Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel made another emphatic statement that he and his team are up for a season-long championship fight against mighty Mercedes with a sparkling drive to victory under the lights at the Bahrain International Circuit. Once again willing to gamble on tire strategy, Ferrari rolled the dice early on an undercut for Vettel with an early pit stop on Lap 10. It seemed to backfire almost instantly on the Scuderia when a Safety Car emerged on Lap 13 following a collision between Williams’ Lance Stroll and Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz. The Mercedes duo then dove for the pits simultaneously under the full course yellow flag along with several other runners, including the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo. But in having to service both Bottas, still leading from pole at that point, and Hamilton at the same time the Mercedes duo were forced to stack up and Hamilton wound up slowing significantly in front of Ricciardo. The pokey pace was deemed egregious by the stewards and Hamilton was levied a tough 5-second time penalty for impeding Ricciardo. That would prove pivotal because while Hamilton worked his way past Ricciardo and his faltering teammate Bottas in his effort to get back up to Vettel he was put irreparably on the back foot by having to spend those 5 extra seconds in the pits to serve the penalty. Despite running significantly faster than Vettel on fresher Soft compound Pirellis as the laps wound down the gap could not be overcome by the Mercedes ace and in the end Vettel scored his second victory out of three races to start the season, hitting the checkered flag over 6 seconds to the good. It looks to be well and truly game on for a fierce Ferrari versus Mercedes/Vettel vs. Hamilton battle all year long. And that could lead to a very special Formula 1 season.
Bottas, who scored his first ever pole position on Saturday, struggled with his overall pace in comparison to the top two finishers. While he was able to hold off a charging Vettel in the opening laps the Finn couldn’t maintain his lead for long and wound up shuffled backwards with persistent oversteer after that first controversial pit stop. Good enough to fend off all but Vettel and Hamilton, Bottas came home a distant P3, ceding the question of team leadership unequivocally to Hamilton. Still, it was a solid day after his inexplicable spin behind the Safety Car two weeks ago in China and good for the Mercedes #2’s overall confidence.
Vettel’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen was once again underwhelming, coming home in P4 after never really being in the mix for a podium. Ricciardo was game but his Red Bull was not strong enough to challenge the frontrunners in the cool and dry nighttime desert conditions on this high deg track. The Aussie finished P5 but his talented teammate Max Verstappen unfortunately crashed out on Lap 11 with brake failure. Felipe Massa had a very good drive for Williams showing his car’s outright pace in the straights and staying out of trouble to take a valuable P6. Romain Grosjean got his first points of the year with a P8 for Haas and Nico Hulkenberg made it two races in a row in the top 10 for Renault at P9. Rounding out the Top 10 little Force India placed two drivers in the points for the second consecutive contest with Sergio Perez crossing the finish line in 6th and young Esteban Ocon coming home in P10.
The next race is in two weeks time from Russia at the Sochi Autodrome. With these new cars already scheduled to go through their first in-season development in the interim and Mercedes and Ferrari so closely matched after three races Round 4 should be a key contest to find out who can gain that elusive advantage. Hope to see you then!
Bottas takes first career pole by besting Mercedes’ teammate Lewis Hamilton; Vettel qualifies P3 for Ferrari
Intent on atoning for his inexplicable spin behind a Safety Car last week in China first year Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas scored his first career pole in Bahrain. Bottas pipped his more heralded triple World Champion teammate Lewis Hamilton by a razor thin .023 of a second. The Finn and former Williams driver showed his quality in a hot car under the lights on the cooling track and will be hunting his first F1 victory in tomorrow’s race. But as any F1 fan knows besting Hamilton in race competition will be harder said than done. Then again Bottas has a chance to prove that the real intra-team Mercedes competition did not end with Nico Rosberg’s shock retirement at the end of 2016.
