VF1blog: Boring Bahrain? Far from it!
It's becoming a regular theme, starting my column with the words 'what a race' but it really was. Again. 2012 may have started with seven different winners in the same number of races but 2013 has proved to be just as dramatic and perhaps even more entertaining to watch.
I again got my pre-race prediction wrong, going for a Fernando Alonso victory. Without the Spaniards problems that I will discuss in more detail later I still think I would have been proved wrong. Vettel looked dominant at the front of the field and it would have been very (very!) tough for anyone to beat him.
I did get one thing right though, Kimi Raikkonen in second place. Many discounted the Lotus after a poor showing in qualifying but I knew their race pace was strong. Tyrewear was another hotly discussed topic and the E21 is pretty good at eking the tyre life out, as proved on Sunday's race.
It was a race that was largely focused at the mid-field, with a number of hugely entertaining and exciting squabbles. Vettel was calm and controlled in the lead and after the start he just ran away with it. Nico Rosberg surprised me (along with plenty of others) to line up on pole for the race but I was right in predicting that he wouldn't stay there for long. Vettel and Alonso were soon past and he dropped down the order like a rock to the ground.
The characteristics of turn one creates the likely of contact and there was a few minor skirmishes but nothing major, a rather tame first turn. It was turn four where the action really began with Sutil and Massa coming together, giving the Force India an unfortunate puncture. Vergne and one of the Caterham cars also made contact but that was largely unreported due to focus being more at the front of the field.
My prediction for the win, Alonso, could have proved right had he not suffered the problematic DRS issue. That occurred early on in the race and meant stopping twice within two laps. That massively hampered his race (obviously) but his upward progression through the field was hugely impressive, more on that later. One person who impressed me in those early stages was Jenson Button. He had warned onlookers not to expect much with the McLaren's race pace but I was thoroughly surprised with how fast the MP4-28 was, Perez included.
Mentioning the two McLaren's is a good segway into one of the best scraps of the race. Rosberg, Button and Perez were enthralled in a 20 lap battle for a good haul of points and it almost ended in tears. I was writing my race report and it was difficult to keep up. Rosberg would overtake Button. The Brit would get the place back. Perez would get by Rosberg and challenge Button. Perez would get past and Button would fall behind Rosberg. It was a fantastic and clean battle that was broken by Perez hitting the rear of Button's car.
Perez obviously had a point to prove after being on the receding end of media criticism (even from his own Team Principal) and his race looked like a way of hitting back at those ridiculing him, he showed that he can race aggressively and stick his elbows out in car to car combat. However in my view he overstepped the mark during that fight with Button and I understand why he was so angry over team radio. Contact on the run to turn four was dangerous but the clash that occurred a few laps later could have proved costly with a possible puncture. Thankfully they managed to race fairly and for all of us watching it was a great spectacle.
In a similarly fortunate way, we are lucky that Button is a mature driver who can look at incidents from different points of view. Post-race and in today's quotes it has been revealed that the two team-mates have talked and discussed the incident, with all being well in the Woking camp. If this was Red Bull we would have a full blown intra-team warm but thankfully Button and Perez are able to close the case and get on with it.
In general Perez impressed me with his race craft, mostly judging it right with fair and clean moves. The overtake on Mark Webber that occurred on the final lap was classy and I remember saying 'he is racing like a McLaren driver, finally.' His sixth place was generally well deserved and he proved that the car has made steps forward.
Contrastingly I was disappointed with how Button used up his tyres at the end of each stint. Being involved in such competitive battles was an added hindrance but for someone who is renowned for being good with tyre management he was one of the last drivers I would expect to stop four times. Rosberg had to complete a similar strategy two and the German finished just ahead of Button in ninth, a poor showing from both after good pace in qualifying and the early part of the race respectively.
Looking down the final results, Kimi Raikkonen did a stellar job for Lotus to finish second after managing two full stops less than Button and Rosberg. He could have raced for a few more laps after crossing the finishing line before he found 'the cliff' and it was another good and solid drive for the Finn, consistency will be key this season and he certainly has that in abundance.
However Lotus also had another star racing in Bahrain, Romain Grosjean. I have always supported Romain because I feel many overlook his true potential and pace, he certainly proved me right with a fine and mature race to third place. Spectacularly it was the same podium as it was 12 months earlier, a rare occurrence in Formula 1. As big a fan as I am of Grosjean, my heart sank for Paul Di Resta when the Lotus swept past with the added help of DRS. He drove by far his best race for Force India and I even had him as my predicted third place finisher. Force India has certainly made great strides forward this season and it was a brilliant result nonetheless.
Hamilton had a decent run to fifth too but his race was pretty quiet. Early in the race he was nowhere, slow and off the pace. However moving of the medium tyres transformed his Mercedes W04 and he managed to claw his way back into contention. Shout out also to Fernando Alonso after his DRS issues, the flap actually went over the catch that holds it in place (I think) which meant it could not close, to score points for eighth place. It was a true championís drive.
As was Sebastian Vettel's race win, a 'typical Vettel victory' as I saw someone say on Twitter. He led more or less from start to finish and always looked in control, only a mechanical failure could have stopped him. Some have turned on him since the Malaysia debacle but you can't deny it was an impressive race.
Further down the field Charles Pic was the unsung hero of the race, finishing ahead of Esteban Gutierrez on outright pace and over some way ahead of the Marussia duo. Caterham have found some form and look to have jumped the Banbury based squad, a good showing for them and particularly Pic who raced very well indeed. It begs the question why is Gutierrez so slow? Everyone had high expectations but... well... he has failed to meet them. Did he need more time in the car before being promoted?
So overall it was a thrilling race that I probably did not do justice. There were plenty more talking points but frankly I could be hear for hours sharing my views, but I have exams to revise for and other things to do.
However I thoroughly enjoyed the Bahrain Grand Prix and it was most definitely the best race the country has hosted since it debuted in 2004. The race had previously been described as the dull desert duel, with a lack of overtaking or flair. However the 2013 race was far from it, full of excitement, intrigue, overtakes incident and some brilliant, world class driving.
The only disappointing thing about the race was 1) DRS was probably a bit too powerful, particularly along the pit straight, and 2) the next race is in THREE WEEKS time! How will I cope...
Props to the fantastic (as usual) GP2 field for producing two spectacular races, Fabio Leimer duly won the feature race after dominating in qualifying. Sam Bird won a truly to-the-wire sprint race that saw Felipe Nasr miss out on victory by just 0.08 seconds, the closest finish ever in the series. They will be supporting the F1 paddock in Barcelona, as will the GP3 field who return to kick off their 2013 season. Very exciting prospects indeed.
Author: Jack Leslie
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