The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX: Bahrain: Vettel Wins In The Desert

20-04-2017

By Jack Target

 

The last time Ferrari tasted victory twice so early in a Formula 1 season, Sebastian Vettel was taking part in his first full season as an F1 driver. Nine years later that young driver has repeated that feat in the colour of the red Ferrari as he stamped his authority over the Mercedes in what could be our best title race in years.

Yes, Ferrari won again, as Vettel came from 3rd in qualifying to finish in front of both Mercedes and give himself the lone lead at the top of the championship with two victories from three races.

After Lewis Hamilton’s victory in China last week made things level between the two, the anticipation of what may happen as the sun set in the first night race of the year was palpable. The ever intriguing story to this Formula 1 season was developing over the week with shocking news regarding one of its finest drivers and ended with a spectacle.

A short gap between races was just what this new era of the sport needed as it slowly picks up momentum, regaining the trust of former fans who wish for better racing and more fight at the top of the grid. If they were tempted after what happened in China, they were not disappointed by what followed.

Firstly, before a wheel was spun in the desert, news broke that Fernando Alonso was going to miss the Monaco GP to compete in the Indy 500. The lure of attempting to achieve the triple crown of Monaco, Indianapolis and Le Mans, whilst currently driving in a very uncompetitive car, was too much for the two time world champ. It may be a blow to the sport but it has turned heads that may not have been bothered a year or so ago. It will be a shame to not see him in Monte Carlo, where he won in 2007, but the decision is very understandable under the circumstances. The silver lining will be seeing Jenson Button back on the grid.

One of the observations from the news was that this would never have happened if Bernie Eccelstone was still in charge. He even said so himself when interviewed on Channel 4 this weekend. That’s fair enough but then he proceeded to continue on his ridiculous argument that social media would have no affect on the sport for the better. It’s opinions like that which has seen Formula 1 slip behind the rest of the sporting world and himself out of a job.

Anyway, rant over! On to the action. 

Pascal Werlein returned in the Sauber after taking the first two races off through injury. Not only did he keep his car on the track, unlike his replacement Giovinazzi, as he got his car in to Q2 before battling well to finish just outside the points on Sunday. It looks like the German and his team were justified in their decision to wait till Bahrain.

Among that pack we saw Carlos Sainz follow up a very good race in China with an awful weekend as his car packed up every time the sun set before he crashed in to the side of Lance Stroll as he exited the pits. A third consecutive DNF for the Canadian in the Williams, but at least he wasn’t at fault for this one. 

The highlights from Saturday though were the two Renaults and a first pole for Valtteri Bottas. The yellow Renaults pulled out great laps to get in to Q3, with Nico Hulkenburg impressing once again and Jolyon Palmer showing the potential he has. However, the Brit was left wanting again on race day as he finished out of the points, leading former Sauber driver Felipe Nasr to tweet the team (although he says it wasn’t directly him who sent the message) to hire him to drive for them instead.

Then at the top of the pile we saw Bottas get his moment as he qualified fastest for the first time in his career. Tons of praise was heaped on him by many a pundit as well as his teammate, which made for a nice change compared to the last few years. I’m sure he would have been eyeing up his first race win too but that one will have to wait for now. If he continues to get close to pole positions again, and avoids any more car problems, that win will not be far away.

Before the race begun there was more trouble for McLaren. After the criticism flying their way for letting their star driver skip the biggest race of the year, his teammate Stoffel Vandoorne’s car didn’t even make it to the track thanks to an engine failure. It would plague them again later on as Alonso was just two laps from the end of the race before his car died on him too. I feel that I will be writing a very similar paragraph every single race of the season to the one you have just read. Sigh…

When the race did start though, it was filled with quite a congested field which lead to some tight battles down the positions. Sebby started superbly, getting past Hamilton who was immediately blocked by Bottas as they ran in to turn one. 

The closeness of the front set of cars was surprising as Bottas did the opposite of streak away as it looked like he was purposefully holding up the drivers behind him in order to control the race from the front. After five laps in there were only just over two seconds between the top four. 

Once again the lead was determined by pit stops and yellow flags. Vettel was the first to blink as he brought his Ferrari in on lap 11 to undercut the silver arrows, a plan which worked as, after a couple of yellow flags, he was out in front. There may have been a challenge from a Red Bull had things gone differently for Max Verstappen. The young Dutchman has thrilled fans once again this year but his race was cut short after his car lost its breaks not too long after coming out of the pits.

Further down the grid, Sergio Perez would have been rightly miffed that he did not win the driver of the day award after taking his Force India from 18th to 9th. Daniel Kyvat, Palmer and Alonso were having a good tussle just outside the point places but it was a lonely day for Ricciardo who finished in 5th behind Kimi Raikkonen, who spent the majority of his day mixing it up with former Ferrari driver Felipe Massa. The Brazilian had a fine weekend, qualifying in 8th and finishing 6th. Retirement has been quite good for Felipe! 

In the end it looked like a silly moment halfway through the race cost Hamilton, and the fans, a fantastic finish. As Lewis entered the pits he held up Ricciardo just long enough to catch the eye of the stewards who granted him a five second penalty. It was a move that some did not see as a problem but it was easy to see why it had to be given against him. The gap looked too big when he went in for his final stop but this is Lewis Hamilton we are talking about, if anyone could do it it would be him. In the end he passed the chequered flag six seconds after Vettel. That was after he slowed down in the final few laps because there was no hope of winning from there. It cost him dearly but for us fans we were robbed of a great finish to the race.

One thing I am certain of though is that close, tense finishes will come. Vettel continues to put that much improved Ferrari back on the top step and give the Mercedes a real headache, one they have not had before. The silver arrows are too good not to be up there with him in every race, so we are on the brink of one of the most exciting finishes to a championship in many a year. 

Until then Ferrari can keep on looking happily at the drivers and constructors championship leader boards with their name at the very top. They’ve made an excellent start, the fans are dreaming of an overdue title, let’s hope they can keep putting up the fight that has seen this season of Formula 1 turn in to one of the best we have had in years.