Round 4 of the Formula 1 World Championship, wrapped up yesterday in what was leading up to be, the most controversial race of the season.
Since 2011, the Kingdom of Bahrain has been embroiled in social unrest. The ruling Al Kahlifa family have been at odds with Bahrain’s citizens, over the kingdom’s political structure. Amidst reports of killings, imprisonment and torture, last year’s race was cancelled. For 2012, the Bahrain Grand Prix was again on the Formula 1 calender, a controversial decision by the FIA. From a sponsorship perspective, it’s one of the most lucrative races of the season. That and a desire to show the world the Kingdom is on the mend, are primary reasons for rescheduling this year’s event.
In the weeks leading up to the race, it was uncertain whether it would happen at all. Tensions over the race where high and there were major safety concerns, for the teams and their drivers. The media were also hesitant and recommended to stay in designated hotels, throughout the week. However, the show must go on and despite the protests, Sunday provided another unpredictable race, in what’s becoming a historic season.
I didn’t care for the Bahrain Grand Prix. I found myself frustrated throughout most of the race. The mood at Bahrain International Circuit, was at best, subdued. Despite reports that it was a sold out event, you’d be hard pressed to notice any fan presence. Blisteringly hot temperatures made tire strategy, the highest priority and most teams held back in qualifying, to conserve precious rubber.
Sebastian Vettel’s Return To Form
With temper tantrums following his race in Malaysia and a different, unsuccessful exhaust setup in China, Sebastian Vettel appeared to be out of sorts, heading into Bahrain. Ultimately, he was able to secure his first win of the season on Sunday; a drive that saw him back in Championship form.
After out qualifying Lewis Hamilton by less than a second, Vettel started in pole. A fantastic start helped him secure a 2 second gap, by the end of lap 1. The RB8 looked quick all weekend and it seems as though Red Bull are beginning to hone in, the car’s true potential. In turns 1 and 2, the RB8 was unbeatable, as Kimi Raikkonen struggled to pass Vettel, in a much faster Lotus. One victory doesn’t tell the whole story though and in a season as unpredictable as this, it’s still anyone’s game.
New Found Success For Lotus
While Lotus only managed the qualify 7th and 11th, due to a tire conservation strategy, they were podium contenders on race day. The E20 had amazing straight line speed and allowed Kimi Raikkonen to catch Sebastian Vettel. I knew it was only a matter of time before Kimi earned his first podium finish.
It’s been apparent all season, that his time away from Formula 1, has had little affect on his driving abilities. Kimi’s teammate, former GP2 Champion, Romain Grosjean also had a stellar drive on Sunday, helping Lotus with a 2-3 finish. That result moved them to 3rd overall, in the Constructor’s Championship. Lotus has certainly turned its team around in 2012 and it’s part of a very interesting development of highly competitive, midfield contenders. Lotus, Williams, Sauber and Force India have all been good so far this season and it’s made the racing that much more exciting.
McLaren In The Pits
What started off as another good weekend for McLaren, quickly ended in disaster. Lewis Hamilton put down a fantastic Q3, securing a front row start, less than a second behind Sebastian Vettel. Ultimately, Hamilton’s race was ruined in the pits. Everything that could possibly go wrong, for McLaren in the pits, has happened over the last 3 races. In China, Jenson Button’s hopes for a second victory were squashed, due to a faulty wheel gun. In Bahrain, Hamilton was held up by a wheel nut issue. The prediction, is that in a haste to get Hamilton out quickly, the wheel hub became cross threaded, which affected his second pit stop and ultimately spoiled his race.
His teammate Jenson Button, retired on lap 55, with a broken exhaust. Yet another blow to a team everyone predicted, to be the dominate force, starting the season. What’s most frustrating about McLaren’s scenario, is that their driver’s have played little part, in the team’s misfortunes. In the 3 weeks until Spain, McLaren need to seriously reassess their pitting strategy. They’re currently the only team on the grid, who don’t change tires with the nut pre-fastened to the wheel.
Stewards On Holiday
Following their success in China, Mercedes struggled on Sunday. Michael Scumacher was given a 5 grid spot penalty, for changing his car’s transmission, after qualifying 18th. Things faired better for Nico Rosberg, who qualified 5th, but had difficulty in Sunday’s race. He ultimately finished 5th. Rosberg was also involved in 2 separate incidents of defensive driving. The first with Lewis Hamilton, who was forced off the track, following the first of his bad pit stops. In an aggressive maneuver, Hamilton passed Rosberg, while off the track. A similar incident involving Fernando Alonso, happened later in the race. In both occurrences, the Stewards said they’d evaluate it after the race. Why pend a decision after the race has already ended? If drive through penalties need to be given out, do your job and take care of it immediately. Rosberg was quick to go on the defensive, calling out both opposing drivers. All Formula 1 drivers are allowed 1 defensive move, while holding a position; after which an opening needs to be left available. Unfortunately, this rule leaves a large grey area, where either argument can be made. In these cases, the Stewards should be evaluating the situation immediately.
Finicky Tires Makes For Better Racing
Long lasting, this year’s Pirelli tires are not. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Michael Schumacher was quick to voice his displeasure in the press, following Sunday’s race. He accused Pirelli of producing tires, that didn’t allow the cars or their drivers, to reach their maximum potential on the track. I tend not to agree and in many ways, the high degradation of the Pirellis, has made for some very exciting wheel to wheel racing.
We saw this first hand in China, as Kimi Raikkonen was passed by a quarter of the grid in 2 laps. Tires also allowed Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber to overtake Sebastian Vettel, in the final laps of that race. Many races are won and lost in the pits, as we’ve seen so painfully with McLaren. It’s more important than ever, to have an aggressive pitting strategy and the heat in Bahrain truly exploited the Pirellis’ weaknesses.
Is Bahrain United?
While it certainly wasn’t the primary goal of the race, many were hoping a Formula 1 Grand Prix, would help start the healing process in Bahrain. On the back of political and social unrest for more than a year, Formula 1’s presence was a controversial one.
From afar, it’s hard to get a grasp as to what is really happening there. In many ways I believe the teams and media, were kept fairly secluded at Bahrain International Circuit, well away from the actual reality. There was just news today that journalists had been arrested following yesterday’s Formula 1 and GP2 races. Ultimately Bahrain has a long way to go and one glamorized event, is little more than a bandage covering the wound. Where the sport was successful, was in it’s ability to remain neutral. Just get on with the race and that’s exactly what they did.
Photos courtesy of F1 Fanatic.