Bahrain Grand Prix: Perez on Podium

Lewis Hamilton took the top step of the podium, but only just from team mate Nico Rosberg in what was easily the most thrilling Grand Prix of the season. Though the celebrations came from a bit further down pit from the Force India garage as Sergio Perez climbed to third place after a spectacular race from the Mexican. From lights out Hamilton had the lead, though had to work hard to defend his position from an eager Rosberg. Massa undoubtedly had the best start, making up four places before the entry into turn 1 to challenge Rosberg for second. Further back on the grid, Magnussen and Raikkonen made contact, as well as Bottas and Vergne.

Early on it the race, it became apparent that Mercedes intended to split their drivers strategies, with Rosberg going for a longer stint on the soft tyres. Unusually though, the split made no difference to either cars pace, despite Hamilton complaining of “no power” immediately before setting fastest lap… Yes Lewis, your car is obviously very slow. Hamilton went on to set more fastest laps, and was steadily increasing his lead over the rest of the field until the appearance of the safety car brought the grid back together. From this point, the battle between the Mercedes cars really got underway. Both Hamilton and Rosberg were instructed over team radio to bring the cars home safely, which was interpreted by both drivers as “lets race each other wheel-to-wheel”. The battle that ensued was some of the most thrilling and skilled driving I’ve seen. Rosberg would briefly take the lead, sneaking through the inside of a turn, before Hamilton would regain his position in the next corner. In the end, it was Hamilton who crossed the line first, so Rosberg was forced to settle for second, for now at least.

Sergio Perez had a rocky start off the grid, suffering from a major front left lock up into turn 1, luckily the Force India emerged unscathed and went on to deliver one of his best Formula 1 performances to date. The Mexican engaged in several battles for position, first with Massa in the early stages of the race, then Alonso following his first pit stop, and finally his own team mate. In previous races, an overtaking attempt from Perez would most likely have ended in contact. In Bahrain Perez was focussed, finally showing teams the drive he is capable of. Though the limelight shone mostly for Perez, Hulkenberg delivered a good performance making up six positions before the first round of pit stops. To the German’s advantage, the Force India’s soft tyres held their grip for a slightly longer first stint, putting the VJM07 on a strong footing for the rest of the race. Hulkenberg’s most notable battle for position came against Perez, who held his ground forcing Hulkenberg off the track at turn 9. Eventually the two were split by a Red Bull for Perez to finish on the podium in P3, and Hulkenberg in P5.

Third time was the charm for Ricciardo to finally pick up some (much deserved) points for the 2014 season. After qualifying P3, the grid penalty from Malaysia saw him start from P13. The Red Bull driver more than rose to the challenge, putting in an impressive first stint on the soft tyres, making up several positions before a late first pit stop for the medium compound tyres. Ricciardo continued to make his way back through the field, taking his time behind Raikkonen before making the move for P7 stick at turn 9 on lap 24. When he caught the back of his team mate, the order came over the radio for Vettel to move aside for (the faster) Ricciardo, Vettel obliged, and The Australian would eventually finish P4. Sebastian Vettel had a less thrilling race, suffering from DRS issues in the early stages of the race. Despite this, Vettel managed to match his team mate for pace in the later stages. In the final stint of the race, Vettel had caught up to Ricciardo (with the assistance of the safety car), but was unable to make it passed his team mate, who then passed Hulkenberg, so the German settled for P6.

After weeks of waiting, it finally happened, the Williams cars delivered what the FW36 is capable of, though admittedly both drivers lost steam in the final stint. Felipe Massa’s start was incredible, moving from P7 to P3 before the rest of the grid had got going. Initial thoughts were that he may have jumped the start, but review showed that he just had the perfect launch. As the race progressed, Massa engaged in a battle for P3 with Perez, though he later fell back down the order during pit stops. Bottas had more of a quiet race, falling back through the field after making contact with Vergne. The appearance of the safety car was most unfortunate for Williams as it took away their advantage from their tyre strategy, so Massa’s P7 and Bottas’ P8 are somewhat out of place.

