Canadian Grand Prix: Vettel Victory Worrying for the rest of the Field

Sebastian’s performance in the Canadian Grand Prix was eerily similar to those of his dominating championship season in 2011. The signature Vettel start made an appearance, the German making a 2 second gap to second place by the end of the second lap. All the talk was of tires and the split between one, two and three-stop strategies. In the end, all three of those scenarios played out in what was an interesting, if slightly underwhelming Grand Prix.

With Valtteri Bottas valiantly, if slightly artificially in third place on the grid, the opening stint of the race would be all about getting around the Finn in the Williams. He made a better start than most would expect, but didn’t put up much of a fight when defending for position. It was probably for the best; why put off the inevitable, really? After about 10 laps, it was apparent that this race would be a lot like many of Sebastian’s past, where a sprint at the start set the stage for a controlled and calculated win. The pace at which his competitors fell behind, though, was astonishing. There were times when Sebastian would set a string of five of more fastest laps in a row. This type of consistency was not apparent during practice when, quite visibly, the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso was the fastest man in the field.

As the laps ticked away, so did Vettel’s lead increase. Fernando Alonso, from 6th on the grid, found himself stuck behind Valtteri’s Williams for a few laps, the Finn defending hard once he got settled down after the start. The Spaniard eventually got past, but he had significant time to make up in order to catch the two Red Bulls and Mercedes at the front. Once in clean air, though, the going was much smoother.

Jean Eric Vergne made a good start to hold position in the opening laps. The pressure to impress Red Bull acting as impetus to finally pass the struggling Williams after several attempts. These two initial passes on Valtteri were just the start of a disappointing day in which points seemed very likely. The Finn will have to wait another day to jump in a body of water for his team.

As all of this happened, though, triple world champion, Sebastian Vettel, cruised serenely off into the diastase, leaving the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber scrambling for the last podium positions.

Nico Rosberg and Daniel Ricciardo were the first to blink as they hit the pits before the 20 lap mark. A two stop strategy would be the way for them. As they were the first to pit, it looked to be that one and two stop strategies would be the only options for success, barring any disaster. Nico was able to hold position after his stop to Mark Webber, despite all the signs that the German was struggling for pace. When his teammate emerged from the pits two laps later, the gap between them was bigger than he would have liked.

By this stage, Sebastian had about a 10 second lead. When he made his first stop after the three drivers behind him, he was able to increase this further. For the rest of the race, the gap to the second placed driver remained in the 14-18 second range. Any sign of the lead disappearing came when Vettel had a slight off-track excursion.

In the midfield, things were getting dicey between the Saubers, Williams, Mclarens, Toro Rossos and Lotuses. The latter were hoping to make much more ground in the opening laps with Kimi Raikkonen, instead getting caught up in the train behind Valtteri Bottas.

Pastor Maldonado and Adrian Sutil had a wild moment after slight contact between the two caused the German to spin in the middle of the track. To avoid a major incident in this narrow part of the track, avoiding drivers had to take to the grass. Adrian came away form this incident with worrying rear wing damage which, at high speeds, caused the left side of the wing to lean awkwardly at one side. The wind seemed to be structurally sound, though, and Adrian carried on.

Back at the front, Vettel was maintaining his huge advantage. At this stage in the race, it became apparent that the only fighting left in the race was for the final two steps on the podium. It wasn’t only between Lewis, Nico and Mark, though. Fernando Alonso relentlessly closed the gap to the frontrunners to put himself in contention. All the while as well, Paul di Resta and Romian Grosjean, who started from 17th and 22nd respectively, were pounding around on the Medium tire. The two were in serious contention for a top-5 position until the reality of running for so long on one set of tires kicked in. Romain Grosjean lasted for nearly 50 laps on the harder tire while, more impressively, di Resta managed even more. Romain Grosjean had a terrible time on the Supersoft tires, though, and made a second, unplanned stop after just 8 laps. His bid for points was over for the day.

Nico Rosberg was also having tire issues. The Mercedes tire gremlins were here to stay for at least one driver. After his second stop, Nico was unable to keep pace with the leaders and his two challengers from behind. The German had to make an unscheduled third stop towards the end of the race, ending his bid for a podium.

