…And Sebastian made it two wins out of two in a stunning, breathtaking fashion in the desert!
Sebastian Vettel won the Bahrain Grand Prix, beating Valtteri Bottas with a mere 0.699 seconds as Lewis Hamilton came in third, after starting from 9th. It was a bittersweet victory for Ferrari as Kimi Raikkonen retired after a pitstop accident that left a mechanic with a broken leg.
After the VSC-inspired victory in Melbourne two weeks ago, Vettel and Ferrari pulled a miracle, running Vettel on a one-stop strategy when everyone, including Mercedes, thought they were going for a two-stop strategy. No one would have imagined that….except Arrivabene and his crew in the pitwall. It wasn’t even about the one-stop strategy, it was about switching to soft compound tyres and churning out an impossible 39 laps! 39 laps on softs!
Pirelli says the lifespan of a set of medium compound tyres is about 40 laps and that of softs is 30 laps. Anything more than these numbers….is at owner’s risk. Doing 33 laps on softs is a gamble too far, considering the many blowouts seen when drivers exceed Pirelli’s estimated limit. Vettel has had quite a few tyre blowouts in his career: last year at Silverstone and at Spa in 2015 to mention a few. In both races, he was running in third before the blowouts on the penultimate lap. In the race at Spa, the German was on the 28th lap of his stint on mediums when the failure took place, with Pirelli saying the medium compound tyres were to last for only 22 laps. Ferrari insisted then that they had the right strategy based on data they had.
Luck was no factor in this case. It was simply Vettel and Ferrari going for broke! No risk, no reward. 1st position or …. 2nd position, third position or a spectacular tyre blowout. Mercedes was too slow to spot what Ferrari was up to, and by the time they realized it, it was too late. Bottas pushed as hard as he could go on his mediums, which were two laps younger than Seb’s. The Finn lurking behind the German, waiting for any slip-up to take advantage of, but Vettel held his nerve on tyres that “were done” in a pulsating finish. Maybe he could have overtaken Seb with an extra lap or two, maybe not. Some say Bottas couldn’t push harder because of Mercedes’ tyre temperature issues but Mercedes denied that. They simply realized too late was Ferrari was up to. Once again, Mr. Arrivabene & Mr. Clear beat Mr. Wolff and Mr. Lauda.
Some say that Lewis Hamilton would have overtaken Sebastian if he were in that position, but if the Brit couldn’t pull it in Melbourne with fresher tyres, then he still wouldn’t have succeeded in Sakhir with Vettel driving brilliantly. And if it were Max Verstappen, the duel would have ended in a crash, surely.
Mercedes has a faster car surely, but they’re not getting their calculations right so far. They’ve got cars that have the best qualifying and race pace, but everything isn’t coming together for them. If not for Kimi Raikkonen’s pitstop accident, they could have been well behind in the Constructor’s title race after just two races. They thought they had the win in the bag, but they were outsmarted. Maybe it was Ferrari’s strategy from the onset to run on this strategy, maybe they took a gamble, but certainly Vettel “had a party” Sunday evening again. Mercedes would get another chance to get their acts right in Race 3 at Shangai this weekend.
Finally, It’s been an electrifying season so far. F1 fans want to see more of such races, races with intrigues, contrasting strategies, and actions at the front, middle and rear. Nobody wants to see a “procession”, even though the FIA indirectly wants it with the reduced power units for the season. Pierre Gasly was arguably the driver of the day, driving to fourth place, giving Toro Roso their seventh top-four finish in its history and Honda’s best result since it returned to F1 with Mclaren in 2015. He drove pretty well. Impressive drive. Time will tell if he lives up to the hype he has started to generate.
F1 is back, surely!
By Ekwonye Osy Ernesto