Races Watched (2019 Week 13): F1 Bahrain

Week 13:  25-31 March 2019

Formula 1 – R2 – Bahrain Grand Prix

Okay I admit this was a fun race. I really wasn’t expecting it to be this good!

DRS & Overtaking

The addition of a 3rd DRS zone left me assuming it would be filled with simple push-button-to-pass overtakes down the main straight and those did happen, too many times.

But for the most part the strategy worked. The DRS zone at start/finish often brought a following car alongside the car in front leaving the drivers to sort it out at turn 1. If they swapped places, the passed car got DRS on the very next straight, giving an opportunity to get the place back. That worked really well. I like it when the chances are fair. Sometimes he got his place back, sometimes he didn’t, and often the cars were side by side into the next corner.

And that meant the opening 10 laps or so were fantastic! Drivers were able to stay with each other and attack each other yet still leaving it in the hands of the drivers to hit the apex first.

It worked less well when a trailing driver used DRS to get behind a car, then got another DRS activation on the next straight and sailed on past. Although, you could argue the trailing driver was being smarter and using the zones to his advantage, deliberately waiting for the second activation to prevent himself being passed back.

So I concede that DRS can improve the racing. The big caveat? I’d still prefer technical regulations allowing cars to race closely without needing a flappy wing to get them close. There is hope in the 2021 proposals. In the meantime, stick with the consecutive activations so each driver gets a fair use, or better still, simply let anyone in the zone use it.

Team by Team

Charles Leclerc was a revelation. Topped the times all weekend, seemingly laying down an early marker against Sebastian Vettel, yet never in a negative, combative way. Open, friendly, welcoming, taking it all in his stride as if he didn’t feel pressure. Until lap 47. A cylinder failed, initially reported as MGU-H, and he started to panic as he lost a comfortable lead and gradually dropped to 3rd. To be honest he was lucky the car was still running at all and lucky the Safety Car came out with 3 laps to go, which protected his podium finish from Verstappen. He kept his head in the end and brought the car home.

Was it the sign of a championship challenge? Of course not. Not yet. It was simply a good performance in a single weekend. Vettel might yet dominate the rest of the season. It did show Leclerc’s potential, showed he didn’t need time to settle in, showed that Ferrari had made the correct decision on drivers.

Vettel himself was very close to Leclerc on pace but he got boxed in on strategy midrace, falling to 3rd behind Hamilton. He was still quicker though, but when he tried to race his way through, he spun. Ferrari couldn’t believe it. I don’t think anybody could believe that again he spun the car in wheel-to-wheel racing. But it probably wasn’t his fault.

There were severe gusts of wind all day, the pre-race coverage from Sky really showed it, even if the in-race coverage from FOM probably didn’t. As Vettel crossed Hamilton’s car’s airflow and unsettled his own car it wouldn’t surprise me if he also caught one of those strong gusts.

The Mercedes weren’t quite there but had enough to fight the Ferraris in the early laps, Hamilton was close enough to catch Leclerc. Unfortunately the All New 2019 Bottas reverted back to 2018 Bottas and by lap 45 was some 15-20 seconds behind Hamilton.

Red Bull were in no-mans land. Well, Verstappen was. Gasly again mired in the field after another poor qualifying effort. At least he recovered to 8th, but that would’ve been 10th had it not been for Renault.

Renault in the closing stages were running 6th and 7th even though they ran divergent strategies, Ricciardo stayed out long, even leading for a bit, it didn’t work in the end, Hulkenberg who started near the back had got ahead of him. But then both retired on the spot at Turn 1 at the same time! Both with car problems, either mechanical or electrical. I’ve never seen that before, both team cars out in the same place with unrelated problems within seconds of each other. They’ll be back but these points were vital.

Something Lando Norris knows. He had a great day. Fell back early then raced his way through, putting solid moves on the likes of Kimi Raikkonen. 8th became 6th when the Renaults went out. A much better showing of speed for McLaren. Lots of potential at McLaren this year. They aren’t quite with the works team on speed, but they might beat them if they finish more races and are definitely hugely better than last year. Sainz suffered damage early, needed a new wing and ran at the back until retiring late on.

Alexander Albon also impressed with some good speed and overtakes including on Kvyat who’d otherwise done a decent job before being shunted into by Giovanazzi, who didn’t get a penalty for it for some reason.

Alfa Romeo had Raikkonen up there and he fought back after pit stops dropped him down. Giovanazzi as above hit Kvyat, other than that I don’t remember seeing him.

Haas qualified well but Magnussen had no race pace at all and Grosjean had damage by turn 2 of lap 1 after contact.

I didn’t see a lot of Racing Point other than Stroll’s car getting damaged in the contact with Grosjean, sparks everywhere. With a new front wing he still caught and passed the Williams pair but had no hope of more. I don’t think I saw Perez all race, he inherited the final point when the Renaults went out.

Williams again at the back. Kubica started on the mediums (everyone else on softs) yet I noticed he pitted first, perhaps he had a slow puncture? He and Russell raced each other all day. Positively, both cars finished the race and right now mileage and race finishes are the most important thing.

Points

Just the point for Fastest Lap in Melbourne keeps Bottas ahead of Hamilton. Verstappen sits a lucky third. The Ferraris surely retain a speed advantage into the next round at Shanghai and should close the points gap. There’s a very long way to go yet in 2019.

The rest of the field is tight as anything. Early season reliability trouble is having an effect. It has long been a truism of F1 that you can’t throw away points in the early races to poor reliability, they’re worth just as much as the season-closing races.

BAH TOTAL Driver Team
18 44 Valterri Bottas Mercedes
25 43 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
12 27 Max Verstappen Red Bull
16 FL 26 Charles Leclerc Ferrari
10 22 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
6 10 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo
8 Kevin Magnussen Haas
8 8 Lando Norris McLaren
6 Nico Hulkenberg Renault
4 4 Pierre Gasly Red Bull
2 Lance Stroll Racing Point
2 2 Alexander Albon Toro Rosso
1 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
1 1 Sergio Perez Racing Point

A lucky break for Mercedes but I think this just gives them a temporary advantage. Ferrari will be quicker at fast, open tracks which make up the bulk of the calendar.

BAH TOTAL Constructor
43 87 Mercedes
26 48 Ferrari
16 31 Red Bull Honda
6 10 Alfa Romeo Ferrari
8 Haas Ferrari
8 8 McLaren Renault
6 Renault
1 3 Racing Point Mercedes
2 3 Toro Rosso Honda
Williams Mercedes

Catch-Up

Nothing!

With the previous week off work (watching all that MotoGP), last week I was very busy and never got around to catching up with anything in the evenings. Over the weekend I was getting jobs done and visiting family for Mother’s Day.

Next Week

1st to 7th April

IndyCar is at Barber Motorsports Park. I need to watch the first two rounds and hope to do that by then, next week’s post may be an IndyCar Special. It helps that UK and US are back in sync with DST. Unlike the previous race I can actually get home for it.

This is likely to be the only live race I’ll see this weekend. I’m at an astronomy course on Saturday, then o Sunday I’m probably helping to put up a fence!

Your other viewing options include:

  • BTCC Brands Hatch on ITV4. I considered actually going to this one but other plans have cropped up, there are plenty of other chances though.
  • WTCR Marrakesh on both Eurosport and, amazingly enough, the BBC Red Button. Of all the series. Plenty of UK interest with Shedden, Huff and Priaulx.
  • World SBK at Aragon.
  • Supercars Australia in Tasmania.
  • Blancpain GT Asia at Sepang.
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