After their second and final stops, Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso were set for a great battle for the podium. Mark was further back than he would have liked, but his deficit was not insurmountable. Fernando Alonso was able to get ahead of the Australian while Rosberg was struggling with his tires. After his second stop, Fernando’s gap to Lewis Hamilton was just small enough to overcome. In the dying laps of the Grand Prix, the Spaniard made his move on the Mercedes driver for second place. He was successful, but Lewis was right behind him on the next lap and made an unsuccessful attempt to regain the place. In this battle, however, was Adrian Sutil. He was given a blue flag warning to slow down for the leaders but failed to do so to the satisfaction of the stewards. He was given a drive-through penalty, thus putting him in danger of not scoring. The German emerged from the pits in 10th place, but was under threat from Sergio Perez in the Mclaren. Both he and teammate Button had races, and weekends for that matter, to forget. Sutil was able to hold 10th at the drop of the checkered flag in the end, just behind the disappointed Kimi Raikkonen.

At the front, though, we had hardly seen anything of Sebastian Vettel. He managed his tires to perfection, pushing when he needed to and scaling back when necessary. It was a brillliantly calculated drive, one a perfect representation of his talent. Sebastian even resisted the urge to set fastest lap on the last lap of the race, much to the relief of everyone in the Red Bull garage. This was also Sebastian’s first win in Canada, and leaves only three tracks on the current calendar for him to master, the first of which, his home race, coming up in less than two months.

What does this dominance mean for the rest of the season? We certainly expected him to dominate in Spain after his performance in Bahrain, but that didn’t happen. Will the same happen this time? I get the distinct feeling, much to my annoyance, that Sebastian’s form his here to stay. Who knows, though? Formula One is impossible to predict.

Be on the lookout for “Canada: The Aftermath” where I will discuss the implications of Sebastian’s win and why Mercedes’ good result in Canada will only fuel the fire that is ‘Testgate’.

Canadian Grand Prix Qualifying: Bottas Steals the Show

The rain was always looming during qualifying today for the Canadian Grand Prix. It was everything but useful to really consider the possibility of they type of conditions we enjoyed in Free practice two. That being said, we couldn’t have asked for a more thrilling trio of qualifying sessions today.

It was just a matter of time before everyone on the Supersofts at the beginning of Q3 realized the error of their ways. One lap on the slick track was enough to convince everyone that this would be no normal qualifying. Q1 was just a melee as the track became increasingly dry. The time tumbled and certain drivers not expected to struggle did just that. Romain Grosjean and Paul di Resta were the two big names to get the chop at the end of Q1, the former not suffering a huge penalty with his 10-place grid drop tomorrow. This basically sums up the action in Q1, mostly a precursor to the thrill session that was Q2.

The rain intensified further as the first cars made their way out of the pits. The next 15 minutes would be extremely crucial as more cars were competitive because of the changeable conditions. Drivers like Valtteri Bottas and the Toro Rosso and Sauber duos found themselves swapping places at the sharp end of the grid, thus making life even more difficult for the top teams. This is exactly what made qualifying so exciting, though. The rain brought the return of the type of competition we saw in 2012, were more than 10 cars were competitive to the smallest of margins to each other. 2013 hasn’t quite offered up these types of conditions yet and it was nice to get a taste of it this afternoon.

Valtteri Bottas in particular made headlines for going third fastest in the last half of the session, surprising the likes of Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari and especially his teammate.

With two minutes to go, Felipe Massa found himself facing the wrong direction nestled comfortably in a crash barrier. This, strangely, brought out the red flag. It didn’t look like Felipe was particularly in the way of other drivers but the stewards felt the red flag was necessary.

This left everyone with time to catch their breath and change tires back at the pits. It also meant, though, that the last run to the flag would be hectic to say the least. All 16 drivers, besides Felipe, lined up at the end of the pit lane to make a last attempt to qualify. Esteban Gutierrez led the way when the lights went green. He was followed by Kimi Raikkonen and his teammate Nico Hulkenberg. Behind them, however, was an indiscernable train of cars, all fighting for the same bit of road. It was a miracle no one crashed, much less improve their time. A few managed to do so, including Kimi, the Toro Rosso duo and Lewis Hamilton. The latter went up to second on the grid, just missing out on displacing provincial pole sitter Sebastian Vettel. At the back of the pack, Jenson Button and Mark Webber missed out on making a final timed lap, their luck running out as they failed to cross the line before the checkered flag dropped.

