Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor CFD1801
Ambient 20.6° Track 29.1° Humidity 52.8% Wind 1.1 m/s
The pastel hues of twilight swirled gently about the desert painted artificially by the neon colours of the Sakhir circuit as the teams readied themselves for the first Grand Prix of the season. Vettel already found his bad going to worse having been found rather guilty of ignoring double waved yellows for the Mazepin spin and sent all the way to the back for his sins.
Remarkably cold as well, with track temps easily 10C less than any previous session run by the teams, which should make the tyre lottery just that much more entertaining as it may well bring the Softs properly into the picture. And that is ignoring the extremely gusty uncertain winds buffeting the circuit, which will do the highly aero dependent cars no good whatsoever and based on general consensus, may make life slightly more difficult for the low rake teams. GAS PER swap CE Battery
Verstappen, Hamilton Bottas, Gasly in the top 10 and Perez, Giovinazzi, Tsunoda, Raikkonen,Schumacher, Mazepin and Vettel all on the Medium tyre with Russell, Ocon and Latifi betting on the Soft in the cooler temps
On the way to the grid Perez car stopped absolutley dead and was left stranded on track and as he clambered out of the car, Verstappen was just rolling up to his grid spot…Annnddd an extra formation lap was the immediate problem. AS they came round Perez was able to fire up the car, turning it off and on again having worked, and into the pitlane he went now having to start from the pits as they trundled round for a second go at the start.
Lights Out!!!! Great Start by Verstappen and he led Hamilton and Bottas in order round the first turn. Bottas bogged a bit as HAmilton had a go at Max but it was Leclerc getting the job done, taking the spot away from Bottas on the exit of Turn 4 as in the distance Mazepin went sliding across the track and into the wall. Winners from the start were Leclerc up to P3 and ahead of Bottas, Norris ahead of Ricciardo for P6, Raikkonen and Ocon up 3 to P11 and P13 respectively and Vettel, up 6 places and into P14. The Safety Car was called out in response to the HAAS being planted in the wall and on replay it looked like Mazepin spun up the wheels and just lost it going through turn 3. That left Perez in P19 having started from the pitlane now having the most work to do once the Safety Car pulled in. Red Bull took advantage to pit Perez for a new set of tyres not sure why
Restart was Verstappen backing them up on the straight and then coming across Hamilton’s bows and flooring it which momentarily put Lewis into Leclerc’s sights. Norris pulled a blinder round the outside of Gasly and Pierre was then under serious pressure from Ricciardo, which wound up with Gasly losing his front wing after Ricciardo got by him and going wide which brought out the Virtual Safety Car as the wing was recovered from the track. On replay it was Gasly wonking the back of Ricciardo that caused it so massive own goal for the Alpha Tauri driver.
The shuffle left Bottas up into P3, Norris P5 and further back Perez was into P15 as Schumacher had a spin, and found himself at the back save Gasly who was now in the position of having to make up all the positions. At the front, Verstappen was rocking a 1.5 second gap to Lewis but Alonso was the one causing all the trouble, inside DRS on Ricciardo just ahead and in fact on lap 7 it was quite the train back of Danny Ric with Stroll and Sainz also inside DRS. Verstappen reported as potentially having some differential issues that might be causing some minor performance issues.
The carnage had also promoted Giovinazzi to P10 and he was leading a train as well, all the way down to P16 in fact, with Raikkonen first in line on his teammate. Lap 9 and Verstappen was now 2 seconds up on Hamilton as Norris rocked around Leclerc into T1 and Stroll behind, did the same to Alonso…
Lap 10 and Perez was now by Ocon into T4 and into P12 as the times all began to turn yellow on the sheets and the cars settled into the maintenance phase of the opening. Sainz, too was continuing his forward progress, and putting the pressure firmly on his countryman, Alonso. Inside DRS for Sainz and the answer from Alpine was to pit Alonso who rocked out on a set of Mediums in P17, relative to the Hards that Alpha Tauri put Gasly on when he came in to replace his front wing.
