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.

The Situation With Bahrain

I genuinely hope the positive reports emanating from the F1 crowd of a quiet Bahrain are true, and not because the population has been suppressed by local or Saudi or Pakistani security forces. Sadly that is not the picture emerging from at least some sections of the small country.

We’re being told via Twitter that teams and journos alike are seeing little action on the run from Manama to Sakhir and back save for the odd small fire (and obviously that Force India team incident the other day). However you can expect that road to be heavily protected by the authorities, indeed some journalists counted at least 70 police vehicles along the route.

The reports I’ve seen suggest they are mostly in out-of-the-way villages, journalists had to go and find them, which doesn’t make them any less important but it disproves the theory the country is in chaos. That they are taking place at all disproves the alternative theory that everything is just fine and dandy and nothing is going on. Some protests in the last couple of days have got a bit closer and there’s always a danger there will be a concerted effort to reach the track on race day. The flashpoint was always going to come when the cars took to the track, either on the now-traditional Friday ‘Day of Rage’ or on Sunday’s race day, or both. Thankfully Friday didn’t seem as bad as I feared it might’ve been, even with the sad fatality of a protestor (for whatever reason). I honestly expected worse than that.

Not knowing the specifics of the locality, although I’ve been trying to read up on it a lot in the past week (and indeed 12 months ago), I don’t know if these protests show a sample of a much broader picture. The protesters say the vast majority of the populace supports them. The government says the vast majority of the populace supports the race going ahead, though they have yet to claim the majority supports the government.  I tend to believe the protestors, I can easily believe more people support them than are willing to says so when the government is tear gassing them and firing rubber bullets, this being the same government which a year ago fired live rounds into a crowd armed only with flags, the same government which attacked a hospital.

If the dispute stays within these factions it would remain an internal matter, a desperately sad one with terrible acts committed by individuals on each side of the divide – the official forces have done some horrific things but the protestors are not as innocent as they may like to portray themselves either, the injuries to police show that. If it is self-defence against unprovoked attacks from forces then fine, I agree, do what you can to defend yourselves. But if not? Unacceptable. Regardless, it is a scenario which others shouldn’t be walking into.

It isn’t the fullscale rioting some media outlets are portraying, but neither is it safe, especially when you have a trigger-happy police and army force around. People who beat people to a pulp just because they’ve been arrested.

As a racing fan, my primary concern is the safety and security of the ‘travelling circus’ of F1, GP2 and Supercup teams, drivers and sports media personnel. Quite honestly, if I were a team owner and any single member of my staff were injured as a result of protest action or government response, no matter how indirectly, whether they were the intended target or not, I would take the FIA, FOM, Todt, Ecclestone and whomever else to the courts. There is no way any of them should be in the country right now.

As a private individual, I genuinely hope the Bahrainis work through their problems and in a peaceful manner. Further discussions should be held to progress reform.

After Tianenman Square China went through a long healing process and a period of opening up to the world, there are still huge problems but they are making progress and I am convinced the Olympics played a big part in that. There is the chance the Grand Prix could do something similar for Bahrain and the government seems to be banking on that – but this is much too early. Bahrain has not had that healing period. Another 12 months should pass before a Grand Prix should be held. Sadly it is too late for that now, this race is going to go ahead. I fear for potential lives lost tomorrow.

Positive Thinking

The protest movement is already doing well out of this. The government looks weak, foolish and stupid. Sadly, so does F1 and more specifically Bernie Eccelstone, Jean Todt and the FIA. The teams can (just about) get away with saying they are contracted to be there and would lose millions, potentially their entry to the Championship and thus their jobs, they have no choice.

They protestors now have the eyes of the world upon them. Everyone knows their cause. They have been silenced in the world media by Syria and before it Libya. Now they are front and centre on the world stage – this would not have happened without Formula 1. For better, for worse. They will continue to make the rulers of Bahrain look foolish and careless. This despite the best efforts of Bahrain Government to stop independent news reporters visiting the country.

I am glad some of the F1 contingent remembered they are journalists first and foremost and not press release recyclers, and went out to look for the protests themselves. It was a dangerous move. It paid off.

Will I watch the race? Probably. My feeling is if some protest happens during the race I will be more informed if I watch it rather than if I read about it later. I will better be able to form my own opinions and conclusions. I don’t feel comfortable though and I am fully expecting to switch off – or not switch on at all.

I don’t know that I’ll be paying very close attention to tyre strategies and positions through the field. I may be too busy looking at the corners of TV pictures to see if the cameraman/director is trying to crop something out, the way they do at quiet events when they try to avoid showing empty grandstands.

If I do watch I may elect to withold my usual Twitter interaction and opinion unless a protest does take place, or I may make it exclusively about the situation rather than anything in sporting terms. In terms of racing and sport I am honestly more interested in the London Marathon than I am the result of this Bahrain GP. Even if it does take place in the most exciting F1 season we’ve seen in years.