Hungarian GP Aftermath: Mercedes Leaves us Baffled Again and Will Lotus Ever Win Again?

What a race that was!

While we all may be reeling in anger over the stewarding over the move Romain Grosjean made over Massa (I sure am), we cannot shy away from the fact that Mercedes has scored its first genuine win this season.

Monaco is Monaco, and one could argue they were still benefitting from their test data, and Silverstone was gifted to them due to Vettel’s bad luck. All eyes were on the team to win a race all on their own, on a real track. They just weren’t on them this weekend.

Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton really confounded all expectations this weekend. All the possible variables were working against them: high temperatures, rear-limited track and they missed the Young Drivers’ Test. The fact that Mercedes dominated this race is a testament to the depth of the talent not just in their drivers, but throughout their whole team, from the technical directors and mechanics.

The Hungarian Grand Prix was also a major morale boost for Lewis Hamilton. After having to live with racing in the shadow of teammate, Nico Rosberg, Lewis was finally able to capitalize on the immense one-lap pace of his Mercedes and convert his fourth pole of the season into a win. This comes at just the right time, as well.

Since fleeing the safe and comfortable nest of Mclaren, Lewis has had to live and cope with the pressure of a new environment. Even he will admit that he still is not 100 percent comfortable in Mercedes or the car quite yet. Given all this, Lewis has proven he deserves the highest of praise. He has shown us all that he needs neither a track where overtaking is nonexistent nor the misfortune of others to win a race (not to take anything away from Nico’s wins, though). He can do it all by himself, and convincingly so, through sheer will, desire and talent.

But this race only leaves me more confused about the Silver Arrows and the brains behind the operation in Brackley. I said after the British Grand Prix that Mercedes was firmly in the title hunt. After Germany, I had to eat my words a little bit, but I analyzed their individual races and categorized them into three types: type A, B, and C, with A being a terrible race and C being a win. Today, Lewis won with contemptuous ease.

Mercedes said they needed a miracle to win in Hungary. They can thank Lotus and the stewards for that.

Lotus can only leave Hungary with a bitter taste of disappointment. After losing a shot at the win to an extremely harsh penalty, the team had to once again rely on an alternate strategy to take home a trophy. Hungary was the first real chance for Lotus to take a clear cut win on a conventional strategy. It was their chance to prove that their car is not just good at conserving its tires, but that it is quick enough to take the fight to Red Bull on any day.

I go into the summer break with some concerns, however. A host of possibilities are just waiting to alter the course of Lotus’s future, particularly the fate of Kimi Raikkonen’s 2014 drive. Whether the Finn chooses to move to Red Bull or not remains to be seen, and Red Bull must also decide whether they want to risk having two superstars in their team at the same time. If Kimi ends up at Red Bull, Lotus is put at a disadvantage. Eric Boullier and his team will have to decide whether to keep the fast but inconsistent Romain Grosjean and replace Kimi, or start from scratch. Both scenarios have strong cases to be made. Has Grosjean done enough at this point to be retained for another season? Perhaps not. Can he do enough in the rest of the season to convince the team to keep him? Absolutely. And I think he will.

Romain was going to be the star of the Hungarian Grand Prix, and arguably was, considering what happened to him. He pulled off the overtake of the day, and perhaps of the season so far, when he passed Felipe Massa on the outside of turn 4. I call complete and total nonsense on the Frenchman’s subsequent drive-through, particularly considering he was the only one punished for a move that was made by more than one person.

The penalty, though, brings me back to this question, the one I posed in the title of this blog: Will Lotus ever win a race again? At least this season, we don’t really know. We head into the summer break knowing that a brilliant and deserved win was lost due to inconsistent and overly-harsh stewarding. We, and Lotus, also know all too well that after the summer break in 2012, Lotus found themselves in a performance valley when others (Mclaren and Red Bull) found the peaks. It was only until Abu Dhabi that Lotus finally found themselves back on the podium. The rest of the second half of last season was mostly a case if so close yet so far.

