F1 Bahrain Grand Prix: Demolition Derby

It’s always fun when a pattern develops. I’m not talking about Nico Rosberg winning once again. While Nico Rosberg has won five races in a row, he might not have done so if not for another pattern that might be developing this season. Lewis Hamilton once again started on pole but couldn’t cleanly get through the first turn which cost him a chance at the win.

The race started with the Mercedes ahead of the Ferraris. Well, it was like that when the formation lap started. There were two cars missing when they came back around. Vettel’s car suffered a spectacular engine failure during the formation lap that caused him to DNS. The same fate befell Jo Palmer who suffered a hydraulic failure. And in keeping with technical issues, Jenson Button made it six laps before his ERS quit on him.

Up front, the race was quite similar to Australia. Hamilton got off to a slow start which ended up even more compromised in the first turn. While teammate Rosberg powered through to P1, Hamilton got punted by Valtteri Bottas. While the Finn got a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact, Lewis had enough floor and bodywork damage that it appeared that Ferrari believed he lost a second per lap.

Much like Australia, Lewis had to fight his way back through the field. Unlike the last time, Ferrari didn’t bungle the strategy. They matched Rosberg’s strategy tyre set for tyre set and pitting within two laps of Rosberg each time they stopped. Hamilton, in the mean time, used the W07’s undeniably superior speed to trump the field. Even though Mercedes made a questionable call with a short second stint on mediums, Hamilton was able to battle through the field to claim a step on the podium.

The win went to Rosberg which gives him a clean sweep on wins in 2016 and sees him win five races in a row dating back to 2015. Raikkonen came back from his DNF in Australia to score a second place. Hamilton was able to recover from falling as low as seventh after the opening exchange to complete the podium in 3rd.

Despite looking worse for wear after the first turn collision, Daniel Ricciardo came through in 4th. A blistering start and a little bit of trouble ahead allowed Romain Grosjean to better his 6th in Melbourne and score Haas’s first top five in their second race. Max Verstappen missed Q3 but showed that he’s still a force to be reckoned with by finishing 6th. Daniil Kvyat had an even bigger climb going from 15th on the grid to 7th at the finish. Williams struggled with their strategy and tyres which resulted in Massa and Bottas crossing the line 8th and 9th, respectively. Rounding out the points-paying positions was Stoffel Vandoorne who replaced Fernando Alonso who missed the race due to broken ribs. The McLaren prodigy scored a point on his debut by finishing 10th.


Vettel’s pre-race retirement / do not start highlights a growing concern in the Ferrari garage. Reports out of Germany indicate that the Scuderia has a problem with their turbocharger that is robbing the team of power on long straights. In fact, it was an overheating turbocharger that caused the fire in Raikkonen’s airbox in Melbourne.

According to AMUS, GPS data shows that the Ferrari basically stops accelerating halfway down a straight. This may be because the MGU-H part of the ERS can’t recover power at the boost levels that the turbo is running so it kicks the engine into charging mode in the second-half of the straights. This news makes you wonder if this issue is what contributed to Gutierrez’s ERS kicking into charge just before Alonso hit him last round.

Ferrari is working on a new turbocharger solution that will be introduced in the next generation of 2016 Ferrari engines. However, that’s not expected to be put into commission until Spain. On the plus side, experts believe that correcting this issue is worth up to a half-second per lap. That would have put Vettel within thousandths of Hamilton for pole and a half-second per lap (and some better reliability) would have definitely given Ferrari a chance for the win in Bahrain.


 

Speaking of Ferrari, one of their long-time unofficial feeder teams hangs in the balance. While the financial troubles of Sauber have been long documented since Peter Sauber bought the team back from BMW following the 2009 season, it looks like they might finally come to an end.

Monisha Kaltenborn was not in Bahrain this weekend and was given dispensation from the FIA to not attend the race meeting. Instead, Monisha was reportedly in Switzerland working to bring more funds into the team ahead of the next race.

The crew on Sky Sports F1 were discussing Kaltenborn’s absence over the course of the weekend with a specific mention that there is a chance that Sauber may not have the funds to make it to the next round in China. That would make them the third team to leave F1 since Peter Sauber purchased the team back at the end of 2009 (Hispania/HRT and Lotus/Caterham being the others).

