Bahrain has an excellent reputation for providing an exciting race, with the circuit design promoting many overtaking opportunities allowing for close racing. How did this year’s race compare to previous seasons in the opinions of the TJ13 readership?
2014 – TJ13 reader score – 8.43
Widely regarded as one of the best races of recent years, the 2014 race showcased a titanic battle for the victory in the final laps. It all started as Pastor Maldonado flipped the Sauber of Esteban Gutierrez on the entry to turn one in a completely avoidable incident. These antics saw him earn a trio of penalties from the stewards. The ensuing safety car set up a battle royal between the Mercedes pair of Lewis and Nico.
Hamilton and Rosberg pushed each other to the very limits of what is acceptable in racing, the two exchanging positions nearly every lap, often with brakes locking and nealry banging wheels on so many occasions. Lewis eventually beat Nico and the two hugged and joked in Parc Ferme, don’t forget this was when the relationship between the pair was still civil.
The battle between team mates wasn’t restricted to Mercedes, as Daniel Ricciardo squeezed himself between Sebastian Vettel and the pit wall. The new leader of the Bulls then set about chasing down the Force India pair, passing Hulkenberg with ease and falling less than a second short of piping Perez to the podium as the chequered flag fell.
This was the first time the paddock (and slightly devastated onlookers) had a true idea of how quick the Mercedes car really was. Following the safety car, Lewis and Nico left the rest for dust, as they scorched away over two seconds a lap quicker than anyone else.
2015 – TJ13 reader score – 6.96
Last year’s Bahrain GP could be described as ‘mildly interesting’ when compared to 2014. Kimi Raikkonen (now becoming known somewhat as a Bahrain specialist) provided the only real excitement as having been set on an alternative tyre strategy to the rest of the leading cars, he charged back towards the leading Mercedes on his fresh soft tyres over the last 16 laps.
Daniel Ricciardo drove a superb race in the under-powered Red Bull, who’s Renault engine exploded spectacularly 200 metres short of the chequered flag. He trundled across the line for a respectable sixth place. This failure was a catalyst for the start of the embarrassing public breakdown in relations between the team and their engine supplier.
Lewis disappeared off at the start and was never troubled, though both Mercedes were compromised by brake issues. These were created by the team adjusting the braking/harvesting systems to improve tyre degradation because they feared the Ferraris, who were very easy on their tyres, were more of a threat than they eventually turned out to be. It was a thirty sixth win for Hamilton and Rosberg’s brakes gave up on him at the start of the final lap handing Kimi Raikkonen second place in the desert once again.
2016 – TJ13 reader score – 7.06
The latest edition was not hotly contested at the front, so did not score as highly with you as the 2014 race. Vettel’s chances went up in smoke on the warm-up lap and Hamilton’s first corner spearing by Bottas effectively left Nico Rosberg to his own devices to run his own race and control the pace comfortably from the front.
The excitement came from the midfield, mainly in the first couple of laps – there was less wheel banging action at the season opening British Touring Car races at Brands Hatch this weekend. Cars were darting everywhere, millimeters apart, sparks from the titanium skid blocks flying behind them. Bottas punted Hamilton and Perez made a clumsily lunged at Carlos Sainz, who picked up a puncture as a result, amongst many other minor collisions.
As the drivers calmed down and settled into a rhythm we all enjoyed watching Kimi Raikkonen making some excellent overtaking moves to make up for his poor start. I could hear a collective gasp as he passed around the outside of Valterri Bottas into turn one, the Finnish pair managing to avoid clattering into each other unlike last year.
Driver of the Weekend – Romain Grosjean (26.17%)
If anything Romain Grosjean’s performance this weekend was even more impressive than in Australia, where it could be argued that his position was elevated by the fortuitous timing of the red flag, allowing him to the long lasting medium change tyres without losing nearly 25 seconds in a pitstop.
In Bahrain though he looked like the talent he promised to be when he entered the sport. His Haas car had excellent front end grip and decent straight line speed which allowed him to challenge at the front of the midfield pack on merit. At various points during the race he made some excellent overtakes stick on Felipe Massa (twice), Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo and managed to hang on just ahead of the charging Max Verstappen at the end.
He currently sits fifth in the driver’s championship, which is the highest he has ever been in his career so far. He is definitely showing his dominance over team-mate Esteban Gutierrez, who needs to step up if he is to fight Grosjean for the possibly vacant works-Ferrari seat in 2017.
The stand-in Stoffel Vandoorne also impressed you, with 18.85% of the vote. He had some very big shoes to fill as he jumped into the car to replace the injured Fernando Alonso, but he looked comfortable from the very first laps in the car. Not having driven the car before (outside the simulator) he took his time during practice to learn the dynamics of the car, making no mistakes. He then put in a blistering lap in qualifying to best his world champion team mate Jenson Button, which is an incredible feat for the rookie. He continued to impress in the race, avoiding getting involved in the first lap antics and showing excellent racing skills, particularly in his move on Sergio Perez.
He went on to take his first career points in his maiden grand prix and also the first points for Mclaren in 2016. His performance will put a lot of pressure on Jenson Button to perform well against Alonso for the rest of this year to justify keeping his seat for 2017. Stoffel may get another chance to show his mettle in China as with his injuries I would not expect Alonso to be cleared to race this month.