This is something that will be weighing heavily on the conscience of all the members of the Lotus F1 Team. After the mandatory factory shutdown in August, the guys and girls back at Enstone need to work harder than they ever have before to ensure that Kimi can stay in contention for the Drivers’ Championship, and stay alive in the Constructors’ for as long as they can, regardless of how unlikely it is they should take the crown. That means making sure that updates come at every race, that means making sure said updates work as expected, and it also means making sure both of their drivers can win races without relying on alternate tire strategies. That advantage can only last so long.

Arguably the most important thing for Lotus to work on, though, is morale. If the valleys can feel like peaks, then any shortfalls in performance they may encounter won’t be so painful.

Yesterday, though, it seems Romain Grosjean was a victim of his own reputation. That ballsy move on Felipe Massa was a testament to the talent the young man has, but the resulting penalty was a testament to his track record. On lap 24, Sebastian Vettel pulled off an identical move on Jenson Button, getting his car just as far off the track as Grosjean did, yet he went un-punished. The 20 second time penalty employed AFTER the race for a different clash was perhaps even more infuriating. The stewards would have known that Romain was more than 20 seconds ahead of Jenson Button, the aggrieved party after the two’s little clash at the turn 6/7 chicane, and thus would have know without a question or shadow of doubt that adding 20 seconds to Romain’s race time would have done diddly squat. There is no arguing with that. Now, I’m not going to argue with their ruling, as it leaves the innocent Romain licking, rather than tending, to his post-race wounds, but I will point out what the stewards should have done had they wanted to perhaps, oh I don’t know, DO THEIR JOB. A simple grid penalty. Five places for Belgium would have done the job. It would have left the results of this race untainted and reminded Romain that he needs to be more careful for the next race. It is a simple solution on the stewards’ part that they failed to implement.

The inconsistency on the Stewards’ part, who should know better, is becoming a joke and is resulting in the ruination of race results. Could Lewis have won without Romain’s penalty? Of course. Would he?

I don’t think so…

That’s it for the first half of the 2013 season. I’ll be in and out throughout the break with some features on all things F1 2014. Interviews, analysis and some highly opinionated banter are on the menu.

Advertisements

German Grand Prix: The Aftermath: Mercedes, the World’s Most Confusing Team

IMG_3680

In what was perhaps one of the most enjoyable races of the season, audiences were treated to another display of Mercedes inconsistency. From what I’ve observed, Mercedes has had three types of races this season: One in which they are either right there with the leaders, or are the leaders themselves (we’ll call that “Type A”), another in which they are towards the front of the field, but have no answer to the dominance of another team (Type B), and finally one in which their tire issues plague their race to a degree so intense, they can do nothing but sit back and watch as they plummet down the order (Type C).

If you want more specifics, you can group all the Grands Prix as such:

Type A: Monaco, British

Type B: Australian, Malaysian, Chinese, Canadian

Type C: Bahrain, Spanish

The Bahrain and Spanish Grands Prix were painful to watch, and highlighted the struggle Mercedes has endured since their return to the sport. This season, though, Mercedes has not done itself any favors in the tire department.

Rear tire-swapping has become all the rage in 2013, but, like most newfangled practices, has undue effects in the long run. This tire swapping puts extra strain on the tire sidewalls that, in their normal position, should not be happening. As a result, the frightening tire explosions during the British Grand Prix emerged. While the practice was not new at that particular point in the season (it has been around since the Spanish Grand Prix), the characteristics of Silverstone may have been the catalyst for all the destruction. At an average speed of aver 140 miles per hour, a lap around Silverstone puts the tires under extreme stress, what with the countless long, fast, sweeping corners. Could this be the culprit for the debacle that came from the five individual tire eruptions? I wouldn’t doubt it.

But Mercedes knows, as well as every single team up and down the pit lane, that the rear tires were not meant to be swapped from left to right willy-nilly. Those sticky, black circles, while sometimes headache-inducing, are just as fastidiously engineered as the cars they keep on the track. You wouldn’t swap the positions of the front and rear wings on an F1 car just to see what would happen, so you shouldn’t do the same with Pirelli’s rear tires. All the teams talk about the need for improved safety in the sport, yet they are all responsible for one of the most horrendously safety-reducing events in F1 that we have seen in years.

