Sebastian Vettel fended off Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain, but Ferrari must be punished after mechanic is injured while Max Verstappen should not be blamed for Red Bull farce.
Red Bull misery, a Mercedes performance that was equal parts masterclass and confusing, a safety scandal and a rookie relishing the spotlight – after the mundane affair in Australia, Bahrain had it all.
Lewis Hamilton, starting in ninth, suited up on softs while the Ferraris and his team-mate Valtteri Bottas were on the supers.
Nevertheless, he reeled them in on the first stint, including a sensational swoop down the straight that saw him edge past three cars simultaneously.
At the changeover, Vettel put on the softs and then the Mercedes went to mediums after Hamilton had held up the championship leader. It was tactical perfection – and it didn’t last.
Bizarrely, Mercedes did not seem to press home their advantage in grip when Vettel was skating around in slippery softs. There was confusion over the radio as a peeved Hamilton claimed he was ‘driving to target’ times in a bid to catch Vettel, but he finished six seconds off the pace in the third.
Second-placed Bottas had one nibble at Vettel’s Ferrari on the last lap yet couldn’t finish off the German. An opportunity missed for Mercedes after a well-executed race.
Forget points and podiums – safety must be paramount in Formula One. It’s why they’ve brought in the halo, and a raft of other changes since Jules Bianchi passed away three years ago.
Why is it then that the FIA gave Ferrari a measly 5,000 euro fine for an unsafe release during free practice, as Kimi Raikkonen was forced to pull over with a loose wheel.
Sunday brought a similar type of incident in the pits – one that had dire consequences. Raikkonen was released with an untightened left rear, and in the way of that tyre was a poor mechanic’s leg.
It looked like a nasty break and someone now surely faces a fight to get walk again. What is the price of safety, be it a driver or his support team? An example needs to be made.
Lay off Max
The spin in Australia and a crash in qualifying here – turning the airwaves blue over the radio – would have caused Max Verstappen pain, but it turns out the 20-year-old hadn’t even hit the nadir.
The Dutchman stormed out of the traps from 15th place and cosied up to Hamilton in the process, only to clip the Mercedes man while making the overtake.
It destroyed Verstappen’s left rear and more as the Red Bull brass ordered him to retire the car a lap later. The TV director captured the team’s misery in a nutshell, as Verstappen limped past a marooned Daniel Ricciardo – who was also forced to retire due to mechanical failure.
His occasional petulance and rashness makes it all too easy to point the finger at Verstappen, but two races in, there’s nothing to blame but dumb, bad luck.
In Melbourne, Verstappen damaged his car merely by running wide while chasing Kevin Magnussen, and a freak surge of horsepower apparently cooked his goose in qualifying on Saturday.
On Sunday, Verstappen refused to give Hamilton room, and Hamilton refused to yield. A pure racing incident.
Formula One cars should be thrown around a bit – instead questions need to be asked why these Red Bulls are so fragile.
Perhaps it was just McLaren after all. The Honda engine clinched their first bit of good PR in a long while with their best-ever finish in the turbo hybrid era as Pierre Gasly masterfully steered his Toro Rosso to fourth in just his seventh grand prix.
The Frenchman capitalised on the Red Bull meltdown, of course, but he was in such a position after a blistering Q3 that saw him qualify in – ahead of all of his team’s second-tier rivals in Haas, Renault and Force India.
It’s one thing to qualify so well but another entirely to make it stick in a race that did not lack for the overtaking that was so sorely lacking in Australia.
He was helped out a little by Romain Grosjean, who inexplicably held his Haas team-mate Kevin Magnussen up at a crucial point in the race, but Gasly was calmness personified and clever, too. He was unwilling to engage in a scrap for places with Hamilton early on and ran his own race – very, very well.