F1 Bahrain Grand Prix: Dial “SC” For Excitement

f1-2014-bahrain-hamilton-victoryPeople were looking for all sorts of reasons why the first two races of the season weren’t as epic as everyone was hoping. Much blame was laid at the feed of the new engines being too quiet. Mercedes engines absolutely dominating proceedings wasn’t helping much. Pirelli tyres, as always, were blamed too.

It turns out, though, that all we really needed to get an exciting race from the new generation of Formula One was a late safety car to bunch the field together and allow people to run all over each other in order. Despite some close side-by-side racing at the end, it was Lewis Hamilton that led the race essentially from first corner to the last as he picked up his second win of the season.

It was Nico Rosberg who lead the field away from the lights but he didn’t lead through the first turn. Despite being on the dirty line, it seems as though the inside line was the right one as Hamilton led coming out of Turn One. Ahead of this weekend, that turn was renamed after Michael Schumacher and it somehow seems fitting that Schumi’s successor took the lead at his turn.

The action was hot on the first lap as Felipe Massa stormed off the line, going from 7th to 3rd through the first corner. Further back, cars swarmed all over each other as they bunched up through the rhythm section. As IndyCar has proven, lower downforce through wings and on-the-body aerodynamic devices allows for closer racing as mechanical grip isn’t affected by following other cars.

After that opening lap, the cars settled into a rhythm with Hamilton growing his lead. However, it quickly evaporated before Mercedes made their first round of pit stops. On Lap 18, Rosberg caught his teammate and the pair ran side-by-side for the first five turns of the lap. Just as Hamilton got ahead, he was called into the pits which allowed Rosberg to pull ahead.

f1-2014-bahrain-maldonado-gutierrez-crashWith Hamilton on the option tyres and Rosberg trying the primes, the British driver regrew his lead even larger than before. That was until Pastor Maldonado did something that we would expect of him. Coming out of the pits after a pit stop, Maldonado barged into the side of Esteban Gutierrez and sent him into a barrel roll and out of the race.

The result was a safety car (and a 10-second stop-and-go penalty, 5-place grid penalty in China and 3 demerit points for Maldonado) that bunched the field up. It turns out that all we needed for close racing was to close the field up.

The race went green with ten laps to go and Hamilton and Rosberg spent the next five side-by-side dueling for the win. At times, Rosberg pulled in front but despite being at a tyre disadvantage, Hamilton was always able take the lead back. It was a superb piece of driving to hold onto the lead. The early comparisons were to Gilles Villeneuve and Rene Arnoux but I wouldn’t go that far. There was a lot of room given while Villeneuve and Arnoux banged wheels and passed and came back for laps on end for second place. That’s heart and passion that will never be passed. Yesterday wasn’t bad either.

As I mentioned off the top, this was Hamilton’s second win of the season and second win in as many weeks. It was also the second-straight one-two finish for Mercedes GP as Rosberg crossed the line in second. Sergio Perez probably shouldn’t have surprised anyone by being able to finish on the podium but after his season at McLaren, people might have forgotten that this was his fourth career podium.

It was probably closer than Checo would have liked because Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo used the safety car to his advantage and climbed his way up to fourth by the checkered flag. Nico Hulkenberg looked to be down on power after the final restart but managed to hold onto 5th. Sebastian Vettel had a good race, utilizing a two-stop strategy to finish 6th. Felipe Massa was the best of the three-stopper in 7th. Teammate Valtteri Bottas followed right behind him in 8th. Following them, it was the two Ferraris rounding out the points with Fernando Alonso leading home Kimi Raikkonen.

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There was some great news from Grenoble this week. A statement from the family of Michael Schumacher said that the seven-time World Drivers’ Champion was showing signs of consciousness and awakening.

f1-2014-bahrain-schumacher-cornerThat might sound like the same thing but former Formula One medical delegate, Gary Hartstein, said that they are two very different things from a medical perspective. In a post on his blog, Hartstein referred to as wakefulness without consciousness as being in a vegetative state. That would have meant that Michael was awake but not responding to external stimuli.

The mention of consciousness means that Michael is interacting and responding to things around him. Media reports indicate that he’s making eye contact with people and responding to voices. That wasn’t in the official statement but these reports would be the most likely signs of consciousness.

This is the best news that we’ve heard about Michael since his skiing accident. He’s not going to be back to 100% overnight but this is a very important and very positive step in the right direction.

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Ahead of this season, we heard a lot about the premium on lighter drivers for this season but only now do we find out the lengths to which teams were pushing to save weight on drivers.

This weekend, Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne mentioned that the diet regimen he was on during the winter caused him to lose several kilograms in weight. He diet was so extreme that he was hospitalized between the Australian and Malaysian Grands Prix due to what he called a lack of water and weakness.

According to Vergne, the weight difference between he and teammate Danill Kvyat cost him about four-tenths of a second per lap. He needed to lose weight to make up the gap. Even with a 692 kg minimum weight limit for the cars this season, it appears that it’s not high enough for the safety of the drivers and for the competitive balance of all drivers of any size. That’s amazing when you realize that six years ago, cars weighted 100 kg less.

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McLaren might be close to finding a title sponsor and probably has their deal with Honda to thank. The British team will have a Japanese engine and might just have a Japanese sponsor to go with it as rumours suggest that Japan’s largest online retailer, Rakuten, is in talks to be McLaren’s title sponsor.

Current reports beg the value of the deal at £40 million ($66 million) for each of three years on the car. An unnamed drinks company was also interested in getting on McLaren but Rakuten appears to be the frontrunner at the moment.

Interestingly, the old Vodafone sponsorship was believed to be estimated to bring McLaren around or just above £40 million per season. Even after a very rough 2013 campaign and all the controversy over the “quiet” turbo V6 engines, ugly cars and moronic double points, Formula One and the McLaren brand don’t seem to have been hurt that much.

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f1-2013-china-trackThe next round of the 2014 Formula One World Championship is in two weeks’ time and will bring the F1 circus back to Asia for a quick one-off event. The fourth round of the championship will be in Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix.

I normally give a preview of who will be the favourites in the next race at this point of my F1 posts but I think we all know what’s going down in the next Grand Prix. It’s either going to be Lewis or Nico. Nico is the more recent winner in Shanghai of the two but Lewis has two wins to Nico’s one. Maybe it’ll come down to who’s lost the most weight between now and then.

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