But The British Grand Prix was a fantastic race for the Mercedes team. Had Lewis Hamilton not been the victim of a Pirelli blowout, we would probably have seen a different winner. The pole-sitter was able to fight back to 4th place in the end, though, so disaster was avoided.

Why was the British Grand Prix so good for the Mercedes team, though? Based on the previous seven races, Mercedes should have had a Type B race a week ago. To be honest, I have no clue why they were so competitive, thus the title of this blog post. This confusion will be further justified by the disparities between this “Aftermath” post and the “Aftermath” post following the British Grand Prix. You may recall that I said Mercedes were in the title hunt after their British victory. I assumed that the data they gathered from their secret test in Spain was finally coming good at a traditional circuit like Silverstone.

Silly me. Silly, silly, Chris.

Who knew that only a week after a Type A race in England, Mercedes would be back in the doldrums of Type B/C fever. I say B/C because there were elements of both types of races in the German Grand Prix. Mercedes were not they best team on Sunday by any stretch of the imagination, but they did not endure the tragic tumbling that characterizes most Type C races. A classic B race then.

Not entirely. After their final stops Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton were 16th and 10th, respectively. Within those final 10 laps, they managed to make up 7 and 5 places to take home some hard-fought points. So, there were elements of the classic “C” race, for sure. From the beginning, Lewis Hamilton was clearly struggling with his, you guessed it, rear tires. He was his most vocal for a long time about his displeasure with the tires during the German Grand Prix, though no complaints about being passed by a Williams.

But the final 10 laps of the race suggested that the pace to be at the front is still there. Both Nico and Lewis were just as fast as the leaders during those laps, allowing them to make up the plethora of places they did. After all, there is no question about the Silver Arrows’ ability on new tires and with low fuel.

Mercedes is the most confusing team for quite some time. After the German Grand Prix, there is no kind of indication that they will be competitive at a certain track. Even results from 2012 are no good as an indication for the team’s competitiveness. The results from 2013 have been often the opposite of those from 2012, so there is no telling when they will be fast. This uncertainty is not conducive to a successful championship campaign, and Mercedes know that.

I started this “Aftermath” series because I wanted to analyze how the results from one race will affect those of the next one, but frankly, I have no idea what will happen next. Mercedes may not, either.

British Grand Prix: The Aftermath: Pirelli, Mercedes and Red Bull Reliability

We witnessed a remarkable race today, one that shed light on three talking points that could dominate the rest of the season.

After much doubt early on in the season about the legitimacy of Mercedes’ pace, the British Grand Prix cemented the Brackley-based outfit’s position in the title hunt. A one-off win in Monaco was a good and well for the team’s morale, but after the tire test debacle and the tribunal’s ramifications, further questions were being raised about Mercedes’ potential this season.

The mere fact that Mercedes remained competitive in Canada proved two things: one, that Mercedes did gain an advantage from their test in Barcelona, and two, that a glimmer of hope was emerging on the horizon. While a bit more traditional than Monaco, the Circuit de Gilles Villeneuve is still not Silverstone, or Barcelona for that matter. Mercedes’ decent result in Canada offered up some validation of the team’s hard work to end their tire woes.

Mercedes went into the British Grand Prix still apprehensive about their prospects in the race. The Red Bulls were the fastest car over long distances and, with Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber right behind the two silver arrows on the grid, hopes were wearing thinner and thinner. Both cars prevailed, however, and Nico Rosberg’s impressive win and Lewis Hamilton’s monumental fight from the back of the field both prove that Mercedes have indeed solved their issues. No longer will the likes of Red Bull, Ferrari and Lotus be able to automatically give themselves two extra places at the end of a race. They will have to earn them. Now, we’ll just have to see if missing out on the Young Drivers’ Test will balance out the advantage they gained in Barcelona.

Red Bull’s reliability reared its ugly head for the first time this season. After capitalizing on Hamilton’s unfortunate tire failure, it looked like the British Grand Prix would be another Vettel win. He controlled his gap to Nico Rosberg with expert precision, and managed his tires beautifully when he knew that at any moment, he could be the tires’ next victim. For all of that work to amount to nothing with just 10 laps to go can be nothing short of heartbreaking for him and his Red Bull team.

