The Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel has taken the lead in the Drivers World Championship after winning the Bahrain Grand Prix, while title rival Lewis Hamilton was hit with a costly race penalty.
The race was on from lights out as Vettel overtook Hamilton down into turn one off the start line, setting the scene for an epic race long battle between the two. Driving through the safety car period and the madness of the race in general, Vettel took the lead after an early stop and stayed clear of Hamilton through the final stages when the Mercedes driver launched a desperate final bid to hunt down Vettel. It’s Vettel’s second victory of the season, which now means the Ferrari driver is seven points ahead of Hamilton in the Drivers’ Championship.
“Right from the first lap, I felt the car was there and the Easter hunt was on,” said Vettel after the race. “They [Mercedes] were hiding some eggs but we found them.”
Hamilton had to settle for second in the end behind Vettel, but he did not hate the most straight forward of races. The Mercedes driver has accepted the blame for his race-wrecking penalty that could arguably have cost him the victory as well. The five second time penalty was imposed by the stewards after Hamilton was found guilty of deliberately holding up Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo in the way into the pits. The Mercedes team opted to stack their drivers in the pits when the safety car was brought out to clear up the various strewn cars around the circuit. Notably the Williams of Lance Stroll, who was t-boned by the Toro Rosso or Carlos Sainz down into turn one, a move that saw the Spaniard be handed a three place grid drop for Sochi. As the safety car came out Hamilton seemed to deliberately slowdown in the knowledge that he would have to wait behind Bottas, who had first stop as he was ahead of Hamilton on the track at the time. Despite his best efforts, Hamilton still exited the pits behind Ricciardo.
Mercedes decided to split their drivers strategies in the end at the first round of pit stops, a move that resulted in the team then having to tell Valtteri Bottas to move over on two occasions during the race. These two interventions allowed Hamilton to inherit second, while Bottas had to settle for third after putting the team and Hamilton above himself today.
“We tried to maintain the order and not interfere as it’s an awful call but at a certain stage, you have to decide if you are losing the race or making a call,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff after the race. “We’re three races down and we have always maintained that philosophy of [equal drivers]. I know it’s a very tough call and I don’t want to make it yet.”
The other Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen finished the race fourth, after struggling with his tyres once again, resulting in some serious oversteer in the car. This oversteer upset the Finn, and he failed once again to capitalise on the weekend like his team mate had. While Ricciardo ended up fifth for Red Bull after a lonely race. Both Red Bulls appeared to be in the fight at the front, but eventually fell back due to poor pace compared to the other top teams. Max Verstappen crashed out due to brake failure, leaving Ricciardo on his own for a race. Today was a good example of the island Red bull are on right now. Too good for midfield scraps, but not good enough for scraps with the front end of the grid, they are simply by themselves. And until they get their updates, they’re likely to have more weekends like this.
Felipe Massa finished sixth for Williams today as the best of the midfield finishers. Massa was running as high as fourth after the opening lap, and spent much of the race locked in a battle with former team mate Raikkonen. Eventually though his pace dropped off and he fell back down the field. Though he seemed happy with sixth after the race. Importantly he finished ahead of seventh placed Sergio Perez in Force India. The team are once again locked in a battle with Williams for fourth in constructors, with just a single point separating the two right now. Romain Grosjean was next for Haas, with Nico Hulkenberg in the Renault taking ninth place after a long scrap between the two former team mates. While Esteban Ocon rounded out the points again with his third tenth place finish of the season for Force India.
Only three drivers failed to finish in the points today. They were the Sauber of Pascal Wehrlein in 11th, the Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat in 12th, and finally the Renault of Jolyon Palmer 13th and the final classified finisher.
It really was a case of another day to forget for the McLaren team. A reoccurrence of a MGU-H failure on a Honda engine, the fourth such issue suffered by the team’s two cars over the weekend, meant Stoffel Vandoorne could not even start the race. He had to park up and become a spectator, and it was painful viewing at times. Especially watching team mate Fernando Alonso, who has yet to finish a grand prix this season, being forced to retire before the chequered flag with an engine issue. The result for Sauber with Wehrlien in the race means McLaren will now arrive in Sochi for the Russian Grand Prix in two weeks’ time rock bottom in the Constructors’ Championship.
Overall the race was definitely one of the better ones Bahrain has put on in the last few years. The race had action from start to finish, with the last few laps having you on the edge of your seat. The overtaking up and down the field was great to watch. And despite the team orders taking away a little bit from the spectacle at the front, the race really did have all the elements of a classic duel in the desert. Overtake Motorsport’s Chief W.A.G Alexander Phillips was quick to praise the racing that he saw today. “I thought the race was really good. It was interesting to see that the Ferrari’s have very good race pace. However, they do seem to lack the pace needed for the one lap of qualifying. There was action throughout the field, which shows that overtaking is possible. And that these rules can provide great racing. It’s also shown there’s going to be a big fight for this championship. Ferrari winning in Australia was not just a fluke, there is a genuine championship contending car there.” I’m inclined to agree with Alex. The racing today up and down the field was top rate, and much like China big risk lead to big reward for some drivers. His point about Ferrari is also valid. The team showed today they are not simply one trick ponies, and that they do have the drive to launch a season long fight with the Mercedes team. And while they are down in Qualifying right now, their race pace is arguably better than the Mercedes.
I’ll leave you now with my highlight for the weekend. And it’s worth mentioning that Sunday was also the birthday of Williams Team Founder Sir Frank Williams, who turned 75. Williams made a lovely tribute video to their legendary founder, with many members of the paddock coming together to wish him a very happy birthday. From all of us here at OM too, Happy Birthday Sir Frank!
— WILLIAMS RACING (@WilliamsRacing) April 16, 2017
Bahrain GP race result
1. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari,
2. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes,
3. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes,
4. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari,
5. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull,
6. Felipe Massa, Williams,
7. Sergio Perez, Force India,
8. Romain Grosjean, Haas,
9. Nico Hulkenberg, Renault,
10. Esteban Ocon, Force India,
11. Pascal Wehrlein, Sauber, +1 Lap
12. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, +1 Lap
13. Jolyon Palmer, Renault, +1 Lap
14. Fernando Alonso, McLaren, DNF
15. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, DNF
16. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, DNF
17. Lance Stroll, Williams, DNF
18. Max Verstappen, Red Bull, DNF
19. Kevin Magnussen, Haas, DNF
20. Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren, DNS
Feature Image Credit: Scuderia Ferrari Formula One Team Press Release