Norris Leclerc and Stroll all responded and then, lap 14 the first leg of Mercedes trap was sprung with Hamilton in for a set of Hards and out in P4… Alonso’s move promoted him ahead of Stroll, and left Ricciardo runnning extra laps. he was in lap 14 as well, along with Raikkonen, Giovinazzi and Ocon, with Ocon gaining the spot.
Ricciardo was out behind Alonso but wasted little time getting round him and it was Stroll, also trying to get round Alonso who get snookered and wound up dropping behind Alonso. Hamilton was inside a pit stop on Verstappen by time they got to lap 16 and having achieved that, the second leg of Mercedes trap was sprung, with Bottas in and out in P4 with some slightly fresher tyres.
Lap 18 and Verstappen was in and out, behind Hamilton and crucially, on another set of Mediums meaning Red Bull were on to two stop Verstappen and with 6 seconds to make up on Hamilton… Not a happy camper on the radio either, saying he had no grip on the exit of T1. Vettel was the longest of runners P7 on Medium tyres and it was Stroll easily by him with his much fresher set on lap 20. Perez was in again for a set of Mediums, back out in P12 and no doubt doing some research for Verstappen, who was diligently chunking a second a lap out of Hamilton. More entertaining, however was the on track battle between Vettel and Alonso, who was also trying to defend from Sainz behind.
Alonso made the move into T1 and a lockup into the turn let Sainz get round him and Vettel, paying close attention, followed Sainz by and left Alonso down a spot when it was all said and done. Perez was next to do the business on Alonso and left the Spaniard in the last points paying position.
At the front, Verstappen had nobbled the gap down to 3.5 seconds but he was no longer making much time as whatever exactly was wrong with his PU looked to be causing more and more issues as the race progressed. Raikkonen was the next to brutalize Alonso, swanning past the struggling Alpine as Vettel, clearly running for a one stop, had now plumbed the depths all the way to P13 before finally chucking it into the pits on lap 25.
Perez had quietly working his way up the ladder and as lap 26 commenced, he was up to P8 and Tsunoda continued the Alonso hammering, putting the Spaniard into P12 and leaving his teammate right behind him…
Hamilton meanwhile was slowly giving up time to Verstappen who was within 2 seconds but it was Bottas, with the push who was well into undercut range leaving Mercedes the full panoply of options: undercut Verstappen who was needing another stop and leave Hamilton out or bring Hamilton in and leave Bottas out and it was the second option on lap 29 Hamilton out on a fresh set of Hards with a 14 second gap…
Lap 30 and Alonso was in, Bottas following him the next go round but a sticky right front absolutely wrecked his strategy, putting him out P5 behind Leclerc and Norris.. both onto a set of Hards, Vettel, meanwhile, had worked his way back up to P14. Lap 32 and Ocon was in, out behind Giovinazzi with a fresh set of Hards. Leclerc was in lap 33 as was Ricciardo and the pitstop game was in full swing…
Into lap 34 and Ocon was by Giovinazzi into T1 and off in chase of his teammate, 6 seconds up the road. Lap 34 and Alonso threw in the towel, his brakes apparently shot and his day definitively done. Tsunoda filled that gap with his pitstopa new set of Hards to see him to the end and on the radio, Hamilton told the team low 34s were out of the question if they wanted him to get to the end. With a 16 second gap that would leave Verstappen with a very fresh set of tyres to catch Lewis on some very old and worn tyres, exactly the sort of fun one would want in an F1 race…
The time loss for Bottas in the pits being the crucial factor here, as it effectively removed Bottas as a player on the board as he was now longer anywhere close to Verstappen’s pit window. Lap 38 and Russell, after losing P10 to Raikkonen, was into the pits for his 2nd stop, out on Mediums and 18 laps to go. Lap 38 and Mercedes were on the radio warning Lewis about taking excessive advantage of track limits at T4, which brought a bit of a spicy complaint from Hamilton. Sainz rocked in for his last set of tyres and was out in P9 and Perez was also in for his final stop, out in P8 and running some Mediums to the end of the race. Lap 40 and Red Bull pulled the pin, leaving Verstappen with a fresh set of tyres and 16 laps to make up an 8 second gap. Stroll and Perez were getting it on to the absolute entertainment of the telly and the ultimate advantage for Perez.
