2013 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix Race Report – Vettel lays down the Gauntlet

Contributor: James Parker, TJ13 on track correspondent

Bahrain once again gave way to a beautiful Sunday afternoon, which saw Sebastian Vettel deliver a champions drive to take his 28th win of his career. Passing both Fernando Alonso and Nico Rosberg in the opening laps of the Grand Prix, he monstered the field, exercising a brilliant performance of tyre management. It sends ominous signs to the rest of the field going into Europe that, like 2012 he is ready to maximise any advantage that comes his way.

2013 Gulf Air Bahrain GP PodiumLotus not famed for their aggressive strategies, executed a magnificent 2 stop for Raikkonen, to claim the 2nd spot on the podium. A resurgent Grosjean rounded out a Lotus 2-3 after a late race charge saw him capture the last podium place ahead of a frustrated Paul Di Resta.

Stepping Up To The Plate
Two drivers going into Bahrain were hideously under pressure from their respective teams to deliver a performance which would set their season alight and they both duly delivered under the intense heat of Bahrain. Both Perez and Grosjean have been under the microscope since the start of 2013 to up their game somewhat, and today they produced drives which will surely impress both Boullier and Whitmarsh respectively.

Sergio PerezFor Perez, this weekend was all about proving he could stick with Button on race pace after receiving criticism from Whitmarsh post China that he needs to “toughen up” and fight harder when in the car.

Judging on his performance today he certainly did that. After having a magnificent start to the Grand Prix, the Mexican found himself up in 8th place early on shadowing his team-mate Button for the first stint.

But from Lap 20 through to 35, he found himself in an enthralling battle with Button. The two McLaren drivers swapped positions upwards of 4-5 times as they fought for solid points. After numerous skirmishes going into T1, which saw Perez defend heavily on the pit straight from a double slip streaming Button on lap 24, it all came to a head on Lap 30.

Going into the wide T4, Perez tried to undercut his team leader on the exit, misjudging how slow Button would be on the apex, he nudged Button much to the bemusement of his team-mate – who radioed in to ask the team to calm Perez down. But the Mexican was truly a man on a mission, enjoying a last lap battle with Webber to claim 6th place and a first eye opening result of 2013.

Elbows and knees were out aplenty and it was the first race of the season it looked like Perez was worthy of his place at the McLaren team. He outraced Button on merit with the latter forced to do 4 stops due to degradation worries and claim a lowly 10th.

Romain GrosjeanFor Grosjean, after such a frustrating qualifying session, he desperately needed a strong race result to silence his doubters. So far in 2013, it appears the Frenchman has lost some confidence behind the wheel, unable to find a good balance in the Lotus.

But today, he worked through the traffic beautifully during the middle stint, which saw him pull moves on both McLaren’s and Mark Webber.

Once in clean air on the medium compound tyre in the final stint, he hunted down the Force India of Paul Di Resta (who was 2 stopping) rapidly and wasted no time in passing the Scotsman for the final podium spot. It is a race which will surely do Romain a world of good.  He finally looks comfortable in the Lotus and is able to show everyone what an instinctive driver and natural talent he is.

Both him and Perez must surely now go into Spain knowing their seasons have finally began.

Ferrari – A Race To Forget
What can we say about Ferrari. After such a promising qualifying session which saw both strategies covered going into Sunday they must have been feeling so confident. But lady luck was definitely not on their side and the race ended up disintegrating in front of their eyes.

Fernando AlonsoWhat exactly happened to Alonso’s rear wing has yet to be revealed, but it certainly looks like the mechanism to close the wing once DRS was activated failed on the Spaniard. Two unscheduled stops later and unable to utilise DRS benefits for the entire Grand Prix, Alonso once again pulled a rabbit out a hat by running superb middle stints on the harder compound tyre. This saw him finish in 8th, 37 seconds behind Vettel.

Whether without his problems he could have lived with Sebastian’s blistering pace up front is another matter.  A certain podium finish like Malaysia looks to have been squandered – will it potentially come back to haunt him in the WDC hunt?

For Massa, 15th is a rather harsh reflection on his race, but like Alonso it appears all luck evaded him today. A touch in T4, which damaged his front wing on the opening lap with Adrian Sutil, kind of set the trend for the rest of his race.

