Ferrari scuttle potential 1-2 finish, Mercedes close in, Pierre Gasly and Toro Rosso surprise
The second race in the 21-race 2018 Formula 1 season saw more drama throughout the field. When the dust settled on the Bahrain International Circuit, it was Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel who came out on top very closely followed by Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas. Hamilton finished (relatively) further away in third, followed by an elated Pierre Gasly who finished fourth in his Honda-powered Toro Rosso.
While Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari were happy that they continued their winning streak from Australia, a botched pit stop for Kimi Raikkonen ended the team’s dream of a 1-2 finish on the podium and left a mechanic with a broken leg.
Ferrari shows strong pace pre-race
Kimi was showing good pace throughout the weekend, setting the fastest times in the second and third practise sessions, while Vettel reported engine issues and had a sidepod wing fall off too. Mercedes seemed to be off the pace with both Bottas and Hamilton setting times more than half a second off the leader. The Red Bull boys, Max and Daniel, looked set to give Mercedes a hard time in the fight for third and fourth place in qualifying and the first night race of the season. A 5-place grid penalty for Hamilton, courtesy a gearbox change, also meant the Red Bulls had only Bottas to deal with for the initial laps.
The big talking point, however, was the resurgence of Honda, whose engine powered the Toro Rosso driven by Frenchman Pierre Gasly to consistently finish in the top ten during practise. Honda’s previous partners, McLaren, fared worse every session, pointing to the fact that maybe it wasn’t just Honda who were lacking in their two-year-old troubled relationship.
Verstappen was showing a promising pace in qualifying, setting the 4th fastest time before crashing out on Turn 2. The team blamed an unexpected 150PS of extra power for causing the spin and eventual crash, but it meant there was one less fast car for Hamilton to deal with on his fight back up the ranks. Williams continued their poor form from Melbourne, with rookie Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll starting from the 18 and 20th spot on the grid.
A surprising early dropout was Haas’ Romain Grosjean, who couldn’t continue the form he showed at Melbourne and only managed a best starting position of 16. His teammate, Kevin Magnussen, had better luck managing to slot himself into 7th position on the grid.
In Q2, Hamilton showed some surprising pace on the slower yellow-walled ‘Soft’ tyres, setting the second fastest time behind the Ferrari of Vettel. For the first time this weekend, it seemed like the only thing Mercedes could do to keep up with Ferrari was choose the harder tyres! It seems like Mercedes may be struggling to keep their tyre temperatures in check when the ambient temperatures are high, as was the case in Bahrain where the temperatures were over 30-degree celsius.
The mid-field shakeup continues with Toro Rosso showing good promise to be the best of the rest. Renault and Hass are also in the mix, while the traditionally better teams - Williams and Force India - seem to have lost their edge.
Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull were separated by half a second in the top-ten shootout, with Vettel taking pole position over Kimi by just under 1/10th of a second! Bottas found his pace, finishing 3rd, followed by Hamilton in 4th, Ricciardo in 5th and (surprise, surprise!) Pierre Gasly in 6th. The rest of the top ten finishers were, from 7th to 10th - Magnussen, Hulkenberg, Ocon and Sainz.
As the cars lined up for the race, all eyes were on the two red Ferrari’s occupying the first two slots. Bottas, who started the race with the red-walled super soft tyres, was expected to lack the pace while Hamilton and Verstappen, starting from 9th and 12th, were expected to not challenge the Ferraris either.
Vettel had a good start as the lights went out and so did Bottas. Kimi struggled with a slow start and, with his tyres spinning up, he was beaten to the first corner by fellow Finn Bottas splitting the two Ferraris and turning their race plans upside down. Both Hamilton and Verstappen had great starts too and were threatening to catch up with the leaders and play spoilsport.
The first incident of the night came into the fourth corner when rookie Brendon Hartley drove his Toro Rosso into the side of Sergio Perez’s pink Force India car and made him fly sideways into a spin. Hartley’s weekend was not made any better as his accident prompted the stewards to penalise him with a 10-second pit-stop penalty.
If the Australian GP was a disaster for Haas, it was Red Bull who felt the pain in Bahrain. In a move that would be repeated by Marc Marquez in MotoGP mere minutes later, Verstappen dive-bombed into a corner to overtake Hamilton and continued pushing him out of the track. Unlike Rossi, Hamilton held his ground resulting in Max’s rear tyre clipping the Merc’s front wing and subsequently cause a puncture. With more than ¾ of the track to cover with a damaged tyre, the Red Bull had to be retired with a broken differential. In a double whammy, the ever-smiling Aussie, Daniel Ricciardo, was forced to stop his car after a complete electrical blackout. With both the Red Bulls out, the spotlight for the podium fight was back on Ferrari and Mercedes.
But the mid-field battles between Toro Rosso, Renault, Haas and McLaren were fun to watch. There was at least a couple of occasions when the straights saw four cars side-by-side fighting for position! While Brendon Hartley had sabotaged his potential finish in the top ten, Pierre Gasly was driving like a man on a mission. He kept himself ahead of the trio of Alonso, Hulkenberg and Magnussen and looked comfortable enough to hold on to fifth place.
