Papa Wheelie reviews the very controversial Bahrain Grand Prix.
Despite the recent troubles in the island state of Bahrain, F1 pushed on this year to have the Grand Prix event. Most of the paddock had no idea whether not they were actually going to show up in the first place, and until F.I.A. publicly stated that the race was on, most teams had their “Plan B” ready to go at a moments notice. As I tweeted earlier this week (you can follow me at @PapaWheelie11), I was pretty sure most of the teams were going to be alright, but what about all the photographers, press, PR, trainers and other people that work with the teams and the F1 circus in general? I know I would be thinking long and hard about whether not it would be worth it for me to go cover a race in a country where the guy next to you could literally be wearing a suit full of dynamite and fulfilling the prophecy of his god.
Other than a few Molotov cocktails thrown at the teams and some F1 flag burning, the race atmosphere seemed pretty quiet and “business as usual” according to some journalists. The race itself was quite another story. The Bahrain race is different than many due to the extreme heat that hits the desert circuit. Because of this, quite a few teams really couldn’t put out the qualifying and race pace that they are used to. One thing was apparent that the Red Bull, definitely likes the heat, and Vettel came through to be the fourth different winner in four different races. The results of this race have really solidified how close the teams are this year, and that there are at least four teams that are capable of winning races (and the midfield is not that far behind). The top seven qualifiers were within a second of each other.
Both Red Bull cars looked strong throughout practices and qualifying, and right from the start of the race Vettel jumped out to a quick lead. He never really gave up control of the race from there. Both Lotus cars really made the jump forward, and Romain Grosjean looked exceptionally fast early on in the race on the option tires. Kimi Räikkönen was equally fast, able to make up lots of places early in the race, and got himself to a position to really attack Vettel for the win. Ultimately Vettel’s pace was just too much for the Lotus and he scored his first win of the season.
Both the McLaren and the Mercedes teams looked a bit weaker here than at the other races. Lewis Hamilton looked strong in the practice sessions initially, but couldn’t pull off the lap when he really needed in qualifying. The race wasn’t much better, as he suffered a couple of bad pit stops that killed his time and dragged him down the order. I can’t imagine fighting for eighth is where he wanted to be, especially after having a car capable of a pole position. Jenson Button had a tough race as well, suffering massive tire degradation that really slowed down his progress up the field. A late race retirement really just put the nail in the coffin for a weekend that McLaren would love to forget. They will be back though, and with a vengeance.
Nico Rosberg followed up his stunning win in China with a somewhat quiet fifth place finish, despite flying into a bird during practice and nearly running three drivers off the road during the race. Michael Schumacher had a very different weekend than his teammate. After a technical failure in qualifying and a transmission change penalty, Schumacher started at the back of the field in 22nd place. The seven time world champion isn’t one to take this lying down, and he fought hard to finish in the points. Hopefully this spell of bad luck can end for him and he can start challenging for wins soon. The Mercedes is still getting closer to sorting out there tires, and it is coming. The upcoming Mugello test days should help them get even closer and be more competitive.
Ferrari was in damage control again this weekend, as the F2012 really is a beast to try and nail down. Some on-board footage following Felipe Massa during the middle part of the race just showed the Ferrari moving around during a sweeping right-hand turn, as if the car was literally on ice. In-car footage shows both Fernando Alonso and Massa fighting the steering on the car all the time throughout the weekend. Nevertheless, both drivers put in a good fight, but realistically until they can get some new parts on the car, seventh place for Alonso and ninth place for Massa is about as good as it’s going to get.
The Force India of Paul di Resta was the only midfielder to break the top ten and finish with a strong sixth place for the team. He had a strong qualifying session to break into Q3, but chose to conserve his tires for a decent run during the race. Normally the Saubers would be present in Q3 and the top ten of the race, but the heat proved just too much for the cars and they weren’t really on the pace all weekend. A resurgent Williams suffered much of the same fate, but I’m sure all the teams learned quite a bit about the cars during this tough weekend.
This officially closes out the first fly away races and the circus moves on to the more traditional European circuits. These past four races have produced four different winners and much more action on the track than in recent years. The teams have definitely earned a break for now, but will be eager to go test for the first time at the Italian circuit of Mugello. All of the teams run at Catalunya for testing, and is the next stop on the calendar. Usually by this time in the year, all of the contenders have shown themselves and the season starts to really take its shape. But this year is far from normal, and I think we still have a few more surprises coming to us.
1. Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing-Renault – 25 points
2. Kimi Räikkönen, Lotus-Renault – 18 points
3. Romain Grosjean, Lotus-Renault – 15 points
4. Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing-Renault – 12 points
5. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes – 10 points
6. Paul di Resta, Force India-Mercedes – 8 points
7. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari – 6 points
8. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes – 4 points
9. Felipe Massa, Ferrari – 2 points
10. Michael Schumacher, Mercedes – 1 point
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