A puncture on lap 18, caused by debris tearing the tyre (according to Pirelli) dropped the Brazilian back into the mid pack battle. A secondary puncture on lap 38 did nothing but completely demoralise the Ferrari man.

Ferrari will be frustrated no doubt. They had the race pace to fight for the podium but both cars have suffered problems out of their control. In Massa’s case however, the team may be posing a few questions towards Pirelli regarding the secondary failure which looked scarily similar to Hamilton’s on Saturday morning.

What is more significant however is that Alonso now finds himself 30 points off Vettel in the WDC and Ferrari drop behind Lotus to 3rd in the WCC.

Lotus – What Could Have Been?
Kimi Raikkonen
It appears to be a case of De Ja Vu for Lotus. Like 2012, they appear to be leaving themselves far too much work to do on a Sunday after suffering a lack of qualifying pace on the Saturday. We all know that the Lotus E21 has the trick FRICS suspension device, run a softer chassis setup naturally and therefore are able to be a lot softer on the tyres.

But could it be that the car is still suffering from heat generation over 1 lap to enable Raikkonen and Grosjean a good balance in Qualifying much like 2012? Both their drivers today had the race pace to keep RedBull on their toes during the Grand Prix, however were forced to chase shadows after a poor first stint which saw both Raikkonen and Grosjean tucked up in traffic.

Obviously with a double podium finish it was the perfect exercise in damage limitation for the Enstone squad going into the European leg of the season – but will it come back to haunt them later on in the year if Raikkonen finds himself in the title hunt?

When asked about the lack of Qualifying performance on Saturday the team were completely mystified regarding the distinctive lack of pace. Not being able to specify the cause must be a worrying factor for the engineers.

Final Thoughts
Sebastian Vettel today potentially produced the drive of the season so far. The opening exchanges of the Grand Prix with Rosberg were a joy to watch, and the overtake into T5 on Alonso on the opening lap was world class.

He never wavered at the head of the field and it was an ominous performance that was reminiscent from those produced towards the latter part of 2012. He has attracted a lot of negative criticism so far this season, but you simply cannot challenge his talent behind the wheel – he now rests 6th on the all time winners list thanks to the win today.

Paul Di RestaBoth Di Resta and Hamilton drove brilliant races today. Hamilton could not find any balance on the medium tyre in the first two stints of the race on high fuel. Once the harder compound tyres were bolted on though, combined with a lower fuel load, he found the missing performance and managed to finish 5th. Rosberg meanwhile struggled to a 9th placed finish making 4 stops.

Di Resta was unlucky to miss out on the podium however a 2 stop strategy was always going to leave him exposed in the final stint. It has been his strongest weekend this season and although Sutil suffered a puncture early on thanks to contact with Massa, he looked to have the upper hand on the German and that will surely do his confidence a world of good. 

Driver of The Day – Sebastian Vettel closely followed by Fernando Alonso, who both for different reasons showed their quality today, Perez a close 3rd.

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All that’s left to say is bring on Spain!

22 responses to “2013 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix Race Report – Vettel lays down the Gauntlet

  1. “Both Di Resta and Hamilton drove brilliant races today.”

    Di Resta drove a controlled race and did everything right to get 4th. He showed he deserves a second look from the bigger teams. To characterize Hamilton’s drive as brilliant is amusing. All he did was effectively hold station. Alonso, Massa, Rosberg and Sutil all had problems which put them way behind him. Alonso stopped 1 extra time, had no DRS and ended up only 2 seconds behind.

    The race also ended any illusions that Webber has that he should be treated co-equal to Vettel.

    In the end it was a tyre / DRS race.

    • Hi Cavallino,

      Di Resta I find can be too inconsistent to be getting second glances (at this moment in time) by bigger teams over the likes of Hulkenberg. He can have an incredibly solid weekend like today, but then at the next Grand Prix can fade somewhat. It was a fantastic drive, but I will reserve judgement until he strings together 3-4 really strong performances together.

      The reason I said Hamilton’s drive was brilliant was solely down to the comparative differences in performance when looking at Rosberg. His team-mate struggled with rear tyres the entire afternoon and was forced to make 4 stops finishing eventually down in 9th.

      When we look at Hamilton, on the mediums during the first stages of the GP he was 10th/11th, but crucially when he found performance on the harder tyre immediately started to climb through the field. Taking JB, Perez and Webber. Taking into account he finished 4 places infront of Rosberg I would class that as a good drive based on their starting positions.

