The Formula 1 Gran Prix of Bahrain proved once again that the 2013 season might be one of the most exciting in recent years. Uncertain tire strategy, two DRS zones and numerous competitive teams made for intense racing through out the Formula 1 field. Hit the jump for all the details and a few pictures of Formula 1 cars driven in anger.
Once again the early story of the weekend was tire management. Pirelli left the soft tires at home and only the medium and hard tires were available to teams in Bahrain. Even with the more durable tires, the heat and abrasive Bahrain track meant that drivers had to manage tire temperature during the course of the race.
During Friday practice it looked to be a Ferrari and Lotus show with both teams posting impressive times and excellent race pace, during their longer stints. Unsurprisingly, Red Bull also looked strong. The Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were very quick but even during practice it was obvious that they were hard on tires and they struggled during the longer runs.
On Saturday, Nico confirmed the outright speed of the Mercedes by putting it on pole ahead of Vettel and Alonso. Nico’s teammate Hamilton qualified in 4th but a delaminating tire damaged his car in practice and he was forced to change his gearbox, incurring a five spot grid penalty. Massa stayed on the hard tires during Q3 and with Hamilton and Webber’s grid penalties he was moved up to 4th on the grid. He looked good to challenge for a podium with his alternate tire strategy.
Of course