Relief – One word that can be used to describe how the teams and drivers are feeling now the Grand Prix weekend in Bahrain is over. All the teams will now be focused on the in-season test at Mugello early next month ahead of the European season which starts in Spain.
I have been following Formula One for over a decade and my passion and love for the sport has continued to grow every year. But I was one of those who thought Formula One should not have gone to Bahrain. What happened last Wednesday will no doubt have affected members of the Force India team and one can totally understand why two of the team members went home. At the end of the day safety is more important than sport.
I don’t think Formula One covered itself in glory by going to Bahrain when you consider the fact that there has been a constant civil unrest over major political issues and not to forget civilians getting killed. But that’s just my view. In such circumstances sport comes second every time.
On the track, however, we were treated to yet another entertaining Grand Prix and Sebastian Vettel claimed his and Red Bull’s first win of 2012. Considering how dull the previous Bahrain Grand Prix’s have been, this years race had drama from start to finish.
Four races and four different winners – Hopefully a sign of things to come for the remainder of the season.
Vettel is Back
The Grand Prix weekend in Bahrain proved that the reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel is back. The German drove beautifully in the race and was able to hold off the challenge of both Lotus drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean.
For sure Vettel was made to work hard for his first victory of the 2012 season but winning in Bahrain was just what the doctor ordered. Red Bull may not have won any of the opening three races but they were not far away from McLaren and were still able to pick up strong results.
Vettel was also able to put the car in pole position for the first time this season with a stunning lap. Pole position and a race win – A great weekend for Vettel. But everyone at Red Bull will know there is a long way to go and there is no room for complacency.
For the fourth consecutive race, Mark Webber finished fourth. It has been an unspectacular but solid start to the season for the Aussie and at least he is taking the fight to his team-mate which is what we want to see.
Although it is early days and Webber is only five points behind Vettel in the Drivers Standings, I personally feel that Webber can be happy with the start he has made to the season. Though, I’m sure that he will be looking to turn his fourth place finishes into race wins and podiums for the duration of 2012.
Excellent Show from Lotus
The team of the weekend, undoubtedly, was Lotus. Kimi Raikkonen might not have been able to get past Vettel for the race win but finishing second with Romain Grosjean coming home in third was a fantastic result for the team.
Not for the first time this season, Raikkonen was able to scythe his way through the field. After qualifying 11th, Kimi pulled off some decent overtaking moves and proved he still has what it takes to challenge the big boys.
It is great to see Raikkonen back in the sport and he has already shown this season that he has the pedigree and determination to do well on his return to Formula One. The race pace of the Lotus car in Bahrain was staggering and I was shell-shocked by how well Raikkonen and Grosjean performed.
Lotus have momentum and they will be looking to be more consistent this year than they were last season. After making a flying start to 2011, the team struggled in the second half of the season and were just about able to hold off Force India for fifth place in the Constructors.
I would like to congratulate Romain Grosjean on his first ever podium in Formula One. A thoroughly deserved and a strong result. The Frenchman has performed well in all the qualifying sessions this year and not to forget that he qualified third in Australia. In the opening three races he was not able to convert his strong qualifying performances into big points finishes. Romain made yet another flying start on Sunday and like his team-mate he was also able to pull off some fine moves. Grosjean has certainly demonstrated that he will be no pushover for Kimi.
Difficulties for McLaren and Ferrari
Both McLaren and Ferrari endured difficult weekends. I was surprised with how McLaren performed in the race and was expecting better from them. Every team will have an off weekend and you are hoping that the weekend in Bahrain was just a one off for McLaren.
It was Jenson Button in China who had problems in the pit lane and this time round it was Lewis Hamilton who had the issues in the pits. The Woking-based team need to sort these problems out as the earliest.
If Lewis had not encountered any problems in the pits, perhaps the Brit could have gone on to challenge for a podium. Hamilton had a pretty eventful race and was not given a penalty for his overtake on Nico Rosberg. What happened in the pits ruined Lewis’s chances of scoring big points. But there are times where you have to take the rough with the smooth.
Jenson will want to forget the Bahrain weekend and purely focus on the next Grand Prix in Spain. The 2009 World Champion made a poor start to the race and was not able to recover from that start. Button retired from the race on the penalutimate lap with a broken exhaust.
McLaren will bounce back and there are still positives the team can take from the way they have started 2012. I do expect McLaren to be near the top of the pecking order when it comes to the Spanish Grand Prix and challenging Red Bull for the win.
A team like Ferrari should be in the hunt for race wins on a regular basis. The car is simply not good enough despite Fernando Alonso winning in Malaysia. Alonso and Felipe Massa finished seventh and ninth in Bahrain and that result reflects where the car is at the moment.
The Maranello team have promised upgrades for the next Grand Prix and it will be interesting to see where Ferrari are come the end of the weekend in Spain. Only time will tell whether the upgrades will have an impact.
It was not quite a stellar weekend for Mercedes and Nico Rosberg. Nonetheless Rosberg still picked up some decent points coming home in fifth whilst Michael Schumacher made his way through the field from 22nd to finish tenth. Like McLaren, I would expect Mercedes to have a stronger weekend next time round at the next Grand Prix.
The race might not have gone to plan for Caterham but well done to Heikki Kovalainen for making it into Q2 on Saturday. The Finn posted the 17th quickest time in Q1 which meant Schumacher was the big name to leave the first qualifying session. Kovalainen started the race in 16th due to Pastor Maldonado taking a five place drop.
Finally I want to focus on Force India. Last Wednesday was a difficult day for the team and I can totally understand why two of the Force India mechanics went home. Four team members were caught in the middle of clashes between protestors and riot police. Who wouldn’t be affected by what happened?
I can also understand why the team wanted to leave early on Friday and miss the Second Free Practice session. It was a difficult weekend for Force India off the track but at least they had something to cheer about at the end of the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Paul di Resta made his two stop strategy work and came home in a superb sixth place. The Scotsman was able to hold off Fernando Alonso for sixth to claim eight crucial points. Nico Hulkenburg finished 12th.
Force India will no doubt be targeting a major step forward by introducing an upgrade package for the Mugello tests. I’m sure Paul and Nico would be hoping that these upgrades can make a difference for them to get closer to the likes of Mercedes and Lotus. But the first aim should be to get the better of both Williams and Sauber.
Published with permission from Mannyi's Blog.