Sebastian Vettel confirmed Red Bull’s return to form this weekend by claiming his first victory of the Formula 1 season at the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain. In a strategic race that was not devoid of some excellent racing; Vettel claimed the victory ahead of the two Lotus Renaults. The race saw a return to the podium for Kimi Raikkonen (his first since his comeback) and a well deserved 3rd place finish for Romain Grosjean who earned his first podium finish.
Strangely in the desert, there was rain in the air just prior to the start. The race started with Vettel heading the field from pole and quickly opening up a gap from the chasing pack. Behind him there was disastrous starts for Rosberg and Daniel Ricciardo who lost numerous places off the grid. If there situation was bad; it was worse for Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham who saw an excellent qualifying performance destroyed by contact on the first lap. The end result being a puncture and a trip to the pits for the Finn. The Lotus’ flew from the start with Raikkonen and Grosjean picking up places on the opening lap.
In the early laps the McLarens struggled with tyre degradation, even Jenson Button who is famed for his tyre friendly style could not keep the tyres intact and was one of the first front runners to head in for new tyres. Hamilton was having similar difficulties and was easily passed by Grosjean for 2nd as the Frenchman cut through the field early on. It was a frustrating day for Mark Webber who could only look on as his team-mate and the Lotus disappeared into the distance. Webber would have a steady race on his way to 4th.
Back in the midfield there was numerous interesting strategies including di Resta’s Force India approach which was to try last as long as possible on the tyres and only pit when the tyres began to really lose time. This approach earned di Resta and Force India some well earned points for 6th after a difficult weekend for the team. The Saubers of Kobayashi and Perez were in for a day of disappointment as gambles on a two-stop strategy for Kobayashi didn’t pay off when he was forced to pit with only a few laps remaining. Perez had a quiet day stuck in the midfield on his way to an eventual 11th place finish just a second away from Schumacher in 10th.
For a weekend that held so much potential it must be said that Bahrain was a let down for Mercedes. Schumacher salvaging a point from 22nd on the grid following a gearbox change would have raised some smiles but the teams appetite for success will make it somewhat bittersweet. Team-mate Rosberg’s race never recovered from his poor start although Rosberg was in some fantastic battles on the track and sometimes off it with Alonso and Hamilton. Rosberg’s robust defence of overtaking moves from the two former world champions are under investigation by the stewards. At the time of writing it’s unknown if Rosberg will receive any reprimands for his driving. A 5th place and some more points on the board are the result of a weekend that promised much but delivered little.
If Mercedes were disappointed. McLaren must have been devastated. Yet again Bahrain has not worked out for the Woking outfit. Pit-stop issues for Hamilton on his first two stops caused the former world champion large chunks of time. It was estimated that Hamilton lost up to 17 seconds in the pits during the course of the race due to issues with the left rear wheel nut during the pit-stops. Jenson Button had a similarly off colour day and looked to be guaranteed 6th with a chance to chase down Rosberg only for him pick up a puncture on the 51st lap. Button pulled the car into the pits on the second last lap to retire from the Grand Prix. Hamilton did claim some points in 8th but McLaren and Hamilton have lost the lead of the constructors and drivers championship respectively.
Qualifying star Daniel Ricciardo could not match his qualifying heroics in the race and finished an anonymous 15th. 2 places behind team mate Vergne who had a quiet race on his way to 13th. It was a poor day for Williams with Senna being classified 3 laps down and Maldonado retiring from the race following a puncture that tossed him into a spin. Whilst it was ecstasy for di Resta’s Force India, team-mate Hulkenberg could not make an impact in the race and could only claim 12th.
The day belonged to Red Bull. Martin Brundle had commented on changes to the back of the car (during his grid walk) that appear to have assisted the team in finding some of the performance they’ve lost this season with the banning of the blown diffuser. Vettel did not have it all his own way though. Raikkonen did challenge the German during the second stint and Vettel managed to hold position into the first corner. From there the Lotus challenge seemed to be in check. Lotus will be extremely happy with the first double podium for cars running under the Lotus name since 1979. Kimi Raikkonen shows that 2 years away from F1 have not blunted skills having raced through from 11th on the grid.
The win for Vettel puts him in the lead of the world championship. With Webber’s 4th added to that it’s meant that Red Bull have leapfrogged McLaren into the lead of the constructors championship. There is now a three week break in the championship before the teams go to Circuit de Catalunya in Spain for the first European round of the championship. After four separate winners and four separate teams victorious so far this season, it looks like Formula 1 2012 is wide open.
PROVISIONAL RACE RESULTS
The Bahrain Grand Prix
57 laps; 308.405km;
Pos Driver Team Time
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1h35:10.990
2. Raikkonen Lotus-Renault + 3.300
3. Grosjean Lotus-Renault + 10.100
4. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 38.700
5. Rosberg Mercedes + 55.400
6. Di Resta Force India-Mercedes + 57.500
7. Alonso Ferrari + 57.800
8. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 58.900
9. Massa Ferrari + 1:04.900
10. Schumacher Mercedes + 1:11.400
11. Perez Sauber-Ferrari + 1:12.700
12. Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes + 1:16.500
13. Vergne Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1:30.300
14. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari + 1:33.700
15. Ricciardo Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1 lap
16. Petrov Caterham-Renault + 1 lap
17. Kovalainen Caterham-Renault + 1 lap
18. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 1 lap
19. Glock Marussia-Cosworth + 2 laps
20. De la Rosa HRT-Cosworth + 2 laps
21. Karthikeyan HRT-Cosworth + 2 laps
22. Senna Williams-Renault + 3 laps
Fastest lap: Vettel, 1:36.379
Driver Team On lap
Maldonado Williams-Renault 26
Pic Marussia-Cosworth 25
World Championship standings, round 4:
1. Vettel 53
2. Hamilton 49
3. Webber 48
4. Button 43
5. Alonso 43
6. Rosberg 35
7. Raikkonen 34
8. Grosjean 23
9. Perez 22
10. Di Resta 15
11. Senna 14
12. Kobayashi 9
13. Vergne 4
14. Maldonado 4
15. Hulkenberg 2
16. Schumacher 2
17. Massa 2
18. Ricciardo 2
1. Red Bull-Renault 101
2. McLaren-Mercedes 92
3. Lotus-Renault 57
4. Ferrari 45
5. Mercedes 37
6. Sauber-Ferrari 31
7. Williams-Renault 18
8. Force India-Mercedes 17
9. Toro Rosso-Ferrari 6