Bahrain: The Aftermath

While this may seem a rather dreary title to a blog post about a fantastically enjoyable race, there is a lot to take in after a race such as the one yesterday making it seem like the end of a very chaotic experience. Will Sebastian Vettel resume his dominance for the rest of the season? Has Romain Grosjean officially found his mojo again? What happened to Ferrari? Will the Mclarens solve their problems in Spain? These are the questions I aim to answer, though, if you end up more confused, I apologize in advance.

Pre-race, Sebastian was on the radar for the win, but all eyes were on the two Ferraris for ultimate victory. Their contrasting strategies made for a very tasty end-of-race scenario with Felipe’s two-stop and Fernando’ three-stop both legitimate paths to winnin the race. I personally had Felipe Massa for the win (providing the team played nice), so his deflatingly miserable slump to the back of the field was a disappointment for both of us.

All of this, however, made Sebastian’s victory all the more surprising. Like I said, he could never be counted out of the fight for the win, but throughout practice he was neither entirely happy with the one-lap nor the long-run pace on his Red Bull. His front-row qualifying position was the spoil of a determined effort on Saturday and set up a long and hard battle for Sunday.

He can thank the lack of pace of the Mercedes and the terrible luck of the Ferrari for his win rather than sheer dominance of pace, but that is not to take anything away from the immaculate drive he put in yesterday afternoon. Arguably, getting by the Mercedes early on in the race was what allowed him to really push for the win. The surprising drop in pace of pole-sitter Nico Rosberg early on in the race set Sebastian free in the lead. He worked his magic from then on and never looked back until the checkered flag. Had Fernando not had his problems with the DRS and had Kimi Raikkonen started up higher on the grid, we might not have had to see that infamous finger from the German.

Will this type of performance happen again? It’s possible. But what is not probable are more reliability issues for Fernando Alonso. The competition this year seems to be stiffer, even if the cars aren’t quite as close as they were last year and I would be surprised if Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull ran away with the championship this season. His fastest laps in both Bahrain and China were rather ominous, but Lotus and Ferrari look to be on par with the triple world champions and, if things go well for them, a titanic battle will ensue all they way to Brazil.

While Sebastian ran away to his 28th career victory, Romain Grosjean did indeed find his mojo again. A chassis change before the Grand Prix weekend ensured that if problems continued for the Frenchman, it wasn’t down to the car. Luckily, they didn’t, though qualifying may have suggested otherwise. Confusion between Grosjean and his team during Q2 resulted in the Lotus driver only doing one run in that session. Had he made a second run, chances are he would have been confortably in Q3 and thus, in a better position for the race. In the end, Romain got his choice of tires for the start of the race, thought that can only do so much.

Romain made an average start to the race, but given the tire he started the race on (mediums), it looked like he was going to be racing a three-stop strategy. His first stop on lap 9 confirmed this. Even without an alternate strategy, Romain did a fanastic job to come from low down on the grid and climb on the third step of the podium. His performance yesterday reminded us all that when he is confident, Romain Grosjean is a force to watchout for.

The Frenchman’s fourth career podium should also give him more confidence in the upcoming races. He will need to emerge from the shadow of his illustrious teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, if he is to cement a long-term place in the Lotus team. There is still a lot of opposition towards the team’s decision to keep Romain for 2013, but the team’s faith in him and his abilities should further add to his confidence. If there is one thing other than a fast car that makes a driver fast, it is confidence. We know he has the first of these, now he just needs to build upon his success yesterday to make sure he can be happy with himself throughout the season.

In contrast to the two success stories mentioned above, Ferrari had a miserable day in Bahrain. They were hotly tipped to win the race yesterday, with both Fernando and Felipe on very solid strategies. Unfortunately, the gremilins of unreliability, both apparent and mysterious, plagued the team when it looked like they could prevail.

For Fernando, an unfortunate problem with his DRS meant that when he hit the brakes, the flap on his rear wing would not close. This puts him and many others in a dangerous position, as the immediate loss of downforce turns the car into a very slippery machine, indeed. After the first incident with the system, the team brought him into the pits, put the flap down, and sent Fernando on his way. Sure enough, though, the next time he used DRS, the flap would not close when he hit the brakes. This resigned him back to the pits once again. As a precaution, he was told to not use DRS for the rest of the race. Regardless of this setback, though, Fernando still managed to climb through the field and take a hard-fought 8th place. Certainly not what he and the team wanted, but considering the circumstances, his effort was comendable.

As for Felipe, it is still unkown what reall caused his tire problems in Bahrain. The Brazilian’s start to the race was solid, if not spectacular, but his strategy was certainly good enough to put him in contention for major points, if not the win. Unfortunately, he ran into trouble with his right rear tire early on in the race causing him to pit before his strategy would effectively allow.

His progress after that was minimal, and another similar incident would not do him any good whatsoever. As if on que, however, he ran into similar problems later in the race. This time, though, his tire completely, and rather suddenly, came apart. The rubber completely broke down and came off the rim. The Brazilian finished way down the field with the Williamses and Toro Rossos.

Reliability issues like this are unprecidented in the Ferrari camp. They are known for mechanical reliability and consistency in terms of car life. Fernando Alonso’s continued run of nearly 60 races without a mechanical retirement is a testement to this rock solid reliability.

Finally, the Mclarens. Their lacklustre start to the season has been the biggest talking point of the season so far, and their struggles to make any dignificant ground in the first few races made them painful experiences. It wasn’t all bad in the first four races, but everyone at Mclaren will have taken a major sigh of relief after the checkered flag flew in Bahrian.

The ultimate source of Mclaren’s problems lie in the car’s inability to create ultimate downforce. As the car slides around, the tires are worn just that little bit more. That type of car quality is not exactly beneficial in Formula One these days.

The Woking squad’s hopes are pinned on a major upgrade coming at the Spanish Grand Prix. Think Germany in 2012. That upgrade completely transformed Mclaren’s hopes last year, after the team’s competitiveness dropped in the preceding few races. If the upgrade in Spain works in a similar fashion, don’t be surprised if you see either Jenson Button or Sergio Perez on the podium. If the upgrade does not do what it was intended to do, then 2013 may be a year to write off in order to focus on 2014. Mclaren’s fortunes are treading on a very thin line. On one side is unlocking their car’s rumored potential soon. On the other is failure. Failure to perform in Spain will mean almost certain failure for the whole season.

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