It was Sebastian Vettel, though, who remained at the top of the time sheets for the remainder of the session.

If this sounded like Q3, you’re not the only one who felt that way. It wasn’t hard to get caught up in the drama of it all, with Bottas surprising everyone by ending the session in the top 5. We still had one session left to go, though, and pole position was yet to be determined.

The session started just as, if not more, wet than Q2. Everyone but Bottas went out immediately to get a time in. It was business as usual up front, with Sebastian Vettel blowing the field away that was two seconds faster than Kimi Raikkonen at his first attempt. This set the tone for the majority of the session as many tried without success to topple the German from top spot.

Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas had the closest answer to Sebastian’s dominance with the second and third fastest laps respectively, but the fact remained: Sebastian was the one to beat in Canada. He took his third pole in a row in Montreal in commanding fashion, and also successfully ended Mercedes’ run of pole positions in 2013. Lewis Hamilton, for a moment, looked like he could snatch pole from the German. He was three tenths up on the fastest time going into the final sector, but a mistake at the final chicane ruined any chance he had of taking pole.

The man who stole the show was Valtteri Bottas. His often lethargic Williams was perfectly at home in the changeable conditions today and the Finn, showing his immense talent once again, drove to perfection. If anything was proven today, besides the fact that the Red Bull was the car to beat today, it is that the Williams is not deserving of Bottas’s brilliant talent. One hopes the car can improve enough this season to be worthy of the Finn’s skill.

The race tomorrow is set to be not only dry, but warm. This is spoken in relative terms, of course, as the ┬ábar for heat is very low this weekend. If the track remains dry all race, it will be interesting to see who will handle the green track the best. Will Sebastian get his first win in Canada? Will Lewis take his 4th? Will Kimi and Fernando be able to salvage a podium from today’s qualifying mess? Perhaps most importantly, though, will Bottas be able to stay competitive enough to take Williams’ first points of the year?

Of note in the aftermath of qualifying is that Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo, Jean Eric Vergne, Pastor Maldonado and Sergio Perez are all under investigation by the stewards for exiting the pits after the Q2 red flag in the wrong order. They are most likely to receive reprimands rather than penalties.

Canadian Grand Prix grid:

VET, HAM, BOT, ROS, WEB, ALO, VER, SUT, RAI, RIC, HUL, PER, MAL, BUT, GUT, MAS, DIR, PIC, GRO, BIA, CHI, VDG

We are set for one thrill of a race tomorrow. You won’t want to miss it.

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30 years On and Rosberg is back on top

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There isn’t much of a strategy to go over, as Monaco is very limiting in that area, but the race did throw out some surprises primarily in the form of Mercedes’ tire wear, Mclaren’s improved form, Kimi Raikkonen’s crazy day and Ferrari’s rather subdued performance.

We all knew going into the race that Mercedes had a great chance of winning the race, but there was a nagging suspicion that Red Bull, particularly Sebastian Vettel, might just have enough to pull off an upset. In the end, Nico Rosberg was untouchable. In true Vettel style, the Mercedes driver made a lightning start, coming under slight pressure from teammate, Lewis Hamilton, and then pulling away to get out of DRS range. It’s a strategy that works brilliantly in Monaco where track position is at a premium. Once safely in the lead, Nico never looked back. At least until the first safety car.

The race itself was rather disjointed, with two safety cars and a red flag ruining the all-important groove in which one must immerse themselves to succeed in Monaco. Nevertheless, Nico’s confidence in his car was all he needed to take home a well-deserved home win. Leading every lap, just as his father did 30 years ago, was also a pleasant tonic to what has been a very rough start to the season.

Mclaren was keeping its hopes up before the race. The disappointing result in qualifying put the team in a powerless mindset, and both drivers expected to have hard days on Sunday. Their competitiveness in the race was a relief, with both drivers making up places at the start. Sergio continued his newfound aggressiveness throughout the race, as he hounded Kimi Raikkonen, Fernando Alonso and his teammate for position. Most of these moves ended with the Mexican cutting the chicane at the exit of the tunnel, thus requiring him to give the place back, that is if he had completed the pass. Some of his moves were much less than perfect, though. He got himself squeezed into the barrier out of the tunnel by Raikkonen, taking off significant parts of his front wing. Previous moves on Fernando and Jenson were messy to say the least, with the former resulting in Fernando having to cut the chicane himself.

