I think I would be improper for me to comment on this race without commenting on the circumstances surrounding it. Personally I think the decision to go there was the wrong one, solely because the race was always going to be hijacked by both sides of the civil-unrest in Bahrain, but some of the reportage surrounding the race was gratuitous. Some media outlets only reported on the situation in Bahrain because the F1 circus travelled there, and then immediately stopped once it left, this did a disservice both the Bahraini people and F1 a disservice. That’s all I have to say on that, so on to the race itself.
After the 2010 experiment of using the “endurance” layout of the Sakhir track, we reverted back to the less boring (but still oh-so-dreary) “grand prix” configuration, but the result seemed very 2011. Sebastian Vettel beat Hamilton to pole by less than a tenth of a second, pulled out his customary gap of more than a second in the first two laps and then kept his tyres in shape. The young German showed why he is a double world champion by yet again having speed and knowing when to use it. Red Bull and Vettel haven’t had the best opening few races, but nobody else has either, so by winning this race (along with Webber finishing fourth for the fourth time running), both team and driver top their respective championship.
Vettel didn’t have a completely easy ride however, the RB8 coped with the hot and dry conditions better than any other car, but the Lotus E20 was a close second. Romain Grosjean continued to show his impressive form by out-qualifying his illustrious teammate and displaying the maturity to allow him past without spitting the dummy. It served him well, with the Franco-Swiss driver taking his first podium in F1 and the first for a Frenchman since Jean Alesi in the memorable 1998 Belgian GP. Raikkonen did one better, despite failing to get throughout to Q3, his pace in the race was relentless, coming within a whisker of the lead on lap 36. Ultimately, second was all the Finn was able to achieve, but the result showed that he had lost none of his speed from his two years in the WRC. The double podium puts the Enstone squad third in the constructors’ table, and they’ll hope it’s the start of a renaissance rather than a false dawn.
While Lotus had a good weekend, McLaren had a torrid one, Button retiring a broken differential and Hamilton losing time hand over fist in the pits. McLaren suffered pitstop issues in Malaysia and China, but in Bahrain things got worse, with wheel nuts sticking or refusing to cooperate on two of Hamilton’s pit-stops. The procedural failures lost the Englishman a possible podium and left him down in eighth, and if the team are unable to address the issue it could cost them and one of their drivers the championships they crave.
While everyone around him went with a three stop strategy, Paul di Resta went with just two, and his ability to keep his tyres in good order paid off with a strong sixth place and he managed to keep Fernando Alonso at bay finishing three tenths ahead of the Spaniard. Ferrari’s number one finished these first flyaway races only 10 points off the championship lead, and if you’d offered him that at the start of the season, he’d probably bite your hand off. Felipe Massa on the other hand is probably just glad to have any points on the board having finally broken his duck with a ninth placed finish in Bahrain.
Other than the circumstances surrounding the race, the main talking point was Nico Rosberg’s driving standards. The German drove sublimely on the way to his win in China, but at Sakhir he resorted to driving the competition off the road to keep them behind. When Hamilton lined up a move on the Mercedes driver, Rosberg responded by cutting across the track, Hamilton chose to proceed beyond the track to complete the overtake. Rosberg later attempted the same move on Alonso, the Spaniard chose to back off rather than go beyond the track limits. The stewards looked at the antics after the race and determined that what Rosberg did was fine, so essentially, the rules are to be interpreted that if there’s a wall, you can’t force them towards it, but if there’s grass you can play ball.
In terms of the “new” teams, they continued to underwhelm, and I, like Eddie Jordan, am a bit fed up of their excuses. Yes they have smaller budgets than the big boys, but Sauber, Williams and Toro Rosso are operating on significantly more modest money than Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull yet they’re not embarrassing themselves at the back of the grid. The blame cannot be laid at the Cosworth engine supply – although Williams used it last year and performed poorly, their whole package was wrong – Caterham are using the Renault RS 27 that has been in the back of two championship winning cars (and is itself a development of the RS 26 that powered Alonso’s Renault R26 to the title), and look no closer to the midfield than they have at any point in their existence.