There was an eerie sense of déjà vu at the Bahrain Grand Prix. For the second year in a row, talk focused more on the sense of holding a grand prix in the troubled nation; Sebastian Vettel was victorious over Kimi Raikkonen & Romain Grosjean – and once again, he did so despite coming in to the weekend as the underdog.
Going in to Bahrain, as previously mentioned in my Chinese GP Review, it seemed that the common consensus was that Lotus and Ferrari would be the two teams dominating the race. Lotus did seem to have the pace early in the weekend, but a terrible qualifying session meant that both cars were too down the field at the start to be able to get any sort of early pace going. Having to spend time fighting with other cars and dealing with traffic meant that by the time the two cars were in second and third, Vettel was already out of touching distance at the front. At this stage of the season, with Raikkonen still well within touching distance of Vettel at the top of the Drivers Championship, it might not be too important – but the team will want to fix their qualifying issues if they wish to challenge for the title. For Grosjean, third place will have set his season back on track after a sluggish start.
Ferrari’s weekend had also been looking good, and Fernando Alonso had been able to hold with Vettel at the start of the race until his DRS system failed. Why Ferrari thought that they could allow him to use it again moments after the first failure is baffling and ranks up with their failure to pit him for a new front wing in Malaysia in terms of poor tactical decisions. Any hope of Felipe Massa getting a good result was kyboshed by two punctures – all in all, a weekend to forget for the Italian team.
Vettel never seemed to be under any real pressure or threat thanks to the misfortune of others, but it was still a very impressive drive. His scythe through on Alonso around the tricky turn five was the mark of a real champion and after that – with Nico Rosberg never truly in contention – it was fairly obvious that Sebastian would win. It was another “nothing” weekend for Mark Webber though, thanks in part to strategy but mainly due to his grid penalty from China forcing him in to the same issues at the Lotus cars early on.
Mercedes continue to struggle for long-race pace, though they just managed to work out enough of a strategy to get Lewis Hamilton in to a good position by the end of the grand prix. Their tyre degradation is still a huge factor in their downfall though and Rosberg’s pole position was ultimately for naught. While the team continue to say they are working on the issue, the fact that it has haunted them for the past three seasons seems to imply that there will be no quick fix.
Lower down the order, it was a redemption weekend for several drivers who had been outclassed by teammates earlier in the season. Paul di Resta’s stunning fourth place confirmed Force India’s remarkable pace of late has not been a flash in the pan and, while Adrian Sutil’s performance in Australia still remains clear in the memory, di Resta has been the one racking up the points for the team. Sergio Perez may have been “over-aggressive” in the eyes of McLaren teammate Jenson Button, but there seemed to be a fire lit under the Mexican over the weekend and – truth be told – Button was pushing Perez just as aggressively and had his role in their light contact too.
It was a nothing weekend once again for Williams, Sauber and Toro Rosso; one must think that Nico Hulkenburg is seriously regretting his switch to the Swiss team from Force India. Caterham’s new upgrades launched Charles Pic ahead of the Marussia cars and even Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber, the new Mexican still seriously off the pace (as many had predicted he would be). Heikki Kovalainen’s return is likely spelling the end of Pic’s new teammate Giedo van der Garde and may also be the push that Caterham need to keep Marussia behind them.
There is another three week break between Bahrain and the Spanish GP, which allows many of the teams to bring in new upgrades ahead of the “European season”. This brings about the likelihood of some changes in the pecking order and will set the tone for the next few races after that.