Sakhir, 21 April – After winning in China just one week ago, and a grid here in Bahrain that featured an all-Ferrari second row, to finish the fourth round of the world championship taking home just 4 points courtesy of Fernando Alonso finishing eighth, is as surprising as it is disappointing for Scuderia Ferrari. Felipe Massa took the flag, out of the points zone in fifteenth place. Luck certainly wasn’t on the Brazilian’s side as he was involved in a collision at the start and then twice had tyre troubles in the course of the 57 lap race. As for Fernando, a problem with the DRS could not be fixed at the first pit stops and he had to drive almost the entire race without this device, which is so vital to overtaking. Sebastian Vettel became the first driver to win two races this season. On the podium, the Red Bull man was flanked by the two Lotus drivers, Kimi Raikkonen second and Romain Grosjean third. Today’s result means that while the Prancing Horse is still third in the Constructors’ standings, on 77 points, the gap to Lotus, now on 93 and Red Bull, 109, has grown.
For racing fans who don’t have an allegiance to any particular team, the Bahrain Grand Prix was another thrilling motor race, once again partly down to different tyre strategies. Three stops looked like being the most obvious choice, but some cars that had seen less degradation and wear over the first two days of the Bahraini weekend were prepared to gamble on just two. Vettel attacked pole man Rosberg in the Mercedes right off the line and this allowed Fernando to squeeze into second, but Vettel retook the position a few corners later and took a couple more laps to deal with Rosberg and go into the lead. On the dirty side of the track in fourth, Massa dropped a place to Di Resta, while lap 3 saw Fernando pass the Mercedes. However, on lap 7, the Spaniard had to pit, as his DRS flap was stuck in the open (low downforce) position. He had to come in a second time as it was still not working, but from then on he had to complete the race without it and had dropped to 19th on lap 9.
Having started on the Hard tyre, Felipe made his first stop on lap 10, as did Vettel, Perez, Hamilton and Maldonado and then, the Brazilian had to come in again on lap 17 because of a problem on the right rear tyre. On lap 11, the race was led by those who were planning to do just two stops; Di Resta, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg and Bottas, with Felipe ninth and Fernando down in fourteenth, respectively 9 and 33 seconds down on the leader. Having worked his way up to seventh, the Spaniard brought his F138 in for a third stop on lap 24, with Felipe doing the same four laps later but what appears to have been a puncture on lap 36, meant that his efforts to climb into the points would come to nothing.
There were some great battles, as McLaren team-mates Button and Perez showed no mercy going wheel to wheel for several laps, in a fight that also involved Rosberg. In fact there were times when four or five cars were all scrapping together, some of these involving Fernando, but the Spaniard was always hampered by the lack of DRS, which meant he wasn’t able to fight on equal terms when battling for eighth with Hamilton and Perez and later when this trio became a quartet as Button also got involved. Fernando passed Button to go seventh on lap 46 and set about chasing Perez, with more wheel to wheel action between the Spaniard and the Mexican as the Ferrari grabbed a place off the McLaren. With a handful of laps remaining Fernando then had Webber ahead of him, but Perez was back to trouble him pushing the Ferrari into the dust and off the track, with Fernando immediately trying to find a way to re-pass the McLaren, but it was not to be.
Vettel took the flag for a relatively comfortable win, with all the excitement taking place behind him. In second spot, Kimi Raikkonen was the most successful of the two stoppers, with his Lotus team-mate Romain Grosjean making three visits to the pits on his way to third. Paul di Resta nearly took the two stop route to the podium, but his Force India’s tyres faded in the end and he came home fourth ahead of Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes. Sergio Perez just got the better of Mark Webber in the closing stages so that they crossed the line in sixth and seventh just ahead of Fernando. Felipe meanwhile ended a very difficult day in fifteenth spot.
We now have two weekends without any action, before embarking on the European leg of the championship in Barcelona. They used to say the Championship only really started when it got to the Old Continent but the current points positions tell a different story.