It was not the greatest Grand Prix there has ever been, but there are still a few talking points to come away with.
Firstly, it has to be said that Felipe Massa did a solid job today. Everyone has been throwing stones at him for the mistakes he made in Australia and Malaysia, so the pressure on his shoulders must have been enormous. What a relief it must be for him to have won at Sakhir so authoritatively.
For Kimi Räikkönen, it was a bit of an off weekend. After a disappointing qualifying session he was firmly in the shadow of his under-fire team mate and was unable to pull any rabbits out of the hat during the race. Having said that, he pulled off an aggressive move on Kubica near the start of the race. Other than that though, Räikkönen had a fairly anonymous race. Nonetheless, he goes away from Bahrain leading the Championship for this first time this year.
Ferrari can be happy with the progress they have made in Bahrain. The disastrous opener in Australia feels like a year ago. Malaysia only partially made up for it as Massa fell off the track. But this time both drivers finished with a thoroughly authoritative 1-2 and you wonder what McLaren can do to fight back.
However, Ferrari still do not lead the Championship. That honour goes to BMW. The Hinwil-based team has wooed F1 fans the world over with their methodical approach and steady progress. They seem to be the most popular team around at the moment.
Robert Kubica made up for the near miss in Australia by grabbing a popular pole position in Bahrain (and can someone please tell James Allen to stop using that terrible “Pole on pole” pun?). Many suspected that Kubica was lighter than his competitors — he was the first of the leaders to pit — but this was no Trulli-style fake pole position. Kubica and BMW genuinely have the speed to compete with the front-runners now, as we can see from the fact that Kubica finished 3rd.
Both BMWs were ahead of both McLarens as Nick Heidfeld finished ahead of Kovalainen to take a well deserved 3-4 for BMW. McLaren must be scratching their heads wondering how they allowed BMW to gain this advantage, especially after BMW had such a terrible start to winter testing.
This may not be a permanent advantage. We saw last year how different circuits can suit different cars in radically different ways. But it is clear that whenever McLaren are on the back foot, BMW will be ready to pounce. This will eat into McLaren’s Championship haul in a way they never came close to experiencing in 2007.
Meanwhile, it’s not clear if BMW have the ability to beat Ferrari in a straight fight. You have to say that this clearly hands the Championship advantage to the Scuderia. Nevertheless, it is clearly now a case of when and not if BMW win a race.
As for McLaren, it was a bit of a disastrous day. They clearly didn’t have the pace of either Ferrari or BMW. Lewis Hamilton had a truly terrible start. It has since transpired that he began the race with the incorrect engine map, as I suggested during the race. Hamilton was swamped by his competitors who all have the ability to turn a knob at the right time, unlike Hamilton clearly.
To compound this, he managed to impatiently run into the back of Fernando Alonso. It was a racing incident, although the protests from the ITV commentators suggested that Alonso “brake tested” Hamilton.
This was clear nonsense and you would think Martin Brundle in particular would know better. I have a great deal of respect for Martin Brundle, but he is beginning to lose it. The contrast between ITV’s coverage and other broadcasters was apparent.
Radio 5 Live had a completely different approach. They only mentioned the possibility of brake testing as a jokey aside several laps later. At one point David Croft even said that Hamilton tried to use Alonso as a ramp! Meanwhile apparently Speed TV didn’t even mention the prospect of brake testing at all!
The situation was clear. Hamilton has a faster car than the Renault and he was unable to cope with the fact that Alonso doesn’t have that kind of acceleration underneath him. It was as simple as that. Alonso had nothing to gain from brake testing (why would you want to cause a potentially race-ending crash?). Moreover, if it was a brake test then the speed differential would have been much greater.
The ITV team have egg on their faces this evening as the brake testing theory has been proved to have been completely lacking foundation. Pat Symonds has printed out the relevant telemetry for journalists to peruse and it shows that acceleration always went up and Alonso took no unusual actions.
Meanwhile, Hamilton and Ron Dennis have both come forward to admit that it was driver error on the part of Hamilton. I applaud Hamilton for having the decency to come forward and hold his hands up. Some of Hamilton’s apologists in the media are doing him absolutely no favours, and you have to wonder if some journalists are starting to get nervous that their premature “new Senna” proclamations will end up making them look very stupid indeed.
Meanwhile, I find it most amusing that many of the people who were calling for Alonso to be punished for “brake testing” Hamilton today are some of the same people who defended Hamilton’s disgracefully awful driving behind the Safety Car in Fuji last year in dangerous conditions. During the Japanese Grand Prix, Hamilton clearly brake tested Mark Webber, leading to a huge accident involving Sebastian Vettel. Now all of a sudden lifting off the throttle even when you don’t lift off the throttle is a heinous crime!
The only other major talking point from the race is that accident between Coulthard and Button. It was not high stakes stuff — the battle was for 19th position! Nevertheless, both drivers felt it worth a gamble and they soon found themselves sharing the same piece of asphalt.
Button had been all over the back of Coulthard for several laps and had clearly become impatient. I had noticed during the race that is appears as though the Honda is very fast in braking zones. I wonder if this caught Button out slightly as Coulthard slowed more.
Button was trying down the inside and looked like he lost control a bit on the dust. Meanwhile, Coulthard was late to block the move as he abruptly jutted to the right. Button has pointed out that this is not really cricket. The end result was an accident that was amusingly similar to the one DC had with Massa in Melbourne, which made me wonder how many colours of shit DC would threaten to kick out of Button. 🙂
I get the sense now though that David Coulthard is beginning to look quite rusty. He is getting involved in too many accidents nowadays, and I would be surprise if he lasts longer than the end of this season. He can be pleased with his innings though. He is set to end the season as the second most experienced driver of all time (behind Rubens Barrichello, assuming he too lasts out the season).
Jarno Trulli finished 6th, proving that the Toyota does indeed have the pace to regularly finish ahead of Red Bull and Williams. But Timo Glock is yet to repay the faith Toyota have shown him. He will have to start performing soon.
Glock did succeed in keeping Fernando Alonso behind, but it has to be said that the Renault looks like an absolute dog and Alonso certainly won’t be contending for podium positions any time soon. Nelsinho Piquet had another disappointing weekend. He spun on some oil on lap 1 and later retired with technical problems. Piquet has time to improve, but he must do better than this in the long run.
Williams were disappointing again. They had such a great Australian Grand Prix, but Malaysia was a disaster. Come Bahrain practice and everything was looking good again. But it was a false dawn as Rosberg confesses to being disappointed to just scrape into the points. Nakajima, meanwhile, continues to disappoint.
Overall, I am less confident about the prospects of a close championship. As Ollie has pointed out, the Championships look really close at the moment. But the comprehensive nature of Ferrari’s victory today means that it might not be that way for long. Meanwhile, BMW will be eating into McLaren’s ability to respond to the red team.