Well, well, well. I thought the Netflix F1 series was great, and I certainly wasn’t expecting the F1 season to rival it in that area, especially after Mercedes’ crushing domination in the Australian opener. Happily, I was wrong- you couldn’t have scripted the Bahrain Grand Prix much better had you tried.
Firstly, as most people hoped, the Scuderia found their elusive testing form and were setting the pace from the get go. The Mercedes cars never really got close- even in Q3, when they usually turn it up and Hamilton digs deep, destroying the hopes of other teams and their fans.
The gap between the hugely experienced Sebastian Vettel and the highly rated newbie Charles Leclerc has, in the main, been miniscule since the red machines hit the track for testing earlier this year. Last weekend, ’twas more of the same. This time though, the rookie snatched pole from his team leader and even though he was beaten away from the line and had a scrappy opening lap, briefly being displaced by Bottas, got his head down and quickly fought back to take the lead. A leaked Ferrari radio message showed him being to told to hold station for two laps, before being given the ok to attack Vettel. One now wonders were those two laps Vettel’s last chance to hold onto his number one status at the Italian team. Once in front, Leclerc eased away and was, by all accounts, heading to a dominant victory, as if he was borne to it. Then, as we all know, the radio crackled into life with those words “Something is wrong with the engine……”
Sometimes, it is just not your day. Today it was not ours but I'm so proud of my team. They gave me an amazing car all week-end long and we'll come back stronger, I'm sure 👊
📸: @motorsportpics1 pic.twitter.com/tlNAq7BHxt
— Charles Leclerc (@Charles_Leclerc) March 31, 2019
Ferrari subsequently said : “Following the race, the Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow technicians and engineers traced the fault on the car to a short circuit within an injection system control unit. This type of problem had never been seen before on the component in question.” One shudders to think what happened to the poor chap who fitted it!
In his wake, Hamilton began to charge and managed to close early leader Vettel down. As Hamilton scrambled past, Vettel tried to fight back but immediately an odd looking spin made his fans- and team groan. Social media erupted with many saying it the pressure had got to him again, he is not as good as he is supposed to be etc. He immediately took the blame, but it was an odd looking spin, almost as if something broke, and for a four time F1 champion to not even apply opposite lock was decidedly odd. . Either way, that must have been an absolute nightmare for him. It’s a driver’s worst scenario for a younger, less experienced team mate to be quicker, but to subsequently spin out while battling your (heretofore) biggest rival would have been absolutely gutting.
So another win for Hamilton and another disappointment for the Scuderia, but the World Champion is fully aware that he potentially has a massive fight on his hands this year. “I don’t know why Ferrari picked up masses of pace here. It is difficult to say how much of a mountain we have to climb. Ferrari are always good here though, and our car was hard work.”
Hamilton is not generally a fan of testing but it’s telling that decided to hang around and take part in the test on the Tuesday following the race.
Other things of note. Carlos Sainz, absolutely flying in the McLaren, attacked Verstappen, but predictably Verstappen wasn’t having any of it, came back at him, braked later and they made contact. Most said it was typcial Max, as if that justified it- but unfortunately Sainz got a puncture, and a great drive came to nothing. Isn’t it great to see a McLaren battling with a Red Bull though, after all the trauma the team have had over the last number of years? As for Lando Norris- well he continues to impress and brought the other McLaren home in an excellent sixth place, matching what Jenson Button did in his second Grand Prix!
Yes! Sixth. SIXTH! Really happy. First points for me but the team deserves it all, everyone out here and everyone back at the factory have put in a tonne of hard work. The car has potential and it’s good to get some coins in the kitty 🥛 pic.twitter.com/ujR7MYo7LK
— Lando Norris (@LandoNorris) April 1, 2019
As for Verstappen, he didn’t seem to happy after the race, but at least nobody got shoved round this time” Upon being asked why he was so far back from the Ferraris and Mercedes in terms of pace, he said “It was not really enjoyable, sliding around a bit.” And replying to “What are you going to have to change” :”I am not an engineer. I do my best to drive the car. We will try try do better in China.”
On lap 39, the two Renaults touched- only slightly, but still every team’s nightmare. It wasn’t to get a whole lot better either. Hulkenburg is massively rated for the past number of years, Ricciardo is often mentioned as being one of the best in the business. Both are unquestionably quick but I suspect one of those reputations will suffer by the end of the 2019 season. In the event, Hulkenburg appeared to leave plenty of room for Danny Ric but they still touched. Ultimately, it didn’t matter as for some freaky reason, both cars, whilst heading for a double points finish, ground to a halt at pretty much the exact same time- scrambling the safety car and saving the limping Leclerc from losing the final podium place to Verstappen. That Renault inter team rivalry though, is one of the many reasons we should be in for a classic F1 season this year!
So plump up your pillows, its the Chinese Grand Prix this weekend! Patrick Head is back with Williams- but it’s going to take a lot to get the famous team anywhere close to the pace. Hamilton says Ferrari have incredible straightline pace. They also have Leclerc. Can Vettel fight back, or is this the start of the end for the four time World Champion?
Tune in this weekend and find out!