The 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix had all the makings of a show-stopper after Saturday’s Qualifying session. Sebastian Vettel took his first pole of the season and had a quick Kimi Raikkonen alongside him on the first row. Valtteri Bottas was looking to make up for his misdemeanours in Australia from third on the grid and Daniel Ricciardo’s rapid Red Bull lined up alongside him in fourth. Pierre Gasly and Kevin Magnussen lined up in an impressive fifth and sixth while Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen would have to put on epic performances to come back through the grid. Hamilton had a five plane grid penalty for a change of gearbox, while Verstappen crashed in the first part of qualifying leaving him fifteenth on the grid.
The race under the lights certainly delivered. The amount of intrigue, tension and excitement right up until the final corner made this race one of my favourites from the past few years. Sometimes in F1, the tension and potential of what might happen is just as exciting as what is actually happening on track.
Sadly, Red Bull’s day ended just a few laps into the race. After colliding with Hamilton on the first lap, Verstappen had a puncture and returned to the pits. As that was happening, Ricciardo’s car stopped working mid-corner and left the Australian out of the race. Verstappen rejoined the track but his day was soon over too. Red Bull’s first double DNF since the 2010 Korean Grand Prix will certainly have left a bitter taste, as the team packed up the garage and the drivers vacated the circuit long before the chequered flag fell. It was disappointing to lose those two cars from the race, as they looked quick in practice and could have added an extra dimension of suspense to proceedings.
Instead, it was left to Mercedes and Ferrari to once again battle for the victory. It was Sebastian Vettel who eventually came out on top in one of the most hard fought victories of his career. Valtteri Bottas was clearly quicker than the Ferrari in the closing stages. Despite being on 39 lap old Supersoft tyres, Vettel clung on to take the win by just 0.699 seconds – the closest ever finish at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
It was a bittersweet victory for the Scuderia, though. Kimi Raikkonen’s pace had looked promising all weekend but his race fell apart in worrying fashion in the pit-lane, as one of the Ferrari mechanics suffered a nasty injury. Francesco Cigarini took the brunt of a Ferrari driving over his leg, and had to have surgery on a fractured shinbone. A fellow mechanic was sent up on the podium after the race as a mark of respect to Cigarini.
There were plenty of success stories throughout the pack in Bahrain. Kevin Magnussen took his best result for Haas, Marcus Ericsson scored his first points since the 2015 Italian Grand Prix, and Esteban Ocon scored Force India’s first point of the season. Undoubtedly the star performance of the day, and weekend, was Pierre Gasly, who finished in a stunning fourth place. The elation at Toro Rosso was clear. This was a team who were ridiculed by some for taking Honda engines for this season. But they’ve proved the doubters wrong, and shown McLaren up, by finishing better than the Woking team did at any event during their recent three year partnership. In just his seventh Grand Prix, Gasly is doing everything right to show his worth to the senior Red Bull team, should a vacancy become available for 2019.
Talking of McLaren, they had a mixed weekend. Both cars were disappointingly knocked out in Q2 on Saturday, but both scored a handful of points come Sunday evening. They can find solace in the fact that they hold third in the Constructors’ Championship, and Fernando Alonso is sitting fourth in the World Championship.
Williams were almost forgotten about this weekend. 2018 is certainly not looking good for the British team. A woeful qualifying, which was their worst since the 2011 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, was followed by them being far off the pace on Sunday. Lance Stroll came home in fourteenth, while Sergey Sirotkin could only manage fifteenth, but at least managed to finish his first F1 Grand Prix. It could be a long season for them.
Luckily for us, we have just a few days to wait until the next round of action in China. Lewis Hamilton is notoriously good at this track, having taken pole on six occasions and winning six times too. Vettel will be wanting to make it three out of three, though, and Red Bull will desperately want a great result. Hamilton hasn’t won a Grand Prix since last season’s American race. Can he end his drought at a track which suits him well?
See you in Shanghai in a couple of days!