After he lost most of his front wing in the closing laps, Sergio was significantly off the pace. The train that developed behind him was a smorgasbord action, with Jenson getting past Fernando and Adrian Sutil snatching a top-5 position. Sergio eventually had to retire from the race, as the lack of grip resulting from his knocks put him in a bad way. Button eventually came home in 6th, salvaging some of the points Sergio lost for the team in his overzealous driving.

Kimi Raikkonen was in the mix for most of the race, but was taken out of contention by the aforementioned Mclaren driver who made contact with the back of the Lotus in his attempt to overtake. Kimi was relegated back to the pits for a tire change. When he emerged, he let rip a blinding streak of fast laps; enough, actually, to elevate him from 14th to 10th by the flag. This is not the result he was hoping for when, in reality, he was in the fight for the podium. Nevertheless, he was able to keep his points-scoring streak alive, and now lies only one race away from tying Michael Schumacher’s record of 24 races in the points.

For his teammate, Romain Grosjean, things were even worse. His unfortunate situation in qualifying which left him in 13th was out of his control, but left him on the back foot for the race. He never really showed any signs of forward progress, that is until he attempted to pass Daniel Ricciardo. He was right on the Toro Rosso driver’s gearbox coming out of the tunnel, but got his braking all wrong and speared the back of the car violently, taking them both immediately out of the race. This was a poor showing from a driver who desperately needs to revive his reputation. What a difference two races makes.

Ferrari and Fernando Alosno were also in contention for a decent amount of points, but a relative lack of pace in the race saw the two time champion lose ground to the two Mclarens and the Force India of Adrian Sutil. Fernando was at a loss to explain why the Ferrari was less competitive in the race, as practice suggested they would be in the hunt on Sunday. Regardless of this disappointment, the team’s day was really ruined when Fernando had to give back a place to Sergio Perez at the conclusion of the Red Flag period. This was a result of a poor pass by the Mexican on Fernando that resulted in the latter having to cut the chicane at the exit of the tunnel. The stewards deemed the Spaniard had gained an advantage, thus requiring him to concede the position.

Some honorable mentions go to Paul di Resta for finishing 9th after starting 18th and Jean Eric Vergne, who backed up his qualifying pace to take home solid points.

It was an action-packed procession, if there ever was one, and it proved that while Mercedes may have found their mojo this weekend, there is nothing to suggest it should stay.

Look out for “Monaco: The Aftermath” over the next couple of days, where I take a look at the implications of the Monaco Grand Prix and what they hold for the race ahead in Canada.

Mercedes on top yet again

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Starting to become a bit boring, isn’t it? The one lap pace of the Mercedes cars has been proven once again, as Nico Rosberg takes his third pole in a row, and the team’s fourth pole in a row.

None of the previous triumphs in qualifying produced anything remotely close to a win, so the pressure is on the Mercedes duo to finally deliver. Will they be able to? The odds are on yes, as their performance over long runs hasn’t been bad enough to cause concern. In Monaco, that basically means all you have to do is keep the others behind you.

This was perhaps the most hectic qualifying session we’ve seen for a while, as the ebb and flow of rain caused major headaches for everyone up and down the pit lane. The line between dry and intermediate tires was at its blurriest today, and the indecision of some teams caused them to miss out on better qualifying positions. Paul di Resta will be kicking himself for not being able to go out on slicks in the dying moments of Q1, as the pace of his car was more than enough to advance him further. As is the way of Formula One, timing got the best of him and he will be starting way down the order.

But today, as it has been for some time now, was all about Mercedes. Their dominance throughout practice was questioned slightly, as they failed to produce headline times while the track was wet. But when the conditions were right in Q3, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton dug deep and showed everyone why they should be feared. Again, their hopes in the race are infinitely better than they were in Spain or Bahrain, so do not count them out of winning the race, and expect at least one of them to make a trip to the podium.

Red Bull, as usual, quelled anyone’s pre-qualifying hopes of faliure by locking out the second row. They admitted on more than one occasion that they were worried about their qualifying pace. It wasn’t enough to dispel the two Mercedes but it was enough to get them ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso.

