Sunday 21 April 2013

Bahrain GP Report: Vettel wins a race of one

We really never seem to learn, do we? Red Bull, particularly that driven by Sebastian Vettel, simply cannot be disregarded. The combination must always be factored into any F1 equation, unless you're certain that they've all actually left the circuit and are on their way back to Milton Keynes. And rather like the antagonist of a horror film, it has a tendency to suddenly burst into shot for the kill at the precise point that you think it's finally killed off. There has been much agonising over the Red Bull team this year, many talking about it being not quite ruling the roost as it once did, some having it in a state of meltdown. And yet Sebastian Vettel won the Bahrain Grand Prix at a cruise today, and Red Bull is bossing both championship tables after four rounds. Whatever problems it may have they must be nice ones to have.

All of a sudden, from existing in a season that had looked like it would give the established order a bit of a shake, we all seem to still be exactly where we have been for a good while: scratching our heads on how exactly the Vettel-Red Bull combo can be usurped. And the next race, but three weeks away, starts the European season at which point the major plot lines of the year tend to be set. Many at rivals teams will be feeling right now a little like they've received a firm slap across the face.

Sebastian Vettel - bouncing back to win
Credit: Morio / CC
Today's race was in effect a race of one. But few expected that Seb would be the one that was cruising to victory. Alonso's Ferrari would get the jump at the start they said, and the Ferrari has better race pace. As does Kimi Raikkonen's Lotus, coming up from eighth, and indeed Kimi may be able to do a two-stopper thus jumping much traffic. But today is just the latest reminder that Vettel when at the sharp end is always a contender, and so it proved. Alonso did indeed get ahead of Seb at the start, but Seb at turn four gave his first indication that he wasn't willing to cede to convention by decisively sweeping past Alonso. And then two laps later he scythed past surprise pole man Nico Rosberg in similar style to lead, and was never seen again. All the while he showed both a pace and an ability to sustain it over a stint that no one else could get near.

Seb was assisted in this by Alonso's DRS, which had somersaulted his wing element into a back to front position just after Alonso had made it up to second. Alonso pitted early to have it put right, but then he tried the DRS again and the same thing happened, sending him in again and off the back of the bunch. And now to compound his problems he had no DRS to benefit from for the rest of the day (which impeded both his pace and his ability to overtake). That he salvaged eighth place at the end marked one of the drives even of Alonso's career. If he is to win the championship this year the romantic in me hopes it is by less than the four points he scavenged today. But with two lots of ill-luck in four rounds (and this time it absolutely cannot be said to be self-inflicted) Alonso will be hoping that the law of averages means he'll have fewer misfortunes for the rest of the campaign. The trouble is, it doesn't necessarily work that way. And history tells us that Seb doesn't need to be given a 30 point head start on anyone.

Could Alonso have won today without his problems? Who knows, but my instinct is that he would have come up short, such were the flames in Seb's wheel tracks today.

Kimi Raikkonen minimised the damage by finishing second
Credit: Morio / CC
And Kimi did indeed do the two-stop thing, which won him second place. But even he neither had the pace nor the tyre durability to gave Seb much to think about. And even though Kimi minimised the points loss to Seb today as we've grown to expect he is another that might have been given a few things to think about in regard to his future prospects. For one thing, lack of qualifying pace from the Lotus again gave him too much to do on race day. And also - perhaps more worrying - the Lotus's pace varied throughout the weekend in a way that baffled even the team. On Friday the E21 sent a shiver up the paddock both with the car's single lap and sustained race simulation pace. Come Saturday the pace was nowhere, and on Sunday the pace seemed to settle at somewhere between those two extremes. A squad not understanding why the car suddenly lost pace is not a good sign. And it's not a new phenomenon either: we saw similar from Lotus a few times last year too, such as Spain and in Germany, with apparently prodigious pace of practice not showing up when it really mattered.

Today's race in Bahrain indeed contained more than one reminder that we should be less swift to write people off. It was a good day for Romain Grosjean who completed the podium, thus replicating the Bahrain podium from last year. With the chassis altered to his liking as well as repeating his team mate's Bahrain trick from 2012 of starting in 11th with fresh sets of tyres in hand he put in his most convincing run of the season so far. And it's extremely timely, given the extent that the wolves had been encircling Grosjean and his Lotus drive in recent times.

Paul Di Resta got a timely fourth place
Credit: Morio / CC
And speaking of wolves encircling, Paul Di Resta warded a few off in Bahrain too. The Force India looked strong all weekend, even by the haughty standards it has set in 2013 thus far, and Di Resta put it all to good use by finishing fourth. Indeed, he looked good for a podium for much of the way before being gobbled up by the more freshly-booted Grosjean late in proceedings. Following a late part of 2012 wherein Nico Hulkenberg took him to the cleaners, and an opening round of 2013 in Melbourne wherein team mate Adrian Sutil was star of the show and Di Resta offered conspicuous signs of sulks, there were a few knives out for Di Resta. But since he has responded in the right way.

Behind Seb, a long way behind, the race was characterised by much squabbling. Some of this was between the McLaren pair, with Sergio Perez taking his boss Martin Whitmarsh's advice to be more robust in battle. Jenson seemed to think it was taken a touch too literally however. Perez finished sixth and Jenson (after an extra pit stop) 10th.

And another shout out to Charles Pic, who followed up his encouraging run in China by, armed with a few upgrades, winning the B Class in Bahrain, finishing some 37 seconds ahead of Jules Bianchi and even squeaking ahead of Esteban Guiterrez too.

But they, just like everyone else, were of no concern at all to Sebastian Vettel in the Bahrain race. Seb reminded us today that 2013, after all, may not be all that different to what we've got used to. At the very least, he and his team absolutely will not be selling their hides cheaply. Let's count to ten before writing him off again.

No comments:

Post a Comment