Lewis Hamilton outlasts Max and Red Bull to take the season opener
Bahrain Grand Prix
The Bahrain Grand Prix to kickstart the season. It did feel different not starting in Melbourne, but to be fair, we are all going through a period that does feel different overall, doesn’t it? This was also the first time in a while where we had fans back at the circuit! This being the first race weekend of the season, practice was what I expected. Nobody really could make definitive predictions about the teams. The only things that the majority of the fans could agree on were that Red Bull are genuine title contenders, Mercedes aren’t going to run away with it, and the midfield is going to be very, very tight.
Qualifying on Saturday was all over the place and was really exciting! Bottas struggling to control the Mercedes in Q1 and a little bit in Q2, before reaching some level of stability in Q3. Aston Martin and Sebastian Vettel would have been massively disappointed being knocked out in Q1. Partly due to the car not having great pace and (mainly) because he got caught in traffic and in TWO yellow flag situations. That compromised him quite a bit. Mr. Saturday himself, George Russel, had another fantastic outing. Outqualifying his teammate, Latifi, and getting that Williams into Q2. The achievement made even more special because this was a track where the Williams was expected to struggle. But the most impressive driver in Q1 had to be rookie Yuki Tsunoda. He was absolutely flying. And the Alpha Tauri certainly raised a few eyebrows around the paddock with the pace they showed.
Q2 was even more exciting, and the moment to end Q2 was the most exciting of the session. A FERRARI 1-2 TO END Q2! Who would’ve thought? Sure, it was on the softs, but nobody (including Ferrari) expected them to be that high up! Red Bull, Mercedes and Alpha Tauri were the only teams to run the mediums. And only Mercedes were able to get both cars into Q2. Surprisingly, both Tsunoda and Perez missed out on Q3 as the teams around them just pipped them by using softs.
Q3. It delivered. Big time. Everyone had been asking for a two team battle for the championship. And it looks like we are about to have ourselves a rather exciting one alright. Red Bull are arguably the most balanced car on the grid at the start of this season. And with Max’s raw pace and drivability, they are going to be really hard to beat. And they proved that by getting their first pole to start the season since Vettel in 2013. This is clearly their best car in the hybrid era. In the best among the rest battle, Charles Leclerc put in another blistering lap to put that Ferrari in P4! It doesn’t reflect the true pace of the car of course, but it does show improvement. Teammate Sainz had made a conscious effort to underdrive the car as a way of getting used to the pace and behaviour. He qualified P8, one place behind old teammate Norris. Alonso did well on his return by getting the Alpine into Q3. Aston Martin on the other hand will feel like they underperformed this weekend.
Sunday! Race Day! It was one of the most eagerly anticipated races in a long, long time! It was the first time in a long time that there were so many unknowns going into race day. Starting on pole, Max and Red Bull were able to control the pace of the pack. This was until Hamilton and Mercedes decided to undercut the lead Red Bull and take the lead. Mercedes were aggressive and proactive and were able to wrestle back control of the race. Following the second pit stops for both the drivers, things got a lot tighter. Max attempted to make his move with just 3 laps to go, but Hamilton defended in true champion fashion and managed to hold off the Dutchman to take the season opener. In some ways this will feel like Max and Red Bull lost this race rather than Mercedes won it. Everything was set up for Max to take the win, but the champions Mercedes were aggressive and fought till the very end to take the top step of the podium.
Bottas finished a distant third in what was a rather uneventful race. He will be hoping to improve a lot come next race weekend. As expected, the midfield battle was very tight. Norris was brilliant on the new Mercedes powered McLaren and took 4th position. Checo started the race from the pit lane due to some technical issues on the formation lap. But his race pace was something else and he managed a respectful 5th place on his Red Bull debut. Ferrari’s Leclerc and Sainz were separated by Ricciardo’s McLaren as they finished 6th and 8th respectively. A result that Ferrari will be happy with, considering how much they’ve improved since last season. Rookie Tsunoda in the Alpha Tauri and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll rounded up the top 10 and took the final points on offer.
It was a disappointing race for the Alpine team with Ocon finishing outside the points (13th) and Alonso having to retire because of a suspected brake issue. Vettel’s poor weekend continued as he finished in 15th and will no doubt be looking to seriously bounce back soon. The rest of the teams were more or less where they expected to be (George Russell was rather brilliant with his 14th place finish and was my standout driver among those outside the points)
All in all, it was the perfect start to the season. Exciting racing all through the field. Close battle for the win. Safety car (the new Aston Martin safety car looks stunning). And we’ve seen a glimpse of the cars in race conditions. Cannot wait for Imola in the middle of April. That looks set to be another thriller!