Deja Vu All Over Again

To those who thought Red Bull didn’t have the win locked up today, think again. Sebastian Vettel showed us today that despite whatever tire or reliability problems supposdly plagueing Red Bull, the team is dominating both Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships.

As in China, the race was dominated by a wide array of strategies, though they were very much blurred throuought the field thanks to fantastic on-track battles. I made a point to myself yesterday while watching the GP2 feature race that if the Formula One race is like this, I would be a very happy man. Much to my surprise, the race was much more exciting than I had anticipated, bringing into view a stark contrast to the way in which the race was approached by the teams and drivers.

Concern over tire life, while still at a premium, was nowhere near the highly contested topic throughout the weekend it was in China. There was anticipation, but not concern, over how the tires would behave over the course of the 57 laps. As a result, we saw the on-track action increase expoentially. There was a constant stream of information to take in in terms of how many laps everyone had done on their tires, how many more laps they needed to do and what strategy each driver was on and the effect that would have on thier ability to fight throughout the race. Much to the surprise of, I think, most everyone, not one of the drivers seemed hesistant about fighting each and every driver they came across on track.

This is something Formula One needs, because there if there was something that angered me over the Chinese Grand Prix weekend, it was drivers asking their engineers if they should or should not race certain drivers. The tires, for once it seems, made all of this action possible.

The performance and degredation differences between the hard and medium tires at this track made the benefits between a two or three stop strategy much less distinctive therefore increasing the diffuculty between choosing between them. The race winner went with a three stop strategy along with the third-placed driver. The main two stop drivers made up the second and fourth place spots in the end, thus highlighting the incredibly difficult choice that had to be made pre-race. Starting position obviously played a significant role in determining strategy, with Kimi Raikkonen starting 8th and two-stopping his way onto the podium. However, Paul di Resta, starting 5th, managed an identical two-stop race but ended up two places behind the Finn. Practice times suggested the Force Indias and Lotuses were basicallly even on race pace, but the 13 second difference between the two suggested otherwise. Kimi even had some trouble in the opening laps that hindered his progress. The only thing that made the difference to the two cars’ pace, it seems, was chance.

With the top-4 consisting of Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, Romain Grosjean and Paul di Resta, the battle for the rest of the top-10 positions was one of tension, action, excitement, anxiety and a plethora of emotions of which I do not have the ability to capture in words.

With Rosberg on pole, popular sentiment was that he would soon fall off the pace of the other leaders. This was unfortunately proven true within just a couple of laps, as the German resorted to rather shocking defensive moves just to hold position. Once he was passed for the lead, his race was over. He continued to fall through the field and, after four stops, finished the race with two disappointing points. His teammate, by contrast, drove a great race. He managed to gain the most places with a three-stop strategy to come from 9th place on the grid up to 5th at the end. This finishing positions is made all the more impressive when you consider the momumental battles he had with Mark Webber, Sergio Perez, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and his teammate for the smaller points. Had he made the slightest mistake amid the battles, his entire race could have been ruined. This 5th place finish pushed Hamilton to third in the championship standings and, if the car’s competitiveness doesn’t desert him, he should be in contention for the title this season. For Rosberg, however, his bad luck seems to never abandon him. He really needs to have a good race in Spain to keep him and the team in title contention.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the race was the two Mclarens. It was obvious at the beginning of the weekend that Mclaren wouldnt be fighting for the podium, but the fact that Sergio and Jenson were fighting with Webber, Rosberg, Hamilton and Alonso for much of the race cements the fact that the two drivers have outdriven the car in these opening races. The two Mclarens were arguably the two most involved in on-track battles. Especially between themselves. After the controversy in Malaysia and its fallout in China, it was very relieving to see two teammates fighting for position for all they were worth. Sergio’s newfound agression was refreshing to see and, while he overstepped the line when he touched Jenson’s tire with his front wing, hopefully this will stay when the car is upgraded in Spain. I personally feel that wiht a truly competitive car underneath him, he will be in contention for race wins this season.

The action at the back was just as contentious, with Charles Pic underlining Caterham’s new upgrades by beating Esteban Gutierrez on merit and giving Daniel Ricciardo a hard time by then end of the race. Marussia will need to bring something substantial to Spain if they are to catch back up to the Caterhams, becasue the half-second the green cars found this weekend is here to stay.

Bahrain was a welcome reprive to a sport which, understandably, was coming under increasingly intense scrutiny by both fans and pundits alike. The tires were not as contentious, there was a lot mroe action on track and the racing was fair but hard. Now, we just need to work out a way to catch that pesky German from Red Bull.

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