F1’s next generation seizes the moment in Bahrain

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While the predictable fallout of another failed attempt at a flawed qualifying system dominated the headlines at the Bahrain Grand Prix, it was also a weekend at which Formula One’s young talents truly flourished.

A storming drive by Pascal Wehrlein and Stoffel Vandoorne’s cameo appearance under the desert lights left little doubt that the future of the sport is in safe hands, so long as the current political malaise in which F1 currently finds itself off the track can be resolved.

In an era in which criticism has been levied at the number of so-called pay drivers that have found their way onto the grid at the expense of genuine talent, it is heartening to see two prodigious youngsters snatching the chance to grab the limelight.

Wehrlein left Sakhir having accomplished what was arguably the finest drive in the history of the Manor team. While his 13th place finish may at first glance look unremarkable, to do so, he dragged what is still the weakest car on the grid beyond what could have been expected of it and beat a Sauber, both Force Indias and teammate Rio Haryanto to the chequered flag.

This followed an astounding display on Saturday when he qualified in 16th place, again counting among his scalps the Saubers, Renaults, Sergio Perez and Haryanto.

The 21-year-old is highly rated by Mercedes, and earned his F1 break by becoming the youngest ever champion of the DTM series last year. While it is still early days, the impact he has made thus far has put him on a par with the late Jules Bianchi in bursting onto the scene with the Manor team.

Such displays in backmarker teams were what brought Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel to the attention of the sport’s big-hitters in recent times, and with Wehrlein having started at a bottom of a ladder that brings with it a potential route to the Mercedes team in future – perhaps via Williams or Force India first – he is doing all the right things to get himself noticed.

For a man who only found out on Thursday – and several thousand miles away in Japan – that he would be making his Grand Prix debut in Bahrain, Vandoorne’s display was a masterclass in speed and maturity.

Making a substitute performance in Formula One is tough enough at the best of times, but when you are filling the shoes of Fernando Alonso and racing against the yardstick that is Jenson Button, all in a car that you have never driven, you are well and truly up against it.

That Vandoorne outqualified Button before notching McLaren’s first point of the season with a fine drive to tenth place proves beyond any doubt that his appearance on the grid should not have been a temporary measure.

That the most dominant champion in GP2 history is being made to settle for a drive in the Super Formula series this season is a travesty given his vast potential, but having announced himself in such style, few will bet against the Belgian being a permanent fixture on the grid in 2017.

Wehrlein and Vandoorne saw precious little of each other during Sunday’s race, but they have already shown enough to suggest that their paths will cross at the sharp end of the grid in years to come.

Stephen D’Albiac

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