This is not the first time we have seen the Red Bull’s reliability plague them in the early part of the summer. This time last season, Sebastian Vettel retired from the lead of the European Grand Prix with an alternator failure. That was the start of a summer full of reliability issues. Sebastian would later retire from the Italian Grand Prix with the same exact issue, while his teammate Mark Webber would retire from the U.S. Grand Prix with alternator troubles.

Could this be the start of another string of issues for the World Champions? Perhaps. Red Bull assured us last season that Vettel’s Valenica hiccup would be a one-off, but it reappeared two more times before season’s close. Red Bull now have to take extra precautions to ensure that Vettel’s gearboxes (the failure in the British Grand Prix) in the future do not suffer similar failures. Fernando’s prediction in Canada that Vettel would have his own run of bad luck proved true today, and it has opened a door for the rest of the field to exploit.

Finally, I want to end with Pirelli. Today can only be considered the worst day in the company’s time as F1 tire supplier. Sergio Perez’s tire failure in Free Practice Two was down to debris on the track. All fine and dandy right there. In the race, however, Lewis Hamilton’s tire failed in dramatic fashion on a straight section of track, out of the danger of any debris. It was completely out of the blue, and can only put pressure on an already stressed-out company.

Add to that the failures of Felipe Massa, Jean-Eric Vergne, Esteban Gutierrez and Sergio Perez, and you have a very worrying trend.

XPB_1a6e13f986fb9a9c38a43c02aba89c28-4

If these failures are all put down to debris on track, then the problem should not return, lest debris be a large factor in next weekend’s German Grand Prix. If the failures are put down to a construction flaw of the tires themselves, then I would not be surprised if this was Pirelli’s last season in the sport. It may be a long shot to hire a new manufacturer for 2014 so late in the current season, but if safety is so blatantly compromised by a construction flaw down to the manufacturer, then there can, realistically, be no other option but to make a serious change.

We can, however, take solace in the fact that another reason for the tire scares today can be put down to the teams. Speaking in yesterday’s NBC coverage of the Grand Prix, Will Buxton explained that the tire failures can be traced to all of the teams’ lack of unanimity in regards to changes to the tires. Remember, Pirelli desperately wanted to bring back the Kevlar-lined tires from last season to limit the number of delaminations that came to the fore in Bahrain this season. But the teams were unable to make a decision regarding this paramount situation, so can only take a lot of the blame for what happened. Again, if the tire failures today were only down to unfortunate coincidences regarding on-track debris, then what I just explained is of no interest. If we learn that there is a fundamental flaw in the tires, however, then all the teams along with Pirelli need to reconvene and work out these serious issues.

The sport is doing nothing to make Pirelli’s life easier, yet Pirelli are the first ones to take the blame. That is not a feasible working relationship, and it needs to be sorted out for the sake of Formula One.

Monaco: The Aftermath and Bernie’s Predicament

1370011693

This installment is coming a bit later than usual, but this week has dished out copious amounts of surprises, most of them surrounding Pirelli. The Monaco Grand Prix itself did little to drown out the noise surrounding the secret tire test conducted in Barcelona by Mercedes and Pirelli. FIA regulations stipulate that if a test between a team and the tire constructor is to be conducted, all teams must be informed of this opportunity. Rumblings have given strong indications, firmly denied by Pirelli, that not all the teams were informed of the possibility to test development tires. Strike one for Pirelli. It has also been highly rumored that Mercedes used their 2013 car for the test; also a big no no to the regulations. Strike one for Mercedes. There is certainly scope to place the blame on both parties involved in this unfortunate scandal, and suggestions that the Monaco Grand Prix result, now understood to be untrue, was influenced by this very test did not do Pirelli’s already tainted image any favors.

Today, the FIA received a letter from Christian Horner that clearly explained Red Bull’s, and certain other teams’, grievances regarding this unfortunate testing mess. The Red Bull team principal cited the fact that Mercedes used a current car with current drivers as the source of his dissatisfaction, and made it clear that any advantage gained from this is totally unacceptable.

