The race was exciting from start to finish, and green as well. Better not to have hedged, of course (this is the first race I’ve offered a hedged bet). Given I was uncertain how things would play out, relieved and pleased with the result, and it was good to watch too.
Off the line, surprisingly, Vettel passed Hamilton, and Verstappen passed both Raikkonen and Ricciardo.
We then had a sight reminiscent of a Trulli train. Vettel could run within a few tenths of Bottas, but couldn’t pass. The German’s pace was clearly constrained. Hamilton was right behind him but trying to compare their relative pace was impossible because both were stuck behind Bottas, and Verstappen was right behind Hamilton.
After perhaps eleven laps of this Vettel pitted, swapping supersofts for supersofts. Verstappen got on the radio asking for likewise, and got what he wanted. However, Verstappen then suffered a brake failure. He was fine but out of the race (damned shame because he was looking rather swift).
Shortly thereafter, Sainz emerged from the pits and attempted to occupy the same co-ordinates in time and space as Stroll. The Canadian, who must’ve slapped a witch before the season began, was taken out (the Spaniard tried blaming Stroll, but it was entirely Sainz’s fault), and a safety car emerged (relatively rare in Bahrain, had odds of 2.62). Sainz will have a three place grid penalty next time.
Vettel had been freed to drive much more swiftly and I was worried this would ruin his strategy. However, Bottas and Hamilton both had slow stops (the former because he had to wait whilst the world and his dog pitted, the latter because it was just a bit slow and he had to wait for his team mate to be serviced). Vettel claimed the lead, and Ricciardo came out ahead of Hamilton, but behind Bottas.
Upon the restart, Bottas had great speed and very nearly passed Vettel. However, the German kept the Finn at bay and then opened up a gap. Hamilton passed Ricciardo with consummate ease, the Aussie sliding inexorably down the order to about 6th (he was not pleased with his soft tyres, Hamilton also opting for that compound whilst Bottas and Vettel were on the supersoft).
Vettel was building up a lovely gap and Hamilton couldn’t pass Bottas. The Briton was also under investigation for deliberately impeding Ricciardo in the pit lane by driving slowly, and got a 5s time penalty (personally, I think this was a little harsh).
Vettel stayed out a long time, Ferrari wary of trapping him behind Ricciardo. The Prancing Horse, which appears to have replaced their Jar Jar Binks-led 2016 strategy team with one led by Tywin Lannister, timed Vettel’s pit stop to perfection, emerging ahead of Ricciardo.
Further down the field, Palmer, Kvyat and Alonso were having a prolonged ding-dong, the Spaniard bemoaning his lack of power, but it was all very tight until Alonso’s engine decided to stop working altogether.
Vettel set about, on his soft tyres, reeling in Hamilton. The Briton had to pit, putting on used softs and questioning that choice (but the team was right to reassure him they were a good selection). He drove phenomenally swiftly, caught Bottas and was allowed past (albeit at a strangely awkward spot) and was catching Vettel by a second a lap. But, there were not enough laps.
The German got his second win of the season, Hamilton and Bottas getting the rest of the podium. Raikkonen, who had been trundling around ahead of Ricciardo but well behind Bottas, actually closed the gap to a few seconds but was still 4th (Raikkonen had some sort of issue which affected him for quite a bit of the race).
Ricciardo ended up 5th, ahead of Massa. Perez and Grosjean were next, with Hulkenberg 9th and Ocon in his customary position of 10th. Wehrlein (whom I’d considered for points at 11) was 11th.
Ericsson and Magnussen also had DNFs, and Vandoorne had a DNS. McLaren has had one car reach the chequered flag out of six possibles this season. No wonder Alonso’s off to the Indy 500.
So, what did we learn?
Perhaps surprisingly given they’ve both finished every race, we still haven’t seen Vettel and Hamilton properly toe-to-toe and we still don’t know who is fastest. Today, Hamilton was catching Vettel very quickly late on. But Hamilton had to push, and Vettel may well have simply been managing the gap. If the safety car hadn’t emerged and closed everything up, we might’ve seen them both in clear air driving at maximum speed. But the safety car did close everything up.
Personally, I think the Ferrari just a touch faster, and has the edge on strategy. The Mercedes has slightly better reliability and a clear edge in qualifying. We also don’t know how Verstappen would’ve done had he not suffered brake failure, and that would’ve been interesting to see.
Force India maintained their double points finishes, and Renault continued to slide backwards from qualifying. Hulkenberg’s a good driver but the race pace of his car is not great. Perez’s Force India seems to work the other way around (he finished 10 places higher than he started).
Also, Hamilton drove Bottas into the ground today. He was a day and a half ahead of his team mate (which is making Rosberg look rather more impressive).
Here’s how the title races stack up. Drivers first (the two Red Bull drivers each have had one DNF):
Red Bull 47
Very, very tight. The race was tense from start to finish, and the season’s looking like it’s going to be nip and tuck. As for Red Bull, they *can* still challenge for the Constructors’ but they need to win the development war quickly.
Further down the field, Williams and Force India are very close, and Toro Rosso’s not far off. It’s all set up rather nicely.
I’ve included a couple of graphs, a bar chart of Points, Pointless Finishes and DNS/DNF by team, and a line graph of the top three teams showing running points totals. I’m keeping those stats largely for my own interest, to keep track of the development race, but let me know if they’re tedious or interesting as graphs, and I can post more or fewer.
Overall, the weekend was green (obviously better not to have hedged the Vettel bet). Quite pleased, given I was unsure how the race would unfold and the qualifying failure was perhaps a little unfortunate.
The next race is Russia, in a fortnight.