Duel in the Desert 2.0

Bahrain has been the site of a few exciting races recently, particularly the 2014 battle between Hamilton and Rosberg that really set a standard for wheel-to-wheel racing. So good in fact, I thought I’d share the highlights –

Back to 2107 – with the first two races of the season being nail biters, there was a sense of anticipation in the air about what the 2017 race would bring. Again, Hamilton was considered a potential winner, though this time it was a different German he was up against: Sebastian Vettel. Their team mates were also in the mix, Bottas and Raikkonen respectively, though ultimately it was Vettel who proved victorious.

It was a big race for Bottas, who had achieved his first pole position in his career. This made him the 5th Finn to start from the front (points if you can name the other 4 in the comments!). Unfortunately for him though, the fight for first was between Vettel and Hamilton. Early on it was clear that Bottas didn’t have the pace to pull away from the field, causing the pack to bunch up. Mercedes claim this was down to his tyres having too high a pressure, but I don’t think he could have held both Vettel and Hamilton off for the whole race; he’s just not racing at that level yet.

Ferrari then pulled an aggressive move, and pulled Vettel in for a relatively early pit stop on lap 10, sticking on a new set of the super-soft tyres.  Shortly after, Stroll and Sainz had an incident which caused the safety car to come out. Vettel would have been cursing that it wasn’t a virtual safety car, as now everyone a ‘free’ pitstop, and that would potentially nullify any advantage he would have gained from his early stop.

One of the decisive moments came under the Safety Car when the two Mercedes pitted at the same time. Hamilton, obviously not wanting to stop behind Bottas, drove slowly down the pit lane to allow Bottas time to stop and get away again before Hamilton arrived. His speed was apparently too slow though, and was accused of holding up Red Bull’s Ricciardo and was given a 5 second penalty. This added to the frustration that both the Silver Arrow’s pit stops had been quite slow.

Once pit stops were out-of-the-way, Vettel led Bottas and Ricciardo once the safety car came back in. Hamilton was close behind, and categorically faster than the Finn and showed his speed as he glides past the Red Bull for 3rd on the first corner after the restart. Vettel began to create a lead, which was up to 4 seconds by lap 25. Mercedes then buckled and ordered Bottas to let Hamilton through.

2 laps later, the gap between Vettel and Hamilton was 6.3 seconds. Hamilton used the next 5 laps to get this down to 4.3 seconds. With his penalty, if Hamilton was to win the race, he would need to beat Vettel by at least 5 seconds if he wasn’t going to pit again, which was possible. Vettel pitted on lap 33, coming back on track 17 seconds behind the lead, but instantly started setting a blistering pace. Finally, lap 41 came and Hamilton pitted. Sitting in his pit box for 5 seconds before the mechanics could touch the car must have felt like an eternity, though soon enough he was on his way again, though this time it was his turn to be some 18 seconds behind and set fast lap times.

He set about setting fast lap times, and soon passed Bottas on lap 47, though Bottas’ method was a bit dodgy, and could have taken them both out the race! This left Hamilton with 10 laps, and 12 seconds to work away at to win. Not impossibly, but Hamilton was left with a challenge!

Ultimately, the 12 seconds proved to be too much, and Hamilton finished 6.7 seconds behind Vettel. Bottas came home in 3rd some 13 seconds further down.  If Hamilton hadn’t got that 5 second penalty, he would have only been 1 – 2 seconds behind in the final few laps, and we probably would have seen some excellent on track battles between two of the top drivers on the grid. It appears we will need to be patient a little while longer until we see that happen though.

What else happened in Bahrain then? Well Stroll didn’t finish his 3rd F1 race, after not finishing his first two. This time, I think it’s fair to say that it really wasn’t his fault. Sainz (who is trying to prove himself this year to get out of the Toro Rosso seat he’s stuck in) came belting down out of the pits, and hit Stroll in the side. The poor Canadian wouldn’t have seen him as he turned into turn 1.

Max Verstappen crashed out after exiting the pits on lap 11 due to a break failure, which he was NOT happy about at all. It’s a shame, had he continued it would have been likely that he would have had a good tussle with Raikkonen and Bottas towards the end.

I’ll save the final few words for McLaren, who had another dismal race. Young Stoffel’s car decided to stop working on his lap on the way to the grid before the race had even started, a huge disappointment for him on his anniversary of his first F1 race. Alonso had a difficult race – he was involved in a great battle with Jolyon Palmer’s Renault and Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso for a good part of the race. Ultimately after getting passed by those two, he was blasted past by Force India’s Esteban Ocon. Over the radio he said he had ‘never raced with less power in my life’. So McLaren-Honda’s woes continue, though there have been promising reports coming from the testing sessions that take place after the Bahrain GP weekend.


Here’s how things stand after the 3rd race of 2017 –

It’s still all to play for, and it’s looking promising that we’ll have an exciting race in Sochi in a week’s time. I’m sure Vettel will be hoping that his race goes a bit better than last year…

 

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