Sebastian Vettel Wins Eventful Bahrain Grand Prix

April 10 2018

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 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.

Qualification showdown

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.

Race Results

Top Ten
Sebastian Vettel
Valtteri Bottas
Lewis Hamilton
Pierre Gasly
Kevin Magnussen
Nico Hulkenberg
Fernando Alonso
Stoffel Vandoorne
Marcus Ericsson
Esteban Ocon

Kimi Raikkonen
Max Verstappen
Daniel Ricciardo

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.

Driver Standings

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

Constructors Championship

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.

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