      Whilst what you say is true regarding Alonso finishing 2 seconds behind him on the road, you have to take into account the magnificent pace which the Ferrari enjoys in race trim – all in all it was a cracking GP!

    • I’m curious what Sutil and Rosbergs problems were, besides being involved in an incident and not being able to look after your tyres? Fernando ultimately had a race win challenging car, and showed his class today, the merc was clearly not a great car outside of a single lap however.

      • I think Sutil made solid ground from the back of the field. He still made 3 stops as far as I am aware due to the unscheduled early tyre change.

        To finish 76 seconds off Vettel was quite an achievement given he was over a minute down after the limp back to the pits (incident happened at T4 so he lost a shed load of time) and i think he would have probably been either just infront or just behind Di Resta had he not had those problems….

        • Sutil had much better pace then raikonen and grosjean. Actualy,he was lapping at the same pace of vettel.

          • Agree entirely NNS,

            He was consistently setting front running pace after his puncture and only lost out on the fastest lap of the race by 11/2 tenths to Vettel.

            Coincidentally Sutil’s fastest lap came on lap 44, which showed as the fuel load was burning down he was able to almost match Vettel’s times (whether or not Vettel was pushing 100% is entirely speculative, after all he was cruising at the front)

            With a race destroyed in China by Guttierez and now an unlucky puncture in Bahrain you have to feel for Sutil – he has shown no signs of race rustiness so far….

  2. A normal man takes everything as a blessing or a curse. A samurai is a warrior who accepts everything as a challenge.

    Alonso on twitter after the race.

    • All hail the Samurai warrior’s return! 🙂 I hope Ferrari gives Alonso a car at least equal to Vettel, should result in great racing.

  3. To me Sutil drove better race then DiResta. No one notice him as he was languishing at the back of field but he was much faster then DiResta and he would hv easily finished P2.

  4. I notice that Mercedes was the only team (other than those which stopped four times) to run two stints on the (used) option tyre.
    As the tyre quite clearly did not perform for them in the race, can anyone explain this ? Did they not save three new sets of the hard tyre ?

    (My back-of-a-fag-packet calculations suggest Hamilton might have finished a position higher had he switched to the hard tyre for his second stint.)

    • I echo those thoughts Nigel. Lewis himself said on the 2nd stint on the medium compound tyre he could not find a good balance with the Mercedes and therefore lacked any pace whatsoever.

      From Qualifying, from what I can remember the Mercedes guys only did one run in Q2 on a fresh set of mediums and only then used mediums in Q3 too so their hard tyre allocation was hardly used.

      I find it incredible that with the narrow performance differences between the two compounds last weekend that his car could handle so badly on the mediums but resurrect itself on the harder compound.

      I think he would have been mightily close to Grosjean had he ran 3 sets of hard tyres rather than split it 50/50 with the mediums as you say…..

  5. Looked to me like Button brake checking Perez there, he was anticipating that cut back so scrubbed speed mid corner to stop himself running wide. Its his right to do so, but he knew the risks. Was pleased Davidson challenged him with his running. checo off the road footage, he looked like he was squirming, then started winding davidson up, didn’t do him loads of favours really.

    Some one on the bbc site wrote a comment saying something similar then a paraphrase of his radio message: “help, help, stop him martin, I don’t wanna race”… Laughed my head off!

    • you should listen to the BBC 5live chequered flag podcast. Jennie Gow makes a mockery of Jenson!

  6. The race was made worth watching by just two drivers, Hamilton and Perez. Real, old fashioned racing. The rest were just managing tyres.

    No more needs to be said.

    • I am shocked people did not expect that kind of performance from Perez. He was always extremely racy in the Sauber and was not scared to share paint – although his latin temperament did run him into a few incidents.

      I have always thought he has got the ability to become a future WDC, however have come up against stiff opposition from others due to his fragile start to the season. This was his “coming of age” Grand Prix in my view (whether Carlos Slim being in attendance had anything to do with that is another matter) but he showed that steely nerve, hunger and desire which he showed all too often in the Sauber.

      Consistency will be the key for Perez, but I think we should praise how quick he was to react to Whitmarsh’s comments from the previous GP in China.

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