I said yesterday that everyone should keep an eye out for Romain Grosjean. He was Mercedes’ nearest challenger for much of the practice sessions, and looked a shoe-in for a top-3 in qualifying. However, another crash in final practice meant the team had just barely enough time to get the Frenchman out in Q1. He immediately showed his skill by going fastest of all on his first flying lap, and he comfortably made it into Q2.

It is as yet unclear as to why he only qualified 13th; his speed in undoubtedly there. Perhaps there was a timing issue and he was unable to cross the line in time for a final lap. Perhaps he locked up in one corner and ruined his chances. I don’t know for sure. What I and everyone else does know, though, is that he has an uphill battle ahead of him if he is to get anywhere near the podium. The one consolation he can take is that he gets to choose his starting tire. Look for a long first stint from him tomorrow in the race.

Mclaren’s day was, on the whole, pretty good. The rain flattered their car, and had it continued, they could have been a threat for the front couple of rows. In the end, the inevitable caught up with them. Both Jenson and Sergio did make it into Q3, thus keeping the team’s trend of having a car in the top-10 for each race this season. As the team said on Thursday, their race pace looks much better than previously expected, so don’t count them out just yet.

Some other names to mention? Felipe Massa will be starting from the back of the field after a crash in the final practice session, while Giedo van der Garde thrilled his team with a commendable 15th place in qualifying. Jean Eric Vergne also made his first career Q3 appearance, and will be starting an advantageous 10th.

The race, on paper, should be fascinating. Will the confines of the principality scupper any chances of a battle for the win? Possibly. But its Monaco. Do we really care?

Spanish Grand Prix: Hometown Glory

The Spanish Grand Prix belongs to one man who, after years of attempts, finally managed to win his true home race for Ferrari. Fernando’s triumph over Kimi Raikkonen and teammate Felipe Massa was rather straightforward. Ferrari made the common strategy of the race work far better than anyone else in the field to take a commanding victory and jump Lotus in the Constructors’ table.

How did everyone end up finishing where they did, though?

Ferrari was quietly confident going into the race. They qualified decently but were aided by a blinding start by Fernando which shot the Spaniard from 5th on the grid up to 3rd by the end of lap one. Fernando and Felipe’s jobs were relatively straightforward. Their relatively superior (only Lotus was better than them) tire wear allowed them to push almost each and every lap. Once they were clear of the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg, it was just a matter of taking the race lap by lap and maximizing all the speed in the car. Fernando pitted on lap 11, for hard tires, 25, for hard tires, 40, for mediums and on 56 for a final set of hards. This was the same strategy as his teammate, both Red Bulls and the Mclaren of Sergio Perez. But how, then, did Fernando end up winning with a 9 second margin to second place and a further 17 seconds to his teammate? Perhaps there was some Godly presence with Fernando today willing him and his tires on to the win. Perhaps he has learned to nurse his tires while going quickly better than his rivals. Perhaps its in the car, though that would not explain Felipe’s relative struggles.

On the other side of the coin was the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen. It’s almost becoming his trademark to get onto the podium through the use (or lack of use) of the pits. The Finn emmacualtely executed a 3-stop strategy to move from 4th at the lights to 2nd at the flag. It was a very measured and controlled drive that made use of the Lotus’ supple ride and tire-hugging qualities. If he can do this more often, but from higher up on the grid, he will be a feature on the top step far more often. Compared to the other points-scoring 3-stopper, Jenson Button, Kimi’s tire choices were a bit unorthodox. He pitted for mediums on his first and second stops and hards for the final blast to the finish. His tire usage grew more and more impressive throughout the race, however. Stint lengths of 12, 19, and 21 laps respectively on his three sets of mediums set up a quick sprint on hards in the last 10 laps of the race. While he was unable to close up to Fernando in the closing stages, he was able to jump Felipe Massa through this strategy and more effectively close the gap to Sebastian Vettel in the championship standings.

On to Jenson Button who, considering his starting position, had a great race. A shocking start, which sent him from 14th to 17th in the first lap, didn’t help his crusade for points, but he did stand out on the strategy front, as he was the only other points scorer to utilize a 3-stop strategy. His was more conventional, with the opening stint on mediums followed by 3 more on hards. This helped him climb six places (to 8th) by the drop of the flag.

