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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Driver Ratings: Bahrain Grand Prix

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Credit: Formula1.com

Under the lights of Bahrain, we were treated to a fine spectacle as plenty of dicing in the midfield more than compensated for a rather sedate affair up front. But how did the drivers fare in the third night race at Sakhir?

44) Lewis Hamilton (6/10) – Lost the initiative to teammate Rosberg at the start. Was not at fault for the first lap collision with Bottas but would have been out of harms way with a quicker getaway. Decent recovery to third.

6) Nico Rosberg (8/10) – Flawless drive to a fifth straight win. Beat Hamilton off the line and never looked back as his rivals hit trouble to record a convincing win.

5) Sebastian Vettel (6/10) – A day of wretched misfortune for Vettel, who didn’t even make it to the start after the German’s engine blew on the formation lap, robbing him of the chance to challenge for victory.

7) Kimi Raikkonen (7/10) – A strong drive for Raikkonen who bounced back strongly from his non-finish in Australia to record a deserved second place. Consistent speed meant he was never under huge threat from Hamilton.

77) Valtteri Bottas (5/10) – The Finn ruined his race with a lunge at Hamilton that earned him a drive-through penalty. Battled back to ninth place, but could and should have been so much better.

19) Felipe Massa (6/10) – That the other Williams of Massa finished eighth was through little fault of the Brazilian, who was hamstrung by a poor decision from his team to run two stints on the medium tyres.

3) Daniel Ricciardo (7/10) – An entertaining race from the Australian as he found himself involved in good battles throughout the race. The speed of the front three meant fourth was the best he could have hoped for.

26) Daniil Kvyat (7/10) – The Russian recovered well from a dismal qualifying performance to take seventh from Massa on the final lap, with some exciting battles as he recovered through the field. Quickly needs to improve his speed on Saturdays.

11) Sergio Perez (5/10) – A day to forget for Perez, who made contact with Carlos Sainz Jr’s Toro Rosso on lap two and was forced to pit for a new front wing. Wound up a disappointing 16th.

27) Nico Hulkenberg (5/10) – Hulkenberg’s race proved as inauspicious as Perez’s, with the German also forced to change his nose after first lap contact, condemning him to 15th place.

20) Kevin Magnussen (6/10) – A respectable job from the Dane, who finished just one place outside the points after a pit lane start. A good effort in a Renault that was clearly lacking in speed.

30) Jolyon Palmer (5/10) – After an action-packed debut in Melbourne, it was back down to earth with a bump for Palmer, who pulled in and retired from the race at the end of the formation lap with technical troubles.

33) Max Verstappen (7/10) – After flattering to deceive in Australia, Verstappen bounced back in Sakhir with a strong drive to sixth, Toro Rosso’s first ever points finish in Bahrain.

55) Carlos Sainz Jr (5/10) – A thoroughly forgettable time under the lights for the Spanish driver, who suffered a puncture in a collision with Perez early on and endured a botched pit stop before he retired from the race.

12) Felipe Nasr (5/10) – Sauber have clearly dropped back in performance over the winter and it looks like the Brazilian has suffered the same fate. An almost anonymous drive to 14th place.

9) Marcus Ericsson (6/10) – The Swedish driver looks to have gained the upper hand on teammate Nasr, with 12th place the best he could have achieved in what is clearly a dog of a car.

47) Stoffel Vandoorne (8/10)*** – Having only found out he would be making his Grand Prix debut on Thursday, the Belgian hotshot announced himself to Formula One in style with a mightily impressive drive to the final points finish in tenth, having outqualified world champion teammate Button the day before.

22) Jenson Button (5/10) – A weekend to cause nightmares for Button, with his outqualification by Vandoorne and early power unit failure sure to result in questions about his McLaren future beyond the end of this season.

93) Pascal Wehrlein (8/10)** – Another eye-catching performance from the German youngster, who outperformed his Manor all weekend with a fine drive to 13th after a superb qualifying display.

88) Rio Haryanto (6/10) – Although overshadowed by the mercurial Wehrlein, the Indonesian drove a solid, clean race on his way to a first Formula One finish.

8) Romain Grosjean (9/10)* – Driver of the Day. The Frenchman’s move to Haas looks even more inspired now after an astonishing drive which bettered his fairytale sixth place finish in Melbourne.

21) Esteban Gutierrez (6/10) – An encouraging performance by the second Haas driver, who would surely have scored his first points since 2013 had car failure not ended his race after just ten laps.

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Credit: Clive Mason/Getty Images

These scores will be added up throughout the season and will be used to calculate both mid-season and end of season driver rankings. To take into account individual performances, the driver of the day will receive an additional three points, the second best driver two points and the third best driver one bonus point. These are signifed by the number of asterisks next to their names.