Bottas not only kept his teammate behind him but also finally the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel. For the first time in this young season Vettel was unable to get on the front row after splitting the Mercedes duo in the first two fast Saturdays of 2017. Vettel will start from P3 on the grid. His teammate Kimi Raikkonen, who was a little too vocal with his displeasure for the Scuderia’s liking in China en route to a fourth place finish, was unable to line up next to him and will start in P5. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo bested Raikonnen by sneaking in a fast lap good enough to claim P4, while his exciting young teammate Max Verstappen, who added to his legend with another monster drive in the wet in Shanghai, could do no better than P6 at the ultra-dry Bahrain International Circuit. The Renault factory team had an impressive effort after a frustrating start to the season, showing rapid development to their engine & chassis that enabled Nico Hulkenberg to take a very strong P7 and junior teammate Jolyon Palmer able to make it into Q3 for the first time in his career with a solid P10 time. Now the yellow Renaults have got to try to put it all together in a race and grab some points. Rounding out the Top 10, Williams’ Felipe Massa took P8 and Romain Grosjean will start P9 for Haas.
Tomorrow’s race airs live starting at 10:30 AM Eastern on CNBC here in the States. Can Bottas take his first ever F1 victory? Or will Hamilton and Vettel resume their duel for supremacy? Can a Red Bull get into the mix and make their claim as a serious contender? Hope to see you then to find out!
Rosberg streaks to 5th consecutive win with victory in Bahrain, Hamilton settles for P3 after more problems at start; Raikkonen lifts Ferrari with P2 after Vettel’s engine blows up on formation lap
Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg made the best possible start to his 2016 campaign with a dominant win in Sunday’s GP in Bahrain giving him victories in the first two races of the year. Starting from second on the grid alongside his pole-sitting teammate, Lewis Hamilton, Rosberg had a better getaway than his archival and overtook the reigning World Champion going into Turn 1. Worse yet for Hamilton, Williams’ Vatteri Bottas, who got a blazing start from back in P6 on the grid, tried an over ambitious underneath pass on the Englishman and smashed into the side of his Silver Arrows, sending carbon fiber all over the track and partially spinning Hamilton. Other cars swamped him while he struggled to point the Mercedes in the right direction again and Hamilton’s race was essentially one of damage control from then on out. While Rosberg ran away from the chaos behind him to a dominant lead & eventual victory in the well-lit desert night, Hamilton nursed his injured car to a decent P3 finish. That makes it 5 consecutive Grand Prix wins for Rosberg dating back to the end of last season and the German seems well and truly determined to end his irritating role as Hamilton’s foil and capture a first ever Drivers’ Championship of his own. And if Hamilton can’t figure out how to make better starts from the line when the lights go out he’ll surely be helping Rosberg achieve his dream.
Ferrari had another decidedly mixed day despite showing potentially Mercedes-challenging speed over the course of the first two races. Their ace Sebastian Vettel suffered a shocking engine failure on the formation lap, the second DNF for Ferrari to open the season and a troubling display of unreliability for this year’s car. That left Kimi Raikkonen to shoulder the whole load for the legendary Scuderia and the veteran Finn, who had his own race ending turbo failure in Australia, proved up to the task of saving Ferrari’s blushes on the day. Showing excellent pace after recovering from a sub-par getaway of his own, Raikkonen managed to come home with a reasonably comfortable P2, keeping Hamilton securely behind him and with no signs of any further technical trouble on the SF16-H.
Below the top 3, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo drove another strong and smart race showing off the much improved engine and chassis to take P4. And the Cinderella season for first year American F1 team Haas continued when their French veteran leader, Romain Grosjean, made a risky tire strategy work and fought with gusto for a remarkable P5. Coming on the heels of his stunning P6 in Australia, that makes two excellent points scoring fishes in a row for the Frenchman and the debutante Ferrari-powered team from Kannapolis, North Carolina. Now if they can just get Grosjean’s teammate Esteban Gutierrez to finish a race — the young Mexican crashed out after his terrifying tangle with Fernando Alonso in Melbourne and suffered engine failure in Bahrain — the upstart Yanks could put together something that is nearly unprecedented for a team in this most demanding form of motorsport: a successful first year.
Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen recovered from his tantrum in Australia, channeling his aggression into dicing hard with his competitors rather than yelling at his team to come home a solid P6. Continue reading →
Like an undead zombie, Formula 1’s bewildering new 2016 Qualifying format shambled on for yet another week this Saturday in the lead up to the second race of the season in Bahrain. But however ill-conceived this revision to the previously superlative F1 qualifying format one still has to give credit to team Mercedes and their remarkable duo of drivers for continuing to come out on top. Lewis Hamilton gave maximum effort in the twilight of the Arabian desert, attempting to claw back his alpha status by grabbing an impressive pole at the Sakhir circuit and setting the all-time fastest F1 lap there in the process. It was the English Triple World Champion’s astounding 51st career pole position.
Hamilton’s Silver Arrows teammate and archival, Nico Rosberg, winner of four consecutive GP including this year’s opener in Australia, came up short by a whisker-thin .077 seconds. So Mercedes locked out the front row yet again. It remains to be seen, however, if this almost bulletproof team can resolve their niggling starting issues under the new “no clutch coaching” rules, which nearly proved their Achilles heel in Melbourne when they were overtaken as the lights went out by the two Ferraris. Ferrari are certainly hoping that history repeats, as their two aces, Sebastian Vettel & Kimi Raikkonen, posted very representative times to claim P3 and P4 respectively. It seems evident, at least in the early going of this new season, that the Prancing Horses have made up ground on the factory Mercedes team in terms of straight-line speed. Given the right circumstances they may well harry the champions for wins and more than a punter’s chance for a serious duel for the Constructors’ Title. But what the Sucderia has sacrificed in terms of reliability vis a vis performance to get on near-level terms with this era’s predominant team could well prove to be their undoing, as evinced by Raikkonen’s DNF in the first race & Vettel’s rear axel issues in Friday practice.
Daniel Ricciardo was a very impressive P5 for the improving team Red Bull-Tag Heuer, while Mercedes-powered Team Williams was solid with Valtteri Bottas in P6 and Felipe Massa in P7. Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg had a dubious success with P8, which under the current daffy qualifying rules means that he actually has one less set of tires to work with in the race despite making it through to Q3. That left upstart Hass F1’s Romain Grosjean grinning like a Chesire cat in P9 despite being knocked out in Q2. Rounding out the top 10 qualifiers was fiery teenager Max Verstappen for Toro Rosso.
While it wasn’t as dull as the session in Australia, qualifying in Bahrain still wasn’t up to the old standard of excitement that we F1 fans have come to know & love. Continue reading →
In a thrilling battle between Mercedes and hard charging Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton was able to come home for the win in Bahrain even as his breaks began to fail, his fourth straight victory to start the season and an astounding 10th Grand Prix win from the last 11 races. The laps ran out before Kimi Raikkonen’s onrushing Ferrari could catch Hamilton’s Silver Arrow and the Finnish former champ had to settle for 2nd, albeit his first podium since returning to the Scuderia last year. The Iceman had an excellent race and once again it seemed that the strategists on the pit wall for Ferrari somewhat outsmarted Mercedes. Ferrari split their tire strategy between Sebastian Vettel and Raikkonen, and Kimi was able to do a long, very effective middle stint on the harder medium tires. That enabled him to finish on the softer, faster options and take the fight to the two Mercedes in front who were, like Vettel, both on the harder compound. When Rosberg had brake woes of his own while being hounded by the Iceman on the penultimate lap and went skidding off track, Raikkonen was able to pounce. He wrested 2nd place from the German contender and brought joy to the hearts of all of those who love the famed Prancing Horse of Maranello even if he didn’t have the time to really have a go at Hamilton for the win.