Ferrari took the chance and pitted before Mercedes on laps 19 (Vettel) and 20 (Raikkonen), with what looked like a 2-stop plan. Mercedes responded with a 1-stop plan with Bottas coming in for a set of Medium compound tyres - the hardest available this weekend. Hamilton managed to stretch his stint on his first set of tyres to 26 laps, and was the last of the grid to make their first pit stop.
Mercedes seemed to have found a good pace even though both the cars were technically using the slower tyres as compared to the rest of the grid. Bottas was still sandwiched between Vettel and Raikkonen and the latter was not able to make the progress he would have liked to challenge for a second-place finish.
Ferrari called Raikkonen into the pits on the 36th lap to give him a fresh set of tyres to catch up, and potentially overtake Bottas and Hamilton. But then disaster struck. The mechanics were not able to get the left rear tyre off of Raikkonen’s car but surprisingly, Kimi was given the green light to exit the pits, and he drove over the left leg of a mechanic who suffered fractures to both the main bones on the lower leg. Raikkonen was forced to retire and Ferrari’s dream of a 1-2 finish were shattered.
With Raikkonen no longer breathing down his neck, Bottas had the opportunity to try and reel in Vettel. It seemed like he would be able to do it too, as Vettel was forced to try and complete the race on a set of worn out Soft tyres and maintain his position at the front. Bottas closed the gap to under a second by the second-last lap and it looked like Vettel would lose his crown, but the German kept a cool head and drove defensively to hold off Bottas. A small mistake on the penultimate lap by Bottas lost him a big opportunity to overtake; the resultant gap was too much for the Finn to cover up and Vettel took the chequered flag with a gap of just under 0.7-seconds.
“I came on the radio with 10 laps to go and said ‘I have everything under control…’ That was a lie, I admit. I was nothing under control when they told me the pace of Valtteri at that time. There was no way I could do that. I was doing the maths in the car – 10 laps to go, that pace, he’s going to catch me…,” said Vettel after the race.
The gap between the top three and the rest of the field, headed by Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, was over 56-seconds! Haas had redemption after a poor showing in Australia with Kevin Magnussen finishing 5th and scoring the first points for the team this season. Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg finished 6th, beating the McLarens of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne. The rebranded Ferrari-powered, Alfa Romeo Sauber also scored their first points with Marcus Ericsson finishing 9th. The final point scoring position was taken by Force India’s Esteban Ocon, a slight relief for the previous leaders of the mid-field.
Ferrari was handed a 50,000 Euro (~ Rs 40 lakh) fine after the race for the unsafe release of Kimi Raikkonen’s car which resulted in personnel getting injured. “I don’t know yet, we’ll see. My job is to go when the light changes green. That’s the only thing that we look at. Unfortunately, one of the guys paid a hefty price on whatever the mistake is. So, for sure, not very good. I’m sure there is the best possible people to take care of him and hopefully he gets better,” said Raikkonen when asked about the incident.
With the second win this season, Sebastian Vettel has extended his lead comfortably over arch-rival Lewis Hamilton by 17 points. Kimi Raikkonen slips below McLaren’s Fernando Alonso with his first retirement of the season and will hope for better luck for the remainder of the season. Pierre Gasly is on par with Daniel Ricciardo, who drives for the better funded Red Bull Racing team. Williams remains the only team who has not been able to score a single point this season.
Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari - 50
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes - 33
Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes - 22
Fernando Alonso, McLaren Renault - 16
Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari - 15
Nico Hulkenberg, Renault - 14
Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer - 12
Pierre Gasly, Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda - 12
Kevin Magnussen, Haas Ferrari - 10
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer - 8
Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren Renault - 6
Marcus Ericsson, Sauber Ferrari - 2
Carlos Sainz, Renault - 1
Esteban Ocon, Force India Mercedes - 1
Ferrari will be feeling the pinch with Kimi’s retirement as Mercedes is just 10 points adrift in the constructors championship. McLaren, with consistent finishes in the top-ten twice, see themselves finishing above Red Bull! Williams will have to pick up their game if they want to see themselves not being at the back of the pack for the whole year.
“We didn’t have the pace today to compete with any other cars except ourselves,” said Williams chief technical officer Paddy Lowe. “We have clearly got to go away and look deeply into what has affected our pace, even relative to where we were in Melbourne just two weeks ago."
Ferrari - 65
Mercedes - 55
McLaren Renault - 22
Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer - 20
Renault - 15
Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda - 12
Haas Ferrari - 10
Sauber Ferrari - 2
Force India Mercedes - 1
Williams Mercedes - 0
The next race of the season will be held next week, from April 13-15, at the Shanghai International Circuit. Hamilton will be hoping to return to form here, where he led the race from start to finish in 2017. Max Verstappen will also have fond memories; he overtook nine cars in the first lap of the race last year and finished third overall before earning himself the ‘driver of the day’ tag from fans. Vettel will be looking to better his record from last year. He finished second on the podium in spite of having made a disastrous change of tyres. Stay tuned to ZigWheels for the complete coverage of the Chinese Grand Prix next week.
Source Name : www.zigwheels.com