After the Bahrain Grand Prix, my top five drivers of the season so far are as follows:
1) Romain Grosjean (Haas-Ferrari) – 23 points
2) Pascal Wehrlein (Manor-Mercedes) – 17 points
3) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 16 points
=4) Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull-Tag Heuer) – 14 points
=4) Jolyon Palmer (Renault) – 14 points
=4) Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) – 14 points

Stephen D’Albiac

 

Performance Podium: Bahrain

The Bahrain Grand Prix turned out to be a race in which some rather unexpected names stood out, making this the Performance Podium of the ‘unusual suspects’.

But in which order did the stars of Sakhir end up in performance terms? Keep reading, and you’ll find the answer.

1) Sergio Perez

Sergio Perez answered his critics in fine fashion in Bahrain with a highly impressive drive to sixth place.

The McLaren driver had been criticised for not defending hard enough when battling with other cars in China, but Perez came back brilliantly in Bahrain, getting stuck into fights with other drivers throughout the race, most notably with teammate Jenson Button, with whom the Mexican tussled in a thrilling duel that lasted many laps.

Perez got the better of his McLaren sparring partner late on in the race, before passing Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber in the closing laps and also demonstrating his renowned tyre management by getting to the end on three stops, in a race where Button was forced to make four visits to the pit lane.

The challenge now is for Perez to continue to produce drives of this nature, and if he manages to do so, he will more than begin to repay the faith McLaren showed in signing him to replace Lewis Hamilton.

2) Romain Grosjean

Romain Grosjean was another man slightly under the cosh before this weekend. The Frenchman hadn’t driven particularly badly, but had failed to show the speed he had often demonstrated in 2012.

It was perhaps apt, then, that Grosjean produced by far his best performance of the season so far in Bahrain, the scene of his maiden Formula One podium last year, making best use of a three-stop strategy to take third place.

Having spent the first part of the race mired in a battle with the McLarens, Grosjean came alive in the second half, using his fresher medium tyres at the end to pass Paul di Resta in the closing stages and claim his first podium finish since Hungary last year.

Grosjean has managed to keep his nose clean so far this season, and if he can build on the speed he found this weekend, then the Frenchman could well become a regular podium challenger throughout the year.

3) Paul di Resta

Paul di Resta made best use of an extremely quick Force India to match his career best finish of fourth in Bahrain.

di Resta moved up to fourth on the opening lap, and when Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg began to drop back, for a time was running in an incredible second place on merit.

The Scot lost out to Kimi Raikkonen on lap 34, but then ran solidly in third place, and looked set for a maiden F1 podium before Romain Grosjean’s charge bumped him down to fourth in the closing stages.

Despite missing out on the podium, di Resta will be delighted with his weekend’s work, and with Force India fighting it out at the front on merit so far this season, a top three finish may not be too far away.

HM) Sebastian Vettel

It would be hard not to find a place in this Performance Podium for Sebastian Vettel, who even by his standards produced a storming drive in Bahrain.

A stunning overtake on Fernando Alonso on the first lap put him second, before his swift pass on Nico Rosberg gave him an early lead which allowed him to streak clear at the front.

From that point Vettel never looked like being beaten, and comfortably drove out the rest of the race to take his second win of the season and cement his place at the top of the drivers standings.

HM) Fernando Alonso

It’s a testament to Fernando Alonso’s driving ability that he recovered from two DRS failures to secure eighth, and a good haul of points from today’s Grand Prix.

Two unscheduled stops in the early part of the race, put him on a compromised pit strategy, and with no DRS to make his way through the field, he was forced to make up lost ground with a significant speed disadvantage.

Despite the lack of DRS making him defenceless against Sergio Perez in the closing stages, Alonso will be happy to have salvaged some points from this race and minimise the ground lost in the title battle ahead of F1’s return to Europe.

2013 Performance Podium Rankings
1) Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) – 13pts
2) Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus-Renault) – 10pts
2) Mark Webber (Red Bull-Renault) – 10pts
2) Sergio Perez (McLaren-Mercedes) – 10pts
5) Adrian Sutil (Force India-Mercedes) – 5pts
5) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) – 5pts
5) Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso-Ferrari) – 5pts
5) Romain Grosjean (Lotus-Renault) – 5pts
9) Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes) – 2pts
9) Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 2pts
9) Paul di Resta (Force India-Mercedes) – 2pts
12) Jules Bianchi (Marussia-Cosworth) – 2pts
13) Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull-Renault) – 1pt

The Performance Podium rankings are calculated depending on where each driver places in each race. 1st place receives 10 points, 2nd place = 5pts, 3rd place = 2pts and an Honourable Mention = 1pt

Stephen D’Albiac

Rampant Vettel takes dominant win in Bahrain

Sebastian Vettel cruised to his second win of the season as he romped to victory in the Bahrain Grand Prix.

