Sebastian Vettel has returned to the top of the podium with an emphatic victory in Bahrain. The double World Champion has had a difficult start to the season, but silenced his doubters by taking pole position yesterday and driving a faultless race to victory this afternoon. The perfect weekend for Vettel sees him at the top of the points standings for the first time this season.
Only Lotus had an answer to the pace of Vettel, with Kimi Raikkonen challenging for the lead before the last round of pitstops. Unfortunately for the Finn, he was unable to keep pace with Vettel once the Red Bull driver was on fresh tyres, and Raikkonen finished the race in second, his strongest result since returning to Formula One in Australia this season. Team-mate Romain Grosjean finished third for his first Formula One podium, completing an impressive weekend in which he outqualified Raikkonen and led his team-mate in the early stage of the race. His joy was evident on the podium and again in the post-race interview as he smiled broadly during the proceedings.
Mark Webber scored his fourth consecutive fourth place, which makes it four Renault engines in the top four, a surprising result given that the Mercedes engine is considered better for straight-line speed and the Bahrain circuit has two long straights.
Chinese Grand Prix winner Nico Rosberg could only manage fifth place today, recovering after a slow start that saw him lose a few places in the first corner. Rosberg will be the subject of two investigations by the stewards after the race, after on-track battles with Hamilton and Alonso saw both opponents running off the track to avoid contact with the Mercedes driver.
McLaren had a miserable afternoon. Lewis Hamilton had two very slow pitstops, both due to problems with his left-rear tyre, which pushed him down the order. Some good aggressive driving saw him finish in eighth, although that could change if the stewards find him guilty of passing Nico Rosberg outside the limits of the track. Jenson Button’s afternoon came to a premature end with a cracked exhaust.
Paul di Resta made a two-stop strategy work well to finish sixth, a good result for Force India. Alonso fought hard to finish seventh, with team-mate Mass scoring his first points of the season in ninth after a strong drive. Michael Schumacher rounded out the top ten after a solid drive from 22nd on the grid.
This weekend concluded the first round of fly-away races. The Formula One teams now return home, in advance of the first European race in Barcelona on 13 May.
This weekend sees Formula One return to Bahrain after the 2011 race was cancelled following political protests. The media has been full of speculation as to whether the race will, or in fact should, go ahead. One side of the discussion has gone largely unexplored – the Bahraini authorities dare not fail in hosting the Grand Prix.
The Bahraini government has been accused of using the Grand Prix to show that all is well in the kingdom. That’s hardly surprising. Large-scale sporting events are always a show of strength and stability for the local authorities. In fact, the success of the Grand Prix, rather than simply being bolstering for the monarchy, is essential for the worldwide image of the regime.
If this weekend’s race is marred by protest action, to the point that the racing is disrupted, it will show, to a truly global audience, that all is very much not well in Bahrain. If a single person, whether high-profile driver or unknown team member, is injured, even for reasons not connected to the protests, it will be taken by the rest of the world as an indicator that the protesters have a point.
The protesters have far more to gain from the Grand Prix than the authorities. If all goes well, the protesters lose nothing. The worldwide media is against the Bahraini government, and will likely remain so regardless of how the race proceeds. If the race goes badly, the opposition will be vindicated, and anti-regime sentiment will spread.
In short, the safety of all concerned is of paramount importance to the monarchy. Failure is not an option.
The Bahrain Grand Prix has been prominent in the media for the last year and a bit. The 2011 race was cancelled due to political instability in the island state, and recent protests have thrown this year’s race into question. But why is there a race there at all?
The track is arguably the most boring on the calendar. Located in the desert, there is very little backdrop to the circuit, apart from the desert itself. The 2010 race featured almost no overtaking at all. Perhaps DRS will change that this year, but the history of DRS shows that it is most useful on tracks where overtaking is already possible. The 2010 race was run on the “Endurance Circuit”, which is quite tight and twisty. The more flowing “Grand Prix Circuit” (to be used going forward) may facilitate some exciting racing this year.
On the positive side, the track is among the safest in the world, the organisation of the race is standard-setting, and facilities at the circuit are excellent.
Frankly, though, Formula One did not need the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2011. The race added nothing but tedium to the 2010 season, and this year is likely to be no different. There is no huge following of Formula One in the oil-rich country, so what’s the point? It can only be that the Bahraini organisers are willing to pay to host the race.
Formula One seems to be lining up new venues for races. This season sees a return to the United States with a race in Austin, Texas. New Jersey will host a race in 2013. Russia appears on the calendar for 2014. France is in negotiations for a return to the F1 calendar. There have been rumours for some time of a return to South Africa. In short, Formula One is in demand.
Can’t we forget about Bahrain and go somewhere else – preferably without causing political mayhem?