Vettel Owns Mercedes- Bahrain Grand Prix
In the hours and days after the Australian Grand Prix, many commenters and armchair race strategists said that Ferrari got lucky with the race win. Mercedes blamed a computer glitch for an error in their strategy that gave Vettel the winning edge. Everyone seemed to credit everything and everyone except for Ferrari and Vettel. Fast forward to Bahrain and that “luck” repeated as Vettel would not just bring home the win from pole position, but single-handley topped the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Bottas.
Ferrari started the weekend strong with a lock out of the front row in qualifying for the first time since last year's Hungarian Grand Prix. Whatever hidden magic is under the Ferrari engine cover was working. Hamilton started from 9th place due a gear box change and Bottas started third.
After the raucous start to the race, strategy came into play after the first round of pitstops. Vettel’s initial strategy was a two-stop race in the beginning but once it was clear the Mercedes were going to one-stop, Vettel had to push his soft tires into the great unknown.
Raiikkonen took a second stop as he stayed on the two-stop strategy, but disaster struck as his car was cleared to exit the pit stall before the right rear tire was secured, leading to a mechanic being struck by the Ferrari as it exited.
Vettel’s soft tires would have do 39 laps, 30% over the recommended distance. In the closing 10 laps of the race, Vettel taught a master-class in car control and calmness as he managed a charging Bottas, who at several points in the last laps was within a second of Vettel. The race craft of the 4 time champion took him home to claim his 39th career win. He would win by the closest ever margin at the Bahrain circuit, .6 seconds.
Break a Leg: Ouch! During Kimi’s pitstop the team fumbled the stop and failed to remove the rear left tire and in the chaos the car was allowed to release from the pit box. In the process Ferrari mechanic Francesco Cigarini was struck by the car and suffered a leg fracture of both his Tibia and Fibia.
Red Bull Gives You...: Jos Verstappen looks like a guy getting high on his own supply. Slow down on the Red Bulls bruh. Jos made another dive bomb start and made contact with Hamilton leading to a puncture on the Red Bull. The puncture damaged the wheel rim and suspension beyond repair. The radio response from Hamilton was classic, “d******d.” Not to be outdone in disaster, poor Danny Ric had to bow out with a power failure.
Baby Bulls and Disappointments: The Toro Rosso, with driver Pierre Gasly behind the wheel, pulled off a fourth place finish, the best position by a Honda powered car since 2008. It wasn’t just a major points hall by Toro Rosso-Honda but a gut punch to McLaren, who parted ways with Honda after a disastrous partnership. McLaren-Renault driver Fernando Alonso managed a 7th place finish which was clearly not good enough, as Mclaren held an emergency post-race meeting to determine why they are slower than originally predicted. At this point, with a new engine supplier perhaps McLaren should look from within for the problem, rather than the engine. Renault F1, the Renault factory team, finished a place ahead of McLaren with a 6th place finish by Nico Hülkenberg.
Finally- After a relatively boring race in Austria, Bahrain bought us entertainment that we hope was just a preview of the rest of the season. According to the Sky Sports team after the race, the first few laps saw over 40 overtakes. Even when the front runners were….well...running up front, the mid-pack teams were in a near constant dog fights for position. The last ten laps…oh yeah, those last ten laps were nail-biting. It was entirely unclear even on the final corner whether Vettel could win. Bottas on fresher tires, made a hard charge. It was everything F1 could and should be.