After losing second to Fernando Alonso at the start, Vettel produced a stunning overtaking manouevre to reclaim second at turn five on the opening lap, before passing polesitter Nico Rosberg on lap three to take a lead he never looked like losing.

Kimi Raikkonen came second after using a two-stop strategy to come through the field, while his Lotus teammate Romain Grosjean took his first podium of the season by finishing third, passing the Force India of Paul di Resta in the closing stages of the race.

di Resta’s fourth place underlined the improvement Force India have made over the winter, whilst Lewis Hamilton, the hugely impressive Sergio Perez, Mark Webber and the luckless Alonso, who had to pit twice in the opening laps after his DRS got stuck open, rounded out the top eight.

Poleman Rosberg and Jenson Button completed the points, with both struggling to preserve their tyres throughout the race and the pair had to make four stops to get to the end.

Everyone got away cleanly at the start, with Rosberg making it to the first corner from pole position, ahead of the dicing Alonso and Vettel.

Alonso made it out of turn three in second place, but Vettel then used his KERS to great effect on the exit of the fourth corner to blast up the inside of the Ferrari and reclaim his starting position in brilliant fashion.

Now into second place, Vettel clearly had more pace than the Mercedes of Rosberg, and having spent the whole of the second lap threatening a pass, pulled off a move at turn six on lap three to move into the lead.

Alonso then waited his turn behind the Mercedes, and with the help of the DRS made his move on Rosberg to take second at the start of lap five.

However, in passing the Mercedes the Ferrari’s DRS had failed, and the flap on the rear wing of Alonso’s car jammed open, contravening FIA regulations and forcing him to pit on lap seven to get it fixed.

That pitstop dropped the Spaniard way down the order, and instead of hunting down race leader Vettel, he was now staring at the gearbox of Jules Bianchi’s Marussia. He used the DRS to pass the Frenchman into turn 11, but as he did so the Ferrari’s flap stuck open again, forcing a second visit to the pits in as many laps.

With the use of DRS not an option for the remainder of the race, Alonso was forced to make his way through the field without the use of his main overtaking aid, but creditably fought back into the points in the closing stages. He passed Perez to take seventh place, but with no way of using his rear wing to make inroads into the scrapping Webber and Hamilton ahead of him, he became easy prey for the McLaren in the closing laps and the Mexican retook the place to leave Alonso in a still very respectable eighth.

Perez was one of the standout performers of the race. Having received plenty of criticism over his racecraft since his move to McLaren, he got himself into some cracking battles for position throughout the race, most notably with teammate Button in the second and third stints. The pair made contact on more than one occasion as they fought wheel-to-wheel, and the Mexican got the better of his more experienced teammate, managing to complete the race on one less pit stop.

A fine afternoon for Perez was completed on the final lap when he passed the Red Bull of Webber to take sixth place.

Hamilton was another driver that fought through in the closing stages. The Englishman had endured a subdued afternoon up until the final round of stops and looked set for a place in the lower reaches of the points, but fought through in the closing stages to pass Perez and then Webber right at the end after a thrilling battle that lasted several laps.

By now Vettel and Raikkonen were safely out front, and the big question was as to whether di Resta would be able to claim a place on the podium ahead of Grosjean, who had been forced to visit the pits on three occasions throughout the race.

Having driven a storming race, undoubtedly the finest of his F1 career, it looked as though di Resta was set for his first ever podium finish, but the Lotus of Grosjean made a late charge on the medium tyres and with just five laps remaining, took the place from the Force India on the pit straight to take third place and ensure an exact repeat of the podium standings from last year’s race.

But there was no stopping the dominant Red Bull of Vettel, who comfortably drove his car home to take his second win of the season.

He now leads the world championship on 77 points, ahead of Raikkonen with 67, whilst Hamilton lies third with 50, three clear of Alonso in fourth place.

