Since the Arab Spring protests that started in 2011, Formula One’s stop in a country with protests has been very controversial. Many think that the race should be cancelled because a Grand Prix is just a way to legitimize the Bahrain government because of the economic impact of the race. Other’s think that making a decision based on political reasoning isn’t something F1 should do because it’s a sport.
Still, the race took place again amid the protests. For the second year running we had an all Renault engine podium and it was actually the exact same podium in the exact same order as last year as Sebastian Vettel picked up his second straight Bahrain Grand Prix win.
The race started with Nico Rosberg starting from his second career pole. Unlike his previous pole position and all his other starts in Bahrain, he did not finish where he started.
The start of the race could be best described as controlled chaos. Off the lights, Rosberg blocked Vettel which allowed Fernando Alonso by into second. It was only a few turns later that Vettel retook second spot. At the same time, Felipe Massa barged into Adrian Sutil as the two did battle over fourth. That cost Massa part of his front wing and Sutil a flat tyre which knocked him out of contention for the points. That allowed Paul di Resta by and into fourth.
It didn’t take too long for Rosberg to start falling back. The top three stayed closely packed until the DRS was activated which allowed Vettel to sweep by into the lead. Alonso and Rosberg did a bit of back and forth before the Scuderia driver was able to make the pass stick and pulled away.
From there, Rosberg faded as his tyres started to fade. It appears that Mercedes and Rosberg haven’t quite fixed last year’s problem of the car eating through the tyres. Alonso also had a problem that forced him back in the field. His DRS failed which caused his rear wing to stay open. The Ferrari pit crew forced it back into place but two stops to fix the wing and no DRS for the rest of the day meant that Fernando didn’t have a chance at the win.
From here, strategy played a big part in the race. Most of the cars, including Vettel, were on three-stop strategies. However, the two Lotuses of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean and Paul di Resta were all on two-stop strategies. As the pit stops cycled through, it was those three drivers who climbed close to the top. They weren’t able to reach P1 as Vettel just stormed away from the field for the win.
The win is Vettel’s second of the season which makes him the first repeat winner of the year. Last year, it took eight races to get a repeat winner to this year’s four races. Raikkonen finished on the podium for the third time this season and only sits ten points behind Vettel. Grosjean’s third give him his first top five of the season.
Paul di Resta’s solid start and the problems with other cars allowed him to match his career best finish in 4th. Lewis Hamilton overcame his grid penalty to climb from 9th to 5th with a late race charge. Sergio Perez scored his best finish at McLaren in 6th. Mark Webber finished where he started with a 7th. Despite having to stop twice to deal with his DRS and not having it in use for the rest of the race, Alonso was able to salvage points with an 8th place finish. Polesitter Rosberg just didn’t have the race pace and fell all the way back to 9th. Jenson Button rounded out the points in 10th despite threatening for another top five earlier in the day.
Once again, the race control to car telemetry system wasn’t working. Whoever the FIA hired as the new telemetry system supplier for this season sure doesn’t know what they’re doing. According to Charlie Whiting, the GPS and marshal lights systems are working but there are enough issues that they were forced to disable the whole system again.
Before qualifying, Will Buxton said that the FIA would be dropping their current telemetry supplier and revert to last year’s system should there be another major problem this weekend. Looks like we could be seeing a switch when the boys reach Spain.
It’s safe for Formula One to be in Bahrain this week and it’s in no way changing how people perceive an oppressive regime but FIA President Jean Todt didn’t attend this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix. The alleged reason is that Todt spent the weekend campaigning for this fall’s FIA Presidential election in which Todt is expected to go unopposed.
That means that Todt has essentially fabricated an excuse to not be in Bahrain this weekend so he can avoid any potential controversies of Formula One being a marketing tool of a regime that’s violently beating down groups that oppose them. Last year, the general feeling in the paddock was that no one wanted to be there. A pair of Force India mechanics left the country early after team members were caught in a petrol bomb attack while heading to the hotel from the circuit.
Meanwhile, Bernie Ecclestone said that the Bahrain government was stupid for holding this race. Not because they have their own issues to sort out before they can be taken seriously on an international stage but because the Grand Prix gives anti-government protesters more exposure on the world stage. Only in F1 can someone basically advocate for an oppressive regime to continue oppressing freedoms and be able to get away with it.
Mercedes Grand Prix executive director Toto Wolff still holds ownership stakes in both Mercedes GP and Williams F1. While there’s no rule outlawing owning two Grand Prix teams (Red Bull owns RBR and Toro Rosso), Wolff has decided to divest himself of his share in Williams since he’s working for the Silver Arrows now.
Wolff currently has a 16% ownership stake in Williams and plans to sell to a responsible buyer so Williams is still in good shape after he leaves. He hasn’t set a deadline to sell his stake by because he doesn’t perceive a conflict of interest as he doesn’t have an operational role at Williams.
He still has one more potential conflict of interest with Williams. Toto’s wife, Suzie, is still a test and development driver with Williams. If she gets in a race seat, who would he be cheering for?
Heikki Kovalainen is back in Formula One… as a test driver… with Caterham. This year has seen Caterham pull a Queen’s Park Rangers and go to the bottom of the table. It seems that any sports team Tony Fernandes touches turns to shit.
The idea behind rehiring Kovalainen was to get an experienced driver in the car to do some evaluation and technical work. You have to wonder how long Pic and van der Garde will be allowed to struggle before Kovalainen is put in a race seat to pull the team out of the basement.
After driving the car in Free Practice 1, he said that the car’s handling was inconsistent and that the car felt unbalanced. One area that he felt the team should focus on was developing the rear-end. Between that and changing the set-ups of the car, Kovalainen believes that the car’s ailments can be fixed.
The next race is Round Five of the 2013 Formula One World Championship which means that we’ll have reached the quarter-way mark of the season. Unfortunately, we have to wait three weeks for the Spanish Grand Prix from the Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona. This is the first year where we will have only one Spanish race since the addition of the Valencia race. This year is the first of alternating venues between Barcelona and Valencia and it’s Barcelona’s turn.
Looking at Vettel’s pace over the last couple of races, you have to like him as the favourite for the upcoming Grand Prix but he’s not had the best track record in Barcelona. Fernando Alonso had good pace today, ignoring the whole DRS failure, but only has one win at Barcelona. It always seems like he’s a contender there but apparently never wins. One thing I’m fairly certain of, though, is that we won’t see a Williams win this year. They’ve shown no signs of life.