Early times showed that Verstappen was well on pace to catch Hamilton and Mercedes put it around lap 50, meaning there were 6 laps for Max to get it done before the end of the race…. 2 laps on and Verstappen was already 2 seconds closer, prompting his engineer to gently request that he save some tyres for the actual passing of Hamilton. Another record for Lewis 5112 laps led while the wait for the catch commenced. Lap 44 and Perez was inside DRS on Ricciardo, and looking at P4 potentially.
Lap 45 and Ocon, having easily passed Vettel under DRS was then summarily rear ended as Vettel was unable to get the brakes on after moving back over to follow him through the corner. The contact spun Ocon round, let Giovinazzi past the pair of them, and let Vettel get in front of Ocon. None of which stopped Seb from blaming Ocon but the commentariat was having none of it. At the front, the gap was 3 seconds and closing at the start of lap 48 and Ocon extracted his revenge, by Vettel but looking at an uncloseable gap to Giovinazzi. Crucially it also held up Verstappen as he was trying to thread one very angry needle.
Lap 50 and the gap was 1.7 seconds between Hamilton and Verstappen but by the end of the lap it was just 1.3 seconds, tantalizingly close to DRS… Tied Sector 1 then into Sector 2 the big advantage all weekend for Red Bull, oooh and 0.7 seconds gone and inside DRS, tied for Sector 3 and down the straight they went Max with DRS wide. Lockup from Hamilton into T10 betrayed not only the magnificence of Hamilton’s drive to that point, but just how worn his tyres were. Lap 53 then and it was looking increasingly inevitable as Hamilton’s rears were utterly gone. Defended into T1 but not possible into T4 even though Max went well wide, going the long way round as they both rocked by Giovinazzi and then his tyre caught by the kerb on exit and sending him fully off. Which was problematic as gaining an advantage off track at Turn 4 was not a grey area. And Verstappen gave back the position post haste after Red Bull received a rather immediate call from the race director. And then he spun up the wheels, the loss of traction giving Hamilton a bit of a breather aas the penultimate lap beckoned. Vettel dinged 10 seconds for hitting Ocon just a footnote to the riveting battle at the front.
All eyes to the front, and it was even through Sector 1, 3 tenths for Max Sector 2 and even Sector 3. DRS down the straight and half a second between them into the last lap as it seems Verstappen’s tyres were getting slightly toasty…And the gap was down inside a second all the way, but the 2nd sector advantage was gone, and it was Hamilton, keeping the challenger at bay all the way to the line by the stunningly small margin of just 0.7 seconds and leaving a host of what ifs in its wake…
And that starts with the wonky differential for Verstappen, where he let Lewis back by, the advantage Hamilton took at Turn 4 until he was threatened by a black and white flag. None of which takes away from the remarkable drive Hamilton made, eking the tyres out over 28 laps and making a fabulous defense against a faster car with fresher tyres. Basically, it took all the tools in Mercedes’ toolbox to win the race and with any luck the tone for the season is now set.
P3 for Bottas leaves advantage Mercedes in the WCC as well, though a remarkable comeback for Perez will be keeping Mercedes in sight for Red Bull. A sweet P4 for Norris got McLaren off to a good start and a solid P6 and P8 for Ferrari showed are on pace to be a presence at the sharper end of the midfield. Tsunoda flew the flag for Alpha Tauri after Gasly removed his front wing with the assistance of the back of Ricciardo’s car, going P8 and it was Stroll claiming the last of the points paying position in what was a disappointing finish for Aston, their issues with tyre management apparently not as sorted as they would have hoped at the first race of the year.
Imola is next up and it will no doubt be an impatient time for Red Bull and perhaps a worrying one for Mercedes but an exciting won for all F1 fans….
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