Strike two for Mercedes? It may seem that way. There’s no getting around the fact that Mercedes is subject to FIA regulations. That is fact. They don’t, or shouldn’t at least, get any special treatment from Pirelli. The fact that Pirelli picked up the tab for this three day test, however, suggests otherwise. That both Mercedes and Pirelli said nothing of this test in the days leading up to the Grand Prix is telling as well, and has ultimately resulted in a full FIA investigation of both parties’ blatant breach of sporting regulations. Along with the regulations mentioned earlier in this blog, the FIA makes it very clear in their rules that any testing during the racing season with a current car unless all teams agree to it with a change of regulations. This did not happen.

Yesterday, It became known that in the FIA’s investigation of the Mercedes test, they have also requested the data from an earlier test conducted by Ferrari that immediately followed the Bahrain Grand Prix. Strike one for Ferrari, it seems. Do they really want to run the risk of coming under fire for a eerily similar test, yet demand Mercedes’ punishment. It seems a bit hypocritical in the eyes of an unforgiving sport.

Ferrari are not the only ones who are demanding some sort of investigation of Mercedes and Pirelli. Red Bull, as they often are, is at the very center of the anger surrounding this test. This leaves us with three distinct entities, all vying for some sort of satisfaction, that are integral to the sport itself. On one side is Mercedes, arguably the most important team to the sport, as an entrant, engine supplier, and primary source of marketing. The German manufacturer’s presence in Formula One gives the sport a more respectable appearance and also ensures a loyal advocate for the sport’s longevity.

On another side is Red Bull, in particular, Christian Horner. The Red Bull team boss is close to Bernie Ecclestone and has, for the last few years, pushed for extended testing. This makes the fact that they want Mercedes punished for their test and his desire for more of it an awkward scenario to explain. Finally, on the last side is Pirelli who, through three years of criticism, has remained loyal to making the sport a more viewer friendly experience. I won’t go into the details of if they have done a good job or not, or if they are ruining the sport, because that is a never-ending debate these days, and it also detracts from the immense implications of the FIA’s investigation, but the situation is easy to understand. Pirelli have remained loyal when, at times, no one could have blamed them for walking away without looking back. This sense of loyalty has been reciprocated by Bernie Ecclestone who, in his own strange way of conveying his opinions, has also remained loyal and faithful to Pirelli’s modus operandi.

These three entities all have enormous pull in Formula One, and in any other isolated case concerning other parties, they would likely get their way. But because this strange and fascinating turn of events involves all three of them, we must brace ourselves for a long and possibly painful legal battle. If this case is brought up to the recently-insituted International Tribunal, fans of Formula One potentially face months of uncertainty regarding what has been coined ‘Testgate’. This has the potential to make history in Formula One. All very exciting, it seems, but not for those involved. The ramifications could, and probably will, be wholly penetrating, threatening the precarious equilibrium the sport now “enjoys”.

For now, we must wait. The Canadian Grand Prix is just a week away and the results will probably, but not seriously, be doubted because of the test four weeks ago.

Spanish Grand Prix: The Afermath

I loved the Grand Prix last Sunday. Contrary to popular sentiment, I felt it was a brilliant demonstration of how the tires really don’t control the sport. It is up to the teams to make the best of what has been provided. This has always been the way of Formula One yet we are just now starting to not like it.

Ferrari, in particular, showed all of us in commanding fashion that the tires are not bigger than them. They planned for a 4-stop strategy, rather than reluctantly switching over to one once a 3-stop became impossible. This strategic brilliance allowed the red cars to not only push for the whole race, but allowed for assurance that the plan would work. They were quietly confident of their long-run pace on Friday and, along with Lotus, were certain that they had the fastest car for the race. They completely rewrote the scrip on how to race in Formula One in 2013. Fernando in particular was taking out immense chunks of time compared to his German rival from Red Bull throughout each stint. While he was not driving at qualifying speed the whole race, he was comparatively rapid compared to everyone who had to conserve.

