- Bahrain Grand Prix - The Final Stint
Desert deja vu
A round-up of the good, the bad and the downright ugly from the 2013 Bahrain Grand Prix
- Bahrain Grand Prix
Vettel's Sunday stroll
Both times the two hardest compound tyres have been on offer this season, Sebastian Vettel has won the race. It's no surprise, therefore, that Red Bull has been lobbying for harder compound choices going into the European season while eight of its rivals have gone to Pirelli asking the Italian tyre manufacturer to continue to mix things up. But Vettel's victory wasn't all about tyres as team-mate Mark Webber clearly struggled with his hard and mediums and Vettel appeared to have his set-up spot on all weekend. It should also be noted that Kimi Raikkonen easily managed a two-stop strategy and had he started higher up the grid he would have stood a chance of threatening Vettel. Ferrari is also convinced that Alonso would have been a very strong contender without his DRS problem, meaning everything should be nicely set up for more competitive races at the start of the European season.
Pressure on Pirelli
We've tended to be quite supportive of Pirelli in this section in recent weeks, but leaving Sakhir it has cause for concern. Lewis Hamilton's tyre delamination in FP3 has yet to be explained, and while that wouldn't be such a big deal in isolation, Felipe Massa's troubles in the race will have set the alarm bells ringing at Pirelli HQ. The first tyre problem was very similar to Hamilton's, and while the second was more in line with a puncture caused by debris, one has to wonder how unlikely it is that the failures could just be a coincidence. Either way, Pirelli needs to investigate and then release its findings quickly; in not announcing the tyre compound change for Bahrain straight after Malaysia - when it made the decision - it sent out the wrong message after the soft tyre's performance in China. As it attempts to complete negotiations on a new F1 contract it doesn't want to send out the wrong message again.
The Story of the Weekend
- Shock Nico Rosberg - Never mentioned as a contender for pole position even as late as the start of Q3, but pulled out a great lap. If only the pace had remained for the race...
- Shocker Ferrari - Two DRS issues for Alonso and two tyre failures for Massa meant the Prancing Horses which started 3rd and 4th finished 8th and 15th
- Best overtake Sergio Perez - Well and truly got his elbows out to muscle his way past Fernando Alonso at Turn 4
- Best lap Sebastian Vettel - His crucial opening lap was brilliantly executed as he dispatched Alonso at the first opportunity
- Worst lap Fernando Alonso - At the end of lap 7 Alonso pit with a jammed DRS, but then proceeded to use it again on his out lap and - you guessed it - it jammed again
- Drive of the day Romain Grosjean - He rose through the field in an action-packed - executing some perfectly-judged manoeuvres - and secured his first podium of the year at a crucial time
Following on from the Pirelli failures, the knock-on effect for Lewis Hamilton in FP3 was suspension damage and some gearbox damage which required a change of 'box ahead of qualifying. That automatically gave Hamilton a five-place grid penalty for a problem which occurred through no fault of his own. Ross Brawn is right that the rule needs looking at again where "an external influence" is involved, but he's also correct in saying that it will very rarely be a black and white case so there is no simple answer. Perhaps teams could be allowed to appeal such penalties but in that case an appeal would have to be heard before the grid is published, giving minimal time for an investigation. Clearly there is no quick fix, but this weekend has shown just where the rule has an unfair impact.
Perez responds to pressure
After three fairly anonymous performances for McLaren, Sergio Perez did not hold back in Bahrain. He was told to "toughen up" by team principal Martin Whitmarsh after China, and he took the advice in a very literal sense as he went on the attack around Sakhir and even clashed wheels with team-mate Jenson Button. The senior McLaren driver was not impressed, saying: "Soon something serious will happen so he has to calm down" and "I've had some tough fights in F1 but not quite as dirty as that". But while Perez admitted he may have overstepped the mark, he will not have been disappointed by the result. For the first time since he joined McLaren he looked like a serious threat to Button, even if it did come perilously close to disaster. If he can manage his aggression then his new-found confidence could coincide perfectly with the arrival of a more competitive McLaren from the Spanish Grand Prix onwards.
Romain's return to form
As impressive as Kimi Raikkonen had been at the start of the season, Romain Grosjean had been anonymous. Grosjean had wanted a quieter year in terms of headlines after his many misdemeanours in 2012, but his lack of pace was concerning, and a switch to a new chassis can sometimes be seen as a last resort. Ferrari did similar for Felipe Massa last year in order to ensure it could attribute poor results to its driver, and while Grosjean wasn't quite under that much pressure, he certainly had to show signs of recovery this weekend. More than that, Grosjean delivered a performance reminiscent of his best last year to ensure we had exactly the same podium as 12 months ago. It was far from an easy race for him either, with plenty of wheel-to-wheel action which he handled with impressive maturity, and his result means Lotus might not have taken victory but it has taken a further two points out of Red Bull's lead in the constructors' championship.
Meanwhile in Bahrain...
Once again the Bahrain Grand Prix took place against a backdrop of unrest elsewhere in the kingdom. With the event under heavy guard there was no chance of any disruption within the circuit's high fences, but reports from other parts of the country said protesters attempted to use F1's presence to promote their cause and in some cases clashed with police. After the main opposition group Al-Wefaq called for peaceful protests,tens of thousands demonstrated along the Budaiya Highway and achieved their goal of gaining column inches in the World sections of foreign papers. Meanwhile, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa played down suggestions that the ruling elite was using the race as one large piece of propaganda: "We've never used this race to say that everything's fine. We recognise there are issues in the country but they are to be solved in a political process which is well underway." The last two years have proved that F1 can go to Bahrain and hold a motor race, but the question of whether it should still remains open.