Thursday, 26 April 2012

Vettel back on top in Bahrain

It was a strange Grand Prix weekend as Formula One dealt with many things: From security and 'invisible' cars to tyre wear and even the odd drop of rain in the desert. Sebastian Vettel took the lead in the world championship with a flawless victory...

Vettel back on top: Whilst Red Bull had made changes to their car for the weekend, it was still a surprise to see their fortunes turn so rapidly between Shanghai and Sakhir. Especially in qualifying where Sebastian Vettel roared back from his Q2 exit in China to take pole position. I found the video comparison between the laps of Vettel and Nico Rosberg fascinating, especially the last corner. The Mercedes entered turn 14 with a slender advantage but then hit the inside kerb hard. I thought at the time it may have cost him about a tenth but to see Vettel end up 0.399 ahead having been behind going into the corner is quite a surprise looking back and just highlighted how critical hooking up a flying lap is


In the race, it was Lotus posing the main threat to the reigning world champion. Kimi Raikkonen surged through the field to go from 11th to 2nd in the first half of the race. I was surprised to see the team be so conservative in qualifying with keeping tyres for the race but it really seem to be a big benefit come race day. Should Raikkonen have won? Well he certainly lost time with an early mistake that allowed Felipe Massa to overtake him and he also suffered minor damage to his front wing when battling with his former team mate. Then there was the situation when he closed on team mate Romain Grosjean. The Finn was on the radio telling the team he had to get past if they wanted the possibility of a win. The team opted not to use team orders. Raikkonen only lost a couple of seconds before passing Grosjean and pitted at the end of the lap in which he took the position so his tyres were fading which may explain the time loss. Overall, his progress could have been a touch quicker which would have given a couple more laps to attack Vettel in the second stint but the German did stabilise the gap after Raikkonen had come close. I think that, all in all, Lotus won't be too annoyed about things and will not be ruing a potential missed opportunity

Rosberg on the defensive: The main talking point after the race was Nico Rosberg's aggressive defence against Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. I think on the Alonso incident that Rosberg was ok in what he did. He was ahead exiting turn 3. He made his one defensive move early and made his intention clear and Alonso never had a part of his car alongside. Hard but ok in my opinion.

The Hamilton incident was a bit more complex. First of all we didn't get a clear shot of whether Hamilton had part of his car alongside Rosberg's before he left the circuit. If he did, then Rosberg was in the wrong as he would have forced Hamilton off and not left him the space he would have been entitled to. However the stewards felt that Hamilton wasn't close enough for Rosberg's defence to be deemed illegal. So what of Hamilton? He went completely off the track and completed an overtake on the Mercedes. He gained an advantage by leaving the limits of the track. This wasn't like cutting a corner but we have seen drivers penalised for situations like this before (Mark Webber in Singapore 2009) but also seen them get away with it (Kimi Raikkonen in Belgium 2009). It did feel a bit strange to see no penalty given to either party. It seems the stewards decided that penalising either driver would be overly harsh but surely at least one of them committed an offence of some sort? I suppose the answer may be that Rosberg was over aggressive in his defence but as Hamilton overtook anyway it is best not to add a penalty as the McLaren didn't miss out on the position. Certainly debatable but anyway the result was unchanged and the focus now moves to Europe

At the back: It didn't get much attention, nor did it matter too much but there was a fun duel between the HRT drivers at the tail end of the field on race day. Pedro de la Rosa opted for the 3 stop strategy which was in line with most of the field but Narain Karthikeyan went for a very attacking 4 stop strategy. This meant the pendulum would swing between the pair throughout the race as they tried to gain the upper hand but the Spaniard would ultimately come out on top. However, Karthikeyan was chasing him hard in the closing laps on fresher tyres and would finish just 0.596 of a second behind so an interesting little battle there even if there was no points at stake. HRT are missing the Mugello test to concentrate on moving into their new headquarters in Madrid. Hopefully they and Marussia can now make progress after their major changes during the winter. Caterham made it into Q2 in Bahrain with Heikki Kovalainen. It was mainly down to a big performance difference in the soft and medium compounds on the Sakhir circuit but hopefully they can get in amongst the midfield. Qualifying has been very exciting in Q2 and Q3 and if Caterham can make some gains then it would add some spice to Q1 and some pressure to the top teams trying to conserve tyres through that segment of the session.

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