2017 Bahrain Grand Prix Review
Having set the fastest times in FP1 and 3, Sebastian Vettel was a little disappointed that he did not make pole for the race on Sunday.
‘Predictably’ that place was taken by a Mercedes, but not, as you might expect, the three times world Champion, Lewis Hamilton but by his newest teammate, Valtteri Bottas, who with a qualifying lap of 1:28.769, ripped pole from Hamilton’s grasp(with Vettel coming in third and ‘surprisingly’ Ricciardo taking fourth spot on the grid.)
The race got off to a blistering start with Vettel getting past Hamilton for P2 and chasing down Bottas from the get go. Bottas, however, did not roar off into the distance, as (it transpired) there was a generator problem and his tyres could not be adequately bled so he started the race with higher than optimal tyre pressures and felt uncomfortable throughout the race).
It would not take Bottas long to realise that tyre pressure would not be his biggest problem this race. By Lap 4 the gap to Vettel had increased from 0.328s (L3) to 0.720, so Vettel had managed to stay within DRS range .
By Lap 8 Raikkonen had overtaken Massa for P6. On Lap 8 we had the first retirement of the race as Kevin Magnussen had an engine failure (Well, at least he started the race, which is more than could be said of Stoffel Vandoorne.)
Next came possibly the defining moment of the race as Ferrari brought Vettel in on Lap 10 for an early pit stop (going for the undercut), emerging in P11 on a new set of supersoft tyres, confirming he would be on a two stop strategy (as, starting on supersoft tyres, he had also to use the softs.)
Red Bull shadowed Vettel’s move and brought Verstappen in the following lap, who also emerged in P11 (Vettel had by now moved into P9.) This second stint didn’t last long, as Verstappen’s race ended one lap later and he was out with brake failure by Lap 12.
The rookie Lance Stroll was next to retire along with Sainz as they had an unfortunate collision at the exit to the pit lane on Lap 13, as Sainz barrelled into the side pod of Stroll’s Williams, putting both of them out of the race and getting himself a three place grid penalty and three points on his licence for his efforts.
The ensuing safety car period saw many cars take advantage and pit for fresh tyres, the most ‘significant’ of which was Bottas (from P1) and Hamilton (from P2.) They had to queue to be serviced, and with Bottas being in P1, Hamilton slowed down in the pit lane to give the team time and space. Unfortunately he slowed too much and inhibited the following Ricciardo. This led to Hamilton receiving a five second grid penalty, which would really see the race hotting up later on.
Would the safety car scupper Vettel’s undercut? For the moment he was in P1, ahead of Bottas, Riciardo and Hamilton (and the rest of the field, funnily enough!!)
The race restarted on Lap 16. Hamilton took Ricciardo for P3, and Massa followed suit for P4, as did raikkonen for P5, leaving Ricciardo in P6. There was a flurry of overtaking as Perez took Hulkenberg, Alonso overtook Grosjean and Palmer overtook Ericsson.
Then came Raikonnen’s overtake on Massa (at Turn 1, which later in the race would leave Massa with a distinct feeling of deja vu.) as Massa lost P4.
Meanwhile there was a battle raging between Palmer, Kvyat and Alonso which resulted in a yellow flag as Palmer and Kvyat made contact on Turn 1 on Lap 26. Plucky marshals ran onto the track to clear the debris so the race resumed fairly quickly.
If Bottas thought a tyre pressure problem at the beginning of the race was bad, it was as nothing compared to the first team order for him to let Hamilton past, which he duly did on Lap 28.
Then came Massa’s deja vu moment as he was again passed at Turn 1, this time by Ricciardo on Lap 29.
Bottas pitted on Lap 31 , emerging (from his newly acquired P3) in P7, rapidly overtaking Perez on the final corner of Lap 33 for P6.
Lap 34 saw Vettel pit for his second and final pit stop (onto softs) and emerge in P3, behind Hamilton and Raikkonen.
At this point the gap between Hamilton and Vettel was 16 seconds (plus Hamilton’s 5 second penalty) so, would Hamilton try to make his tyres last to the end of the race or was he also going to pit again?
Bottas overtook Ricciardo on Lap 37 and Raikkonen pitted onto softs on on Lap 38.
By Lap 41 Vettel had pulled back Hamilton’s lead to 9.735seconds. There was a Mercedes team message which seemed to indicate that Hamilton WOULD be on a two stop. Hamilton duly pitted onto SOFT tyres that lap, emerging in P3, behind Vettel and Bottas. Hamilton served his five second penalty during the pit stop so it would now be a straight fight to the end. Hamilton questioned the team’s decision to put him on softs ( as opposed to the ‘faster’ supersofts) and was told the data indicated that softs were the best choice.
The gap between Hamilton and Vettel was 16.2s and Hamilton started catching Vettel at the rate of about 1.3 s per lap (with 15laps to go) It looked as if it could be tight at the end of the race. Would we have an epic battle between Vettel and Hamilton? Mercedes definitely thought Hamilton had the pace to win (and kept telling him so.)
As well as catching Vettel, Hamilton was also catching Bottas and for the second time this race, Bottas was told to move over for his team mate. So much for Bottas’ first pole and chance of a win (or at least a decent race.) Bottas let Hamilton past on L49, by which time the gap between them was about 12s.
Vettel was moving into traffic ahead, which would slow him down and let Hamilton catch up.
Vettel overtook Palmer and Grosjean. The race was then yellow flagged as Marcus Erricson retired with his Sauber having given up the ghost on Lap 52.(Gearbox problem?)
Vettel then made short work of Kvyat, Alonso and Wehrlein. Kvyat them also overtook Alonso for P12 on L55. Alonso made some comment about ahem, ‘engine problems’ and retired on L56, one lap from the end.
To cut a long story short, Hamilton never caught Vettel (as he too had to negotiate traffic) and the reason he was catching Vettel was because Vettel had been ‘saving his tyres’ in case he needed them at the end of the race.
Vettel took his second win of the season, retained his position at the top of the Driver Standings, kept Farrari at the top of the Constructor Standings (thanks also to Kimi) and did a very silly dance to celebrate. The finger returned to the podium, and all was well in his world (and also the Tifosi were very happy.)
However, on the podium Hamilton and Bottas each had a face which could be described as looking ‘like a slapped bottom.’
It’s early days yet in the championship battle, but it has been mentioned that for the last few years, the driver who won in Bahrain has also gone on to win the championship. Will this be the case this year? Did Vettel ‘get lucky’ with Hamilton’s five second penalty? Was Hamilton foolish to slow down SO much in the pit lane? Should Bottas have let Hamilton past? Comments below, please.
p.s. sorry for the late arrival of the review………..