By Callum Springall
Despite qualifying more than four tenths down on Mercedes, it was Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari who took home what is surely the best looking trophy of the year… all right, second best. Might as well cut the British GP trophy some slack!
The reasons for this are wide-ranging, as the actions of both Mercedes and Ferrari seemed to create a perfect storm. Through my silver-tinted glasses, I see Lewis Hamilton’s second place as the culmination of losing out to Valtteri Bottas in qualifying. That quarter of a tenth saw Hamilton get away poorly from the dirty side of the grid, which meant in part he was behind his team-mate when the safety car arrived. He then slowed down in the pit lane – and consequently brake-tested Daniel Ricciardo.
That earned Lewis his penalty. Arguably this all came about because of some potentially flat-footed strategy from his team – but perhaps rather, a more dynamic and aggressive strategy from Ferrari who took the risk by moving to a two-stop strategy, when it may have still have been possible for Mercedes to chance a one-stopper. They probably wanted to do at the time… But what do I know?
On the other side of the garage, Valtteri Bottas became the fifth Finn to fail to win after taking his first pole position. Many will start to question – if they haven’t already – his credentials to compete for the title alongside Hamilton. However, I believe we need to look at Bottas as a Rosberg Mark II: a late bloomer who may win a world championship, but still has few more roads to drive down.
He cited the unsavoury balance of his W08 as the reason for his downfall, which probably comes down to inadequate setup work – and that in turn comes with experience. So given time, Valtteri can iron out those issues and his slight lack of pace will do little to harm the team spirit between him and Hamilton.
That said I’d hazard a guess he set up the car well given he generated tyre temperature over one lap, hence his consistent matching of Hamilton throughout qualifying – particularly Q3. But when it came to replicating such competitiveness in race conditions he got overheating, less grip and of course, botched tyre pressures.
Right, let’s switch to my red-tinted glasses, where it seemed a fairly close rerun of Australia for Vettel. Behind the Mercedes on the grid, he kept them within striking distance before taking advantage with aggression and generally outwitting their German colleagues to cruise to victory. In pitting early, Ferrari forced Mercedes’ hand and the safety car was both a blessing and a curse.
In one way it neutered Vettel’s advantage but I’d assume it backed the reigning champions into a corner, since they likely would have lost out to Vettel at the restart had they not taken the opportunity to pit.
Perhaps the original plan was to stay out and do a one-stop, since reacting to Ferrari would have put them behind anyway – unless they saw Vettel pit and prayed for a safety car to try and get their drivers out still in the lead, in which case my theory would have gone to pot! I’ve said it already so I might as well say it again – what do I know?
Through what I suspect are some slightly more blue-tinted glasses, Kimi Raikkonen provided more evidence he may well be Ferrari’s number two. Not only that, but leaving him out too late in consecutive races would suggest almost an ambivalent attitude on the team’s part, as to where in the Grand Prix he ended up.
Quite honestly, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him replaced by, say, Romain Grosjean for 2018 – at which point the soon-to-be Formula Two champion Charles Leclerc could step in at the Ferrari junior te… I mean, Haas. It’s just a joke, I’m not The Sun!
Elsewhere it was nice to see Red Bull were, for a time at least, on the leaders’ pace. Mind you, it all fell apart in the space of a few laps. Max Verstappen crashed out on lap 13 and Daniel Ricciardo dropped well down the order from what seemed a fairly chirpy third before the safety car. So a lack of downforce and under-heated tyres proved to be the bane of Bahrain for Red Bull.
On a more positive note, Force India moved up to fourth in the constructors’ standings despite not having either of their cars in the top 10 after qualifying. Esteban Ocon certainly takes the prize for being F1’s most consistent driver – besides Lance Stroll and the McLarens for all the wrong reasons – by taking a third consecutive 10th place finish.
And after all the trash-talking, Pascal Wehrlein raced the Sauber for the first time this season and probably needs to outshine Marcus Ericsson in all aspects for pretty much the entire year if he is to salvage his reputation, after being overlooked for the more cushy Force India drive. Even though he hadn’t driven
a race distance or had that much time in the car before Bahrain, he was leading Fernando Alonso for much of the race – if not all of it. So perhaps Ocon isn’t the only shining light of the Mercedes young driver programme. There’s always Norfolk’s George Russell, I suppose!
Still, leading a double world champion in a team working on a fraction of McLaren‘s budget is some feat – even if the Spaniard said he was running on “less power than I’ve had in my whole career”.
Harsh words from a former Minardi driver, I know.
Overall, Bahrain threw up another exciting race and seems to have blossomed in the post-V8 era of F1, and while we may not have the most cut-throat style of relentless overtaking such as in World Endurance Championship or Formula Two, close racing and genuine competition is unbeatable when it comes to entertainment value.
♦ Callum Springall is a blogger with the NRF1. You can follow Callum on Twitter @callumspring18