The Red Bulls will be perplexed by their lack of pace at the end of the race. They were in contention for much of the race, but once Fernando was firmly in front, it was just a matter of holing up Kimi Raikkonen and getting past the Mercedes duo. They made use of the exact same strategy of the Ferraris, but Sebastian and Mark ended up 38 and 47 seconds, respectively, behind the victor. They seemed to be suffering similar wear to that they experienced in Australia. They will look to remedy this before Monaco in two weeks’ time.

Honorable mentions today go to Esteban Gutierrez who, quite impressively, outdrove his car today to go from 19th to 11th place in the race. he was only 3 tenths away from his first ever championship point and should be happy with his work. He also did a monstrous stint of 29 laps on a set of medium tires before charging home in his final stint on hards. He also came away from the race with the fastest lap.

The losers today are undoubtedly the duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. A front row lockout in qualifying set the stage for glory on Sunday, but pre-race concerns over tire life proved true in the race. Lewis and Nico both dropped through the field stint after stint. The problem was particularly exaggerated in Lewis’s case. He went from second on the grid to 12th at the flag while using the same strategy as the winner, Fernando. ┬áThe problems are still centered around rear tire wear, with the camber on the back wheels not allowing for the tires to flatten through the corners, thus exacerbating the expected tire wear. The team is still unsure about how to fix this but should take solace in the fact that the next race is Monaco. Perhaps the low demands on tires of the track in the principality will give the Brackley squad some hope.

Mercedes Front Row, but a Mercedes Podium?

This would seem unlikely considering China and Bahrain, so I won’t try and say it’s possible. Mercedes performance today was unexpected, yet not surprising considering their past qualifying performances. Will Nico be able to stay at the front, or will he fall back like he did in Bahrain. Conditions are not quite as extreme as they were in Bahrain, track temperature is down considerably and there isn’t s dust storm at every corner. But the track is just as abrasive, as it has always been, and rear tire life is going to be crucial tomorrow. The fact that this is by far the weakest point on the Mercedes suggests that the race will be far from straightforward.

What of Hamilton, then? He did a considerably better job than Nico in Bahrain; he went from 10th to 5th rather than 1st to 9th. If he has a trick to nursing the tires, then he will do well to let Nico know of it. Yes, Hamilton was on a different strategy in Bahrain, but it cannot be ignored that Lewis knows something Nico doesn’t.

With these two in front, the next three cars lined up are the ones we, arguably, all thought would occupy the front three grid spots. Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso line up 3rd-5th respectively, and will be hoping for a repeat of Mercedes’ Bahrain form. For Vettel and Raikkonen, it seems they have the slight edge on race pace, but arguably the difference between the Red Bull and Lotus and Ferrari is small, to the point of negligible. What this means, however, is they will have to find a way past the Mercedes early on in the race if they hope to gain an advantage. If all three are held up, then its just a matter of who gets past first. If one gets past in the early stages, then I’m afraid, for the other two whoever they may be, will see their hopes of a race win dwindle at an alarming rate.

Felipe Massa, Romain Grosjean and Mark Webber lost out in qualifying compared to their teammates. Massa was only .001 of a second off his teammate so you can realistically take him out of that group, but in terms of track position, they all lose. This is especially important to take into consideration in Barcelona; at a track in which the winner has come from the front row in 6 out of the last 7 races. It’s a tough ask for the win with these three drivers, but do not count them out of the podium fight, for one of them just might be able to get past the Mercedes and join the leading three drivers.

Further down the field, Force India, Toro Rosso and Mclaren seem to be relatively even, with the Saubers slightly, and disappointingly, behind them. Williams was, and should, be wholly disappointed with the direction their car took. It’s not that they got worse, indeed the car looks better on track than it has all season, but it’s that the rest of the field seems to have taken equal, if not larger, steps forward in comparison.

The fight at the back of the field has closed up in comparison to the one just three weeks ago. Marussia has responded to Caterham’s Bahrain updates and delivered a car that can once again compete with the green cars.

We are set to have a fantastic battle tomorrow. Most of us expect the Mercedes cars to fall back and set the stage for the “true” title contendors duke it out. Conversely, however, I could be wrong and the Mercedes duo could romp into the distance and take a dominant 1-2. We don’t really know, and that is what makes this so exhilarating.

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.