Classification
1) Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault – 1:36:00.498 secs
2) Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Lotus-Renault – +9.111 secs
3) Romain Grosjean (Fra) Lotus-Renault – +19.507 secs
4) Paul Di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes – +21.727 secs
5) Lewis Hamilton (GB) Mercedes – +35.230 secs
6) Sergio Perez (Mex) McLaren-Mercedes – +35.998 secs
7) Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault – +37.244 secs
8) Fernando Alonso (Esp) Ferrari – +37.574 secs
9) Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes – +41.126 secs
10) Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes – +46.631 secs
11) Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Renault – +1:06.450 secs
12) Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Sauber-Ferrari – +1:12.933 secs
13) Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes – +1:16.719 secs
14) Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Williams-Renault – +1:21.511 secs
15) Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari – +1:26.364 secs
16) Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – +1 lap
17) Charles Pic (Fra) Caterham-Renault – + 1 lap
18) Esteban Gutierrez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari – + 1 lap
19) Jules Bianchi (Fra) Marussia-Cosworth – + 1 lap
20) Max Chilton (GB) Marussia-Cosworth – + 1 lap
21) Giedo van der Garde (Ned) Caterham-Renault – + 2 laps

Not classified
22) Jean-Eric Vergne (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari – 41 laps

Stephen D’Albiac

Bahrain Grand Prix Preview

This weekend will see the ninth running of the Bahrain Grand Prix, a race that made history in 2004 when it became the first Formula One race to be staged in the Middle East, but also one that has attracted much controversy over the last few years.

Without wanting to detract too much from the fact we have a race on this weekend, there are clearly a lot of people (both in Bahrain and around the world) that do not think this Grand Prix should go ahead for political reasons.

However, the race will go ahead as normal and the fact that there has been no further deterioration in the political situation in the Gulf state since last year’s event, which attracted just as much criticism, means that anyone lobbying for the Grand Prix’s cancellation this time around was as likely to be successful as a Jacques Villeneuve comeback bid.

With that little titbit about Bahraini politics out of the way, let’s move onto the race. And it promises to be yet another exciting one after the three crackers we’ve had to start off the season. Lotus, Red Bull and Ferrari have all taken turns at the front in the first three races, and with Messrs Raikkonen, Vettel and Alonso all tasting victory so far we are almost halfway to a repeat of the electric start to last year’s championship, when seven different drivers won the first seven Grands Prix.

However, with those top three teams looking more likely than anyone to take the victory this weekend, and those three teams all having established lead drivers, it’s quite likely we’ll be seeing that little run come to a crashing halt on Sunday.

The big talking point last time out was the tyres, particularly the durability (or lack of) of the softer compound. With cars not being able to get more than five or six laps out of it in Shanghai, Pirelli have taken the last-minute decision to bring the medium and hard tyres to Sakhir, rather than the soft and medium rubber.

Whether it’s a kneejerk reaction or not, or whether teams like Red Bull have coerced them into the unexpected change of heart is not yet known, but it’s definitely something that will delight a large section of the paddock who have become fed up with using tyres that don’t last.

Will that decision affect the race? If anything, it’s Red Bull that will benefit the most from it. The team have struggled to make their tyres last as long as the Lotus and Ferrari on the longer runs so far this season, meaning they have been unable to unleash the full potential of their car. Therefore, compounds that last longer should help them out a bit in this respect and help them keep up.

However, should these harder compounds have the effect of pushing the race into a borderline two or three stop race, it could be the Lotus, the best car on its tyres so far, that benefits from being able to run one less stop than its rivals and gains the most from it.

All that, and much more, means we are set for a fascinating race on Sunday, and if the opening gambit of this season is anything to go by, we’re in for a treat in Bahrain this weekend.

The Circuit

Designed by (you guessed it) Hermann Tilke and opened for business in 2004, the Bahrain International Circuit was one of the earlier tracks to be brought to the F1 calendar by the sport’s resident architect.

With the exception of 2010, when what can only be described as the most boring section of track in the history of the F1 world championship was added to the circuit (and wisely removed just as swiftly), the race has been held on the original 3.3-mile layout.

The track features a mixture of long straights and hairpins, meaning those with good traction and rear end grip should go well here. There are a couple of fast, sweeping bends that provide a good test of a car’s aerodynamics, but overall this is a track that plays into the hands of those with good mechanical grip.

With several first and second gear corners the circuit is one of the harder ones on the calendar for braking, so its vital for the drivers not to get too trigger-happy with the left foot, or that could become a major concern later in the race if the brakes become too hot and the chances of a failure (never a pleasant experience at 200mph) increase.

Now instead of talking through each part of the Sakhir circuit one-by-one (which isn’t the most exciting thing that’s ever been done), I’ve gone for something different this weekend. So, courtesy of Marussia reserve driver Rodolfo Gonzalez, here’s an onboard lap of the Sakhir circuit from practice earlier today.

Track Facts
Location: Sakhir, Bahrain
First Race: 2004
Track Length: 3.363 miles/5.412km
Laps: 57
2012 Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull-Renault)
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) – 1:30.252 (2004)

Past Winners
2012: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull-Renault)
2011: Cancelled
2010: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
2009: Jenson Button (Brawn-Mercedes)
2008: Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
2007: Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
2006: Fernando Alonso (Renault)
2005: Fernando Alonso (Renault)
2004: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)

Stephen D’Albiac