Having four stops in this race seemed to upset many people. I find this hard to sympathize with. Their anger stems from a hatred of Pirelli, not the hate of pitstops themselves, and that will only be an unending cycle of hatred. It has been thrown around for the past 3 months this season, but Pirelli are only doing what has been asked of them, by both the FIA and the fans. The 2010 Canadian Grand Prix has been used as a benchmark for what races should be like: lots of pitstops that help shake up the order and create uncertainty over who will win the race. But now that this happens each and every race, the fickle fan no longer wants uncertainty. He apparently wants to go back to the era of Formula One defined by processions with little to no passing.

When SKYF1 showed a “Classic” F1 race from Malaysia during the build-up to the one on Sunday, I was appalled at our standards for a classic race. It was the 2007 Malaysian Grand Prix and from what I saw (I had to turn off the race because I was genuinely bored and upset that this was considered a classic race), there was no strategy being employed, the tires were not a factor and even fuel saving went unmentioned. I figured, surely, this would be the variable that set the winners apart from the losers.

This brings us back to the Spanish Grand Prix this past Sunday. The tired debate of whether Pirelli should alter the tires for the rest of the season was brought up, as the established order was disturbed slightly. A lot of the concern over the tires stems from Red Bull’s stubborn ways. They have been very vocal about the tires and how they are not suited to their car. They cite their immense downforce as the cause of their troubles with the rubber. They say they can’t run as long throughout stints for the fear of their downforce destroying the tires. This, frankly, is the most pathetic excuse I have heard yet. Apparently no one has told them that they can reduce the downforce of their car. It seems to be working for other teams like Lotus and Ferrari who have a downforce deficit. Their argument is also baseless from the very fact that they lead both championships. No one is going to take them seriously in their concerns over the tires. They will need to have a truly terrible, disaster of a race for anyone to really sit up and take notice.

Mercedes, however, can make a strong argument for the need to make changes to the current crop of tires. Admittedly, their embarrassing slump from 1st and 2nd on the grid to 6th and 12th at the flag was unfortunate, but it highlights a problem with their car rather than the Pirelli tires. Formula One has always been about adapting to fixed variables meant to improve the spectacle of the sport.
The old “racing driver’s excuses” seem to carry much more baggage with them, as they reveal an almost lazy quality in many of the teams these days. Ferrari was very brave to opt for a 4-stop race on Sunday. While it is four seconds faster than a 3-stop strategy, you run the risk of hitting traffic at the end of the race. How then, did Fernando manage to win by 9.3 seconds over the 3-stopping Raikkonen? Most of this lies in the team’s decision to push for the whole race, along with incredibly executed race craft from Fernando.

The laziness mentioned earlier is unfortunate to bring up, as Formula One is known for having the hardest working personnel in the world. Many give up a large part of the year just to fix and prepare cars that have a huge chance of not making it past the first lap of a race. Red Bull is being lazy, though. The triple World Champions have decided that complaining is more productive than rooting out the source of their problems and fixing it. Even Mercedes, the team hardest hit by the tires this year, is doing more to solve their problems. Their struggle to stay at the front this season has gone on largely fruitless, but they haven’t given up.

The tires are to be changed in time for the upcoming Canadian Grand Prix, most likely thanks to the complaints of Red Bull, so maybe some of the “problems” with the tires will be solved. It is a bit ironic that at the very race the FIA had the brainwave to make tires more of a factor in the sport in 2010, their importance will be reduced in 2013. I, for one, am worried by this. If Pirelli continue to make sacrifices to those complaining teams, a vicious cycle of concession could begin until the sport is reduced to snooze-worthy processions.

For those fans who feel the same way about the tires as Red Bull does, just go and watch the 2007 Malaysian Grand Prix and ask yourself if you want to watch that every two weeks. I certainly wouldn’t want to, and I suspect the same for them. If you are unhappy with the tires and feel complaining is the solution, I suggest you become a Red Bull fan. However, if you know that the only way of ensuring success in the sport is by taking chances, then join me in just enjoying the sport. That is the only way real change will come.

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.