Bahrain was a race filled with what we would like to call, “racing.” And there was also a lot of “what just happened?”
It just may be the most exciting season of F1 we’ve seen in a long time.
And oh, how we’ve missed this. We experienced this “racing” sensation in China last week, but the entertainment appears to improve with every race. This one was particularly special, as Sebastian Vettel clinched his second win of the season, as well as the lead in the Drivers’ Championship.
And he could not have been happier on that podium, especially bouncing along to the Italian National Anthem. It was well-earned joy.
So if we have a Ferrari as #1, the usual #1 Silver Arrow, Lewis Hamilton, stood on the podium as #2.
But Lewis Hamilton did not give up that lead easily. And neither Hamilton or Vettel started in the first spot. First-time pole sitter and Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas held P1 for the first 16 laps until Vettel made a pass to sit in first for a time. It would then be a game of musical chairs with pitting between Hamilton and Vettel. Hamilton could have held the lead though, had he not needed to pit for tires later and serve his 5-second penalty issued for pit interference (having slowed down too much in the pits), stopping-up Daniel Ricciardo.
After he served his 5-second penalty and switched up his tires, he returned to the track with fury–just absolute, pure fury. In two laps he closed four seconds on his gap between himself and Vettel. The next lap after his phenomenal time jump he would pass his teammate, Bottas. And the high-speed pace (and chase) continued.
Had the 5-second penalty not been an issue, Hamilton would have surely been right on Vettel’s tail, more so than he already was. By the end of the race there was only a few seconds gap between Hamilton and Vettel, with Hamilton originally having started from the pit with almost 19 seconds between them.
But along with Hamilton’s big push, it appears that Vettel also kept Bottas on his toes the first handful of laps until he made his way to P1. It’s been a true battle between the three, with each pushing the other further, harder and faster at each race. Again, this dynamic is so incredibly different from last year’s races.
And although Bottas is in the mix, he doesn’t appear to have yet the same pace and push as his teammate or Ferrari opponent. He managed to be pushed and passed by both. Not sure if this is due to adjusting to the new car still–as in gathering his bearings and having such a fine-tuned machine at his fingertips. Mercedes has a fantastic car, as Lewis proves weekly. And maybe it is still quite a shock to wrap one’s head around the fact that you’re driving one of the best cars in the paddock.
Besides the Mercedes–Ferrari–Mercedes battle, the first lap was a bit rough incurring a few touches and skirmishes, which eventually lead to some major outs.
McLaren, in more bad news, yet again didn’t have a single car cross the finish line. Stoffel Vandoorne didn’t start the race due to a failed power unit. And Fernando Alonso, who started the race P15 due to a failed power unit during qualifying Saturday, finished the same when his car, which was very much under performing the entire race, quit with only 2 laps to go due to yet another failed power unit. Not a good season for McLaren. But there is talk of another engine to test soon, and the earliest it may be available is Montreal in June. So…finger’s crossed, especially since I’m sure having a new engine to look forward to after Alonso’s Indy 500 stint would be a nice and warmly-welcomed treat.
Max Verstappen was looking to be another contender for a podium finish today until a brake failure ended his run. The Red Bull driver was pushing hard, having passed teammate Ricciardo and was closing in and attempting passes on Hamilton.
Ricciardo was looking to have a better finish than what he did have, but was having difficulties with his tires, as some of the drivers were also experiencing. He just couldn’t make the pace happen on the softs.
Other casualties include Williams’ Lance Stroll, who also has been unable to finish a race this season. This week, Stroll again, was doing quite well until he was taken out by Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz. Rosso was issued another penalty for the collision, and is now only a few penalty points away from being forced to sit out a race.
For Haas, Romain Grosjean scored his first points of the season with a P8 finish (and a nice birthday treat to himself). His teammate, Kevin Magnussen, who scored points last week in China was out in the first half of the race due to engine problems.
And Force India managed their third race in a row where both driver’s scored points. This is absolutely fantastic for a team that was not long ago struggling to keep up with the rest of the players and could barely score points. It’ll be interesting to see if they can keep up the same results going into Russia.
And for those next two weeks until Russia, Vettel can most likely be found wearing the biggest smile his face, and who could blame him? Apparently there has been a trend that in the past that every year Vettel has reached the leading spot in Championship points, he wins the Championship.
Now, it is clearly too soon to call it. And although it would be great to see a Ferrari as the Champion, if we call it now, will it be nearly as fun to watch the races the rest of the year?
Maybe it would be, because honestly, as he proved again today, Hamilton will not let it go without a good fight.