This brings us back to the regular talking point about Formula One’s broken economics. The teams just aren’t getting enough money from prize money and sponsorships to stay afloat, especially if you’re closer to the back of the pack. In the last couple of years, we’ve seen Caterham close, Marussia had to sell to new owners to become Manor, Lotus go into administration before being sold back to Renault and Sauber having to hire up to four drivers to fund the 2015 season. That doesn’t include several prize fund advances to teams either.

Formula One has been targeting thirteen teams and twenty-six cars on the grid but they can’t find thirteen teams that are sustainable. The closest they got was twelve teams as recently as 2012. Just as F1 got back to eleven teams, it seems inevitable (and sooner than later) that F1 will go back down to ten teams. At a certain point, Bernie, the FOM and the FIA have to look in the mirror and realize that they’re the ones to blame for why so few can find F1 financially sustainable unless they bring tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of their own money because they can’t sustain themselves on sponsorship and prize money.


Anyone else notice that the FOM graphics consistently got tyres wrong during the race? For example, I noticed Ricciardo and Grosjean running on super-softs but being shown on mediums when their name pops up on the bottom-left. The ticker at the bottom was accurate so I don’t know what was happening in the graphics department.


So qualifying was a bit of a disaster for the second race in a row. While there were cars on track close to the end of Q3, the final six or seven minutes of Q2 saw the track empty while the teams conserved tyres for use in the race or Q3. There wasn’t a repeat of the mass exodus from the circus like in Melbourne but nobody was impressed with how quali played out this time either.

For the second time this season, Sunday morning on a Grand Prix weekend saw a meeting of team principals to solve problems with qualifying. Unlike Australia, the team bosses were joined by FIA President Jean Todt who was looking to calm concerns that F1 was about to self-destruct through the rules-making process (as opposed to the finances of F1 harming the sport’s teams and local promoters).

After Sunday morning’s meeting in which team principals said that they wanted to revert to 2015 qualifying system rather than continue to fight over the possibility of including elimination elements for Q1 & Q2, Bernie and Jean are pushing forward with another new format because the 2015 format was scrapped according to Bernie on Sky’s pre-race show.

The proposed new format is similar to the 2015 format and the 2005 format. Knockout qualifying will comeback but rather than the fastest time in each segment determining who goes on, times will be based on an aggregate of a driver’s two fastest laps in each quali segment.

Part of the reason why the racing has been so good and qualifying so bad is the new tyre rules with three compounds, taking six of thirteen sets back during the weekend and encouraging teams to run a lot in elimination qualifying. If anything, forcing teams to run at least two hot laps in each sessions (for up to six hot laps in total) will make things worse. However, teams can’t get out of running two laps per session (unless they sit it out) so cars will be on track which uses up tyres and should make things more lively in the race which is what we’re targeting. It seems as though F1 will get there in a roundabout way through tyres rather than jumbling up the order after qualifying.

Of course, all that speculation based on the possibility that the new aggregate knockout qualifying will be approved by the teams and F1 Commission. None of the team principals, media pundits and fans who have commented absolutely hate this proposal. Presumably, this means that there’s a good chance that this new system is denied approval which means a third race with elimination qualifying. Even if that’s something that no one wanted after Saturday in Australia, it might be the best option presented to the teams for Shanghai.

Also, let’s wait for the inevitable proposal that time aggregates across the knockout sessions for no explicable reason. Does that idea make sense? Absolutely not! Does changing the qualifying format from something everyone liked to something completely broken make sense? Even less!


The next round of the 2016 Formula One World Championship comes to us in two weeks’ time. The teams will head back east to the Shanghai International Circuit for the Shanghai Grand Prix.

From the first two races, we’ve learned that Lewis has some good pace but needs to stay out of trouble in the first turn. Both of his starting incidents put him back in traffic which slowed him up from being able to catch Rosberg for the lead. We haven’t seen him have a clean race this year so it’s entirely possible that he is faster over 300 km than Nico. He needs to prove it first.

However, Lewis is the best driver on the grid in Shanghai. Regardless of how little luck that Lewis has had this year, I still think that China is his race to lose.

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