Kimi’s teammate Sebastian Vettel had a bit of a ragged race and struggled to keep his SF15-T securely under him throughout. In the end the German former 4-time World Champion was forced to make an extra pit stop for a new front wing after damaging his original by running wide through gravel and the rumble strips while dicing with a fired up Rosberg. That consigned Vettel to battling it out with Williams’ Valtteri Bottas for the rest of his run and he was unable to pass the talented Finnish up-and-comer. Bottas held on for an excellent 4th for his and Williams’ best placing of the year and Vettel had to settle for what must have seemed a disappointing P5 after making the podium in the first three Grand Prix.
Daniel Ricciardo drove a solid race to boost struggling team Red Bull’s morale and grab a solid 6th place. But characteristic of their season, even that strong points run was not without some bad news, as Ricciardo’s engine expired in rather spectacular fashion while taking the checkered flag. Continue reading →
Hamilton’s Mercedes still tops the time sheets but Ferrari for real and gaining as Vettel out-qualifies Rosberg again
For a moment during Q2 in Bahrain on Saturday it appeared that Mercedes was sandbagging the field, holding something back only to blow everyone away and again prove their untouchable dominance. But while Lewis Hamilton ‘s Silver Arrow remained the car and driver to beat, claiming his remarkable 4th straight Pole to start the season, Ferrari proved that they are genuinely up for the fight with Sebastian Vettel outpacing Hamilton’s teammate Nico Rosberg to seize 2nd on the grid for Sunday’s race. After last week’s excuse-making whinging during the post race press conference for his second best performance respective to his dominant teammate and rival, Rosberg must’ve been absolutely muttering to himself after Q3. Because not only will he have to deal with Vettel in front of him but he will likely find himself harassed from behind by the other Prancing Horse of Kimi Raikkonen, who took P4 and seems to have found his good form again in this year’s vastly improved model. One thing’s for certain: the opening lap tomorrow should be very interesting at the least and perhaps even completely fraught and frantic as those four blokes jockey for an edge. But somehow I reckon Hamilton will sail away from the mayhem behind him and the others will be left to pick up the positions from second on down. That is if Vettel doesn’t shove the Englishman straight off the track on the front straight.
Williams again showed decent Qualifying pace but it remains to be seen if they can manage their tires well enough in a Grand Prix to return to the podium after their terrific 2014 season. Valtteri Bottas drove an excellent Q3 fast lap to pip teammate Felipe Massa for P5 by less than half a second. Daniel Ricciardo gave Red Bull some hope after teammate Daniil Kvyat was bounced out of Q1 with power plant gremlins. The Aussie ace was able to grab P7 with a gutsy fast lap that was just an eyelash behind Massa. Likewise, Nico Hulkenberg broke through for troubled Force India for the first Top 10 starting position for the team this year: the excellent German driver will start P8 on Sunday. Rookie Carlos Sainz out-qualified his 17-year-old teammate Max Verstappen in P9 and Romain Grosjean grabbed P10 for up-and-down Lotus.
McLaren had a Jekyll and Hyde weekend with Fernando Alonso’s Honda-powered MP4-30 showing dynamic improvement from the beginning of the season to come home P14. But Jenson Button’s car was plagued by electronic issues throughout Friday practice and they bit him again today when he failed to complete a qualifying lap. The English former champion will start dead last and hope he can fight his way through the field and at least finish the race. Finally, Sauber’s Cinderella start may be about to strike midnight, as Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson could do no better than P12 and P13. But that’s Formula 1 — if you’re not improving race to race you’re going backwards.
Tomorrow’s day-into-night race in the desert at Bahrain International Circuit begins at a very civilized 11AM here on the East Coast of the US and can be seen live on NBCSN. Ferrari is getting closer to be sure but do they really have the race pace to grab another win over King Lewis & Mercedes and pull the upset like Vettel did in Malaysia? Well worth finding out tomorrow so I hope to see you then!