Ferrari were less than impressive during the race, with neither Alonso or Raikkonen placing particularly high up in the order. Alonso struggled to hold his qualifying position, as his F14 T lost power during the race. Notwithstanding this, Alonso didn’t race poorly by any means, just the Ferrari didn’t deliver. Kimi Raikkonen struggled with similar issues throughout the race, and suffered from a particularly bad lock up before his first pit, resulting in a flat spot on his tyre. The Finn got what he could out of the Ferrari, but contact with Magnussen hurt him, and he conceded places to Button before fending back the Red Bull of Ricciardo, which he eventually lost as well. The result was a less than thrilled Ferrari garage, and Alonso and Raikkonen finishing P9 and P10 respectively.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat seems to be another rookie driver who’s performance has calmed down since the season opener in Australia. Kvyat’s race, while quiet, was controlled and he suffered no major incidences. The Russian eventually finished P11. Team mate, Jean-Eric Vergne however never quite recovered from his contact with Bottas in the opening laps, retiring on lap 18.

It was a successful race for Lotus in the sense that both cars made it home, and Grosjean even managed to keep the car running well to finish P12. A huge positive for the team considering the difficulties they’ve had so far in the season. It was rather unsurprising however that the first appearance of the safety car was caused by Pastor Maldonado, what was more surprising was that he managed to finish the race. On lap 40, Maldonado was exiting the pit as Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez was approaching turn 1. The Sauber was already well and truly into the turn when Maldonado’s E22 t-boned Gutierrez, flipping the Sauber, and resulting in an instant retirement of the C33 (and some insane pictures of an upside-down Mexican mid-flight). Maldonado claimed Gutierrez gave him nowhere to go*, but luckily neither driver was hurt. The safety car brought the field back together for the final stint of the race, and Maldonado, reasonably unscathed came home in P14. Maldonado was handed a 10-second stop-go penalty, and a 5-place grid penalty for the Chinese Grand Prix, which seems reasonable given that Ricciardo was given a 10-place grid penalty for an unsafe release where nobody flipped a Sauber…

It was a double finish again for Marussia. Max Chilton continued his record of finishing every race, however, Bahrain was the first race where he didn’t finish last. So well done Max. Bianchi got off to a rather scrappy start, making contact with Sutil on lap 13 as he attempted to overtake into turn 1. The incident resulted in a drive through penalty for the Marussia. Chilton eventually crossed the line P13, ahead of Bianchi in P16.

Caterham were another team do race quietly from start to finish. Kobayashi drove well and without incident, to split the two Marussias to eventually finish P15. Ericsson unfortunately retired on lap 33 due to an oil leak.

Jenson Button’s 250th Grand Prix started well for the veteran driver. Button got the most he could out of his MP4-29, and by halfway through the race had only used 37% of his fuel load. Surely it was part of the McLaren strategy to push in the final stint to move Button forward, however this strategy fell apart following the safety car, and clutch issues similar to that of team mate Kevin Magnussen. Magnussen was the final retirement of the race shortly after the safety car on lap 41.

It was a rather dramatic double retirement from Sauber. Sutil retired early on in the race from accident damage after contact with Bianchi, though Gutierrez’s retirement will surely be the flashiest of the season. Gutierrez’s reaction following the somersault in the Sauber was simply; “what was that?!”, the answer, Maldonado, Esteban, that was Maldonado…

For what the Bahrain Grand Prix lacked in engine sound, it certainly made up for in incidents. At one stage of the race, the top eight drivers were paired into their teams; Mercedes, Force India, Red Bull, and Williams. It was interesting to see given that teams had split their drivers strategies only to find that it made no difference to lap times of positions whatsoever. I was most impressed by the absence (or ignoring) of team orders. Mercedes were free to actually battle for their positions, and Red Bull didn’t favour one driver over another. I do feel we have a bit more to see from Sergio Perez. I’d like to see him mature as a driver in the same way Grosjean matured last season. The championship heads back east in a fortnights time for the Chinese Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit. Possibly Alelbuth might make an appearance, but we’ll have to wait and see. Until then, tesbah ala kheir.

– Alex

* Except everywhere else on the track

Qualifying Pole Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Podium Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Sergio Perez (Force India-Mercedes)
Fastest Lap 1:37.020 Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
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