Vettel to the four: Bahrain GP analysis

By on Sunday, April 22, 2012

Four races have produced four winners from four different teams...

Sebastian Vettel added his name to the list of 2012 winners – joining Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg – after a commanding performance in Bahrain, resisting a rejuvenated Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn, returning to F1 after a two year absence, was joined on the podium by team-mate Romain Grosjean. The reigning GP2 champion answered his critics with a measured drive that sees him take home an F1 trophy for the first time. Meanwhile it was a dismal day for McLaren and a disappointing one for Ferrari and Mercedes. With sixteen races to go, the picture is still looking unusually distorted.

Heading to Bahrain there was uneasiness about Red Bull’s start to the season. Christian Horner admitted that the Sakhir Circuit wouldn’t play to the strengths of the RB8 and that it may be a case of damage limitation. A stellar pole position lap from Sebastian Vettel eased their fears, although they probably wouldn’t have expected their main challenger in the race to be a monosyllabic Finn starting ten positions further back.

Both Raikkonen and Grosjean carved their way through their rivals to run second and third after the first round of pit stops. Crucially for Lotus, it was Raikkonen who was behind Grosjean. Running on the softer compound tyres, Raikkonen was faster than his team mate but unable to find a way through for a few laps. Were they the few laps that cost Raikkonen a shot at victory? Even so, Kimi continued hunting down Vettel – on the harder set of tyres – and made an attempt for the lead down into the first corner. Vettel defended and Raikkonen had to back out, although a more confident Kimi may have made a more aggressive attempt at snatching the lead. From that point onwards Vettel began to put a gap between himself and Raikkonen, with Lotus particularly wary of how Kimi’s E20 lost pace so dramatically in China a week ago. Romain Grosjean drove with a maturity that belied his relative inexperience in the elite division of motorsport. The Frenchman showed no fear when overtaking Mark Webber and then Lewis Hamilton after making a strong start from seventh on the grid. He was consistently quick and managed his tyres adequately; in a position to pick up the pieces should Raikkonen and Vettel come to blows. Grosjean’s maiden podium was the first for a French driver since Jean Alesi, ending a fourteen year drought for a country steeped in motorsport history.

While it was a brilliant day for Toleman/Benetton/Renault/Lotus [delete as appropriate depending on your preferred era], their counterparts from Woking had a disastrous day. The MP4-27 is a very quick car and undoubtedly McLaren has had the early season advantage. A series of horrendous pit stops – costing around fifteen seconds – left Lewis Hamilton stuck in the midfield, from where he could recover only to eighth. More alarmingly for McLaren is that they simply had no pace. The balance of the car was poor and both drivers complained via the team radios. Jenson Button had a tough afternoon, even before an exhaust problem left him stranded. Leaving Bahrain with fewer points than Red Bull will leave them dejected; they now have a real fight on their hands to overhaul Sebastian Vettel yet again, while resisting the charge of Lotus, Mercedes and quite possibly Ferrari.

Ferrari’s pace was once again slightly improved and for the first time this season the team had both Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa in the points. Alonso’s seventh place means he sits ten points behind Vettel in the championship and will be hoping that the team can turn the car around during the Mugello test. Credit has to be given to Felipe Massa when you consider the pressure he has been under. Massa’s start was phenomenal and the foundation for a strong ninth place finish.

Mercedes were hoping for a repeat of last week but a disappointing qualifying performance left that ambition unrealistic. Rosberg’s moves with Hamilton and Alonso – still being investigated at the time of writing – were highly questionable, while Michael Schumacher bemoaned the current F1 format of tyre management and collected the final point in 10th.

Force India – who were shown during the TV broadcast – split their strategies and it favoured Paul di Resta. The Scot managed his two stop strategy to perfection, matching his best F1 result with sixth place. Nico Hulkenberg could manage only twelfth. Sauber also tried a two stop strategy, as per usual, but failed as both cars finished outside of the points. A disappointing day for Williams saw both drivers end their races in the pits, most spectacularly for Pastor Maldonado who spun at Turn 3 after a puncture left his car unsettled. Daniel Ricciardo squandered his strong qualifying position after a disastrous start and was beaten by his team-mate Jean Eric Vergne.

Now the field heads to Italy for the only in-season test at the Mugello Circuit ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix. The target for them all? One team, one man, one finger. Yet again.

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