GRAND PRIX : Bahrain : Kimi Splits the Mercs

Posted on April 21, 2015.

Hamilton was again uncatchable, three out of four this season
The Merc v. Ferrari battle has brought renewed interest for all tifosi
Good to see Kimi up on the podium again

Report by Alan Brown

The F1 Circus moved on to its annual stopover in the Kingdom of Bahrain on the long haul trek back from Shanghai. 2015 sees the 12th running of this race at the Sakhir Circuit with Michael Schumacher in a Ferrari winner of the inaugural race in 2004.

In the event that Ferrari were to repeat their excellent Malaysian performance again in Bahrain, it is probably not a good idea for the Tifosi to head off 20 miles into downtown Manama to celebrate. Alcohol is largely frowned upon in the Kingdom, and reportedly, there are more tear gas canisters stockpiled on the Island than citizens.

The Circuit however at 5.4 kms is an exciting one with excellent overtaking opportunities into turns 1 and 4 as well as the prospect of the race being staged under floodlights. Last year was a cracker albeit mainly between the two Mercedes Cars.

The Ferrari team must be feeling pretty chipper with their start to the 2015 season and FP1 continued the good run with both cars at the head of the time sheets and fastest through the speed trap at 333kmh. FP1 is not though representative of underlying performance being run much earlier in the day. Mercedes were clearly experimenting at this point with different set ups, with times well down on the pace of the Ferraris.

Also noticeable was the Force India Team brushing generous quantities of ‘Flow Viz’ paint down the sides of their cars to enable air flow characteristics to be pondered over. McLaren were also using this technique, permitted on Friday sessions only, to understand airflow dynamics through the rear wing of the MP4-30.

FP2 being run at a similar time of day to the scheduling for qualifying and the Grand Prix itself, produced a more familiar running order, with Messrs Rosberg and Hamilton up front and the Kimi and Seb about half a second adrift, the Finn though again the quicker of the two.

Soft and medium compound tyres were available to the teams as well as, rather academically for this venue, inters and wets. The front runners were switching rubber around during practice to determine the compound with optimum performance. The soft tyre seemed favorite.

Next day qualifying got underway at 6pm local time (GMT +2). Jenson’s McLaren soon put paid to any chance the Brit had to turn around his dreadful season to date, by expiring with an electrical fault before completion of even a single lap in Q1. Worse to follow was the inability of the team to rectify the problem, even over the 24 hour period up to the race. This left JB with only his laptop and Twitter account to keep him occupied. Kvyat was the other high profile casualty failing to make Q2 for no obvious reason other than lack of pace.

The Ferraris progressed into Q2 but couldn’t better Hamilton’s time of 1.32.7 set early in the session. Lewis was clearly intent on being pole sitter at Sakhir, which would be his first time in eight attempts. By the checkered flag he had achieved this further career goal. However not for the first time this season, rather than a sideways glance at his grumpy old team mate, he would be staring at a bright red Ferrari. Vettel had put in a scorching lap to be just 0.4 sec adrift of Lewis. Kimi would finish on Row 2 lagging the second Mercedes by an even narrower margin of 0.1 sec.

On race day, with dusk settling in and the floodlights switched on, the 12th Bahrain Grand Prix got cleanly away. Hamilton made his usual text book start in the sprint down to the very tight Turn 1. As the field exited the first corner, Kimi had rounded the outside of Rosberg to leave the two Ferraris second and third. A couple of laps later however, Nico made up this lost place and went off after Vettel. Under pressure Seb then ran wide into T1 losing 1.5 seconds, and Nico soon took advantage of this error to overtake his German Compatriot. These top four chargers swapped places a number of times during the two pit stop phases, but Lewis always looked strong enough to take the win.

Ferrari adapted a different strategy for Kimi which in the event played out well for the Finn. Starting on softs , a switch to primes came at the first stop, unlike the rest of the field. Ferrari’s computer software was then deployed to determine how long Kimi should stay out in the middle stint. Too long was the view of most commentators, as well as the driver, as the Ferrari started to lose 2 seconds a lap relative to the Mercedes.

Kimi’s second stop saw him emerge from the pits with the soft yellow wall tyres very visible and the benefit of the longer second stint then started to become apparent. Kimi was able to wipe out a 20 second advantage held by Rosberg over the final dozen laps. With 2 laps to go Nico ran wide into T1 with a developing brake issue, and the Ferrari soon capitalised and sling-shot its way to an eventual second place. Seb’s race was compromised after damaging the front wing in an incident we think with Nico earlier, and then being unable to outgun Bottas. The Williams showed lightening speed out of corners, for which the chasing Ferrari had no response, and 5th was the final reward after a frustrating afternoon for Sebastian.

The Bahrain Grand Prix reaffirmed Ferrari as clear challengers to Mercedes for the silverware this year. With three weeks to the next race in Barcelona it is to be hoped that further developments of the excellent SF15-T car at Maranello will close the gap to Mercedes on pace. To ensure Kimi remains focused on the job in hand, it was reported after the race that his contract which expires at the end of this year has not yet been renewed… How’s that for motivational management, Italian-style?

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