual safety car.
Replays of the start showed that Perez did not spin out of his own accord and his rear wheel was hit by Hartley. The stewards were not impressed with this and hit him with a ten second penalty to be served at his first pitstop.
Lewis Hamilton overtook Fernando Alonso, Esteban Ocon and Nico Hulkenberg in one corner, in what was a fantastic advert for DRS! I mean competitive racing.
The following lap and he pulled the same brilliant DRS induced overtake on Kevin Magnussen and was up to 5th. F1 never gets this right, Australia was impossible to overtake, in Bahrain it is too easy.
The stewards announced no further action on Hamilton/Verstappen. They also announced that Perez and Hartley were both under investigation for failing to maintain position on the formation lap. This is later turned into a post-race investigation.
Vettel pitted from the lead, followed by Bottas the following lap. Vettel put softs on, suggesting he was going for a two-stop strategy as Pirelli believe the soft tyres are good for 30 laps. Mercedes then put Bottas on the medium tyre and announced that he was going to the end on this set, meaning that if Vettel two stops he would either have to pull out a minimum 23 second lead, or catch and pass Bottas on the track.
Marcus Ericsson was having a brilliant race as he pitted from 6th place, and Vettel was catching Hamilton for the lead on his new tyres.
Vettel, in yet another fantastic DRS moment, took the lead back from Hamilton who then pitted, coming back out in third behind Raikkonen.
Kevin Magnussen decided his team “mate” was in his way and decided that the best way to get him out of the way was to say some really lovely things about him on the team radio. For example, “what the f**k is he doing?” followed up by “Get him out my f**king way!” Considering Haas had a complete disaster in Australia, you would have thought they would be keen to not repeat that experience!
Mercedes told Hamilton that Ferrari were managing the tyres and were planning to go to the end. Only for Raikkonen to pit.
Raikkonen’s pitstop was a disaster of Haas proportions, as there was an issue with getting his left rear tyre off. Ferrari have an automatic pit signal that when green tells the driver it is safe to leave the box. Ferrari were fined £5000 for an unsafe release in practice, and this one is guaranteed to get them another. Raikkonen left the box, colliding with one of his mechanics, leaving him lying on the floor with a broken leg. Raikkonen was told to stop straight away and was retired from the race.
The last 17 laps saw some amazing tyre management from Vettel as he fought off Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton for the win, his second of the season and his 4th in Bahrain. Bottas was second from Hamilton, Gasly, Magnussen, Hulkenberg, Alonso, Vandoorne, Ericsson and Ocon taking the final point.
Drive of the day, fan vote: Pierre Gasly.
Drive of the Day, Fiona’s vote: This one was a really hard decision. Vettel did a fantastic job managing those tyres for 40 laps. He came under real pressure from Bottas and held him off brilliantly. Marcus Ericsson for scoring Sauber’s first points of the season and his first since the Italian Grand Prix in 2015. But it has to be Pierre Gasly in only his seventh Formula One race. Brilliant in qualifying and followed it up with fourth in the race.
Conclusions from Bahrain:
- If Red Bull don’t sort out their reliability, both their drivers will be off next season or demoting themselves back to Toro Rosso!
- Ferrari more than deserved their 50 000 Euro fine for unsafe release, glad that Francesco Cigarini is going to be okay, and wish him a speedy recovery.
- Ferrari might want to consider bringing back the lollipop man!
- Lance Stroll needs to pick up the pace, well and truly beaten by the wallet in qualifying!
- Are Haas the new Force India? Magnussen was certainly vocal in his criticism of Grosjean.
- DRS is there to help with overtaking, not make it this easy!
Post Race Update:
Perez penalised 30 seconds for overtaking Hartley on the formation lap and “no noticeable effort to allow car 28 to regain his position”. Hartley penalised 30 seconds and given two points on his license for “not for failing to repass Perez before the safety car line and then not pitting as required by the rules” I didn’t think the Honda was capable of overtaking anything?!
Fiona’s Race Rating: Better than Australia, but overtaking was too easy. No one wants to see the Mercedes breeze past cars and slot back in comfortably before the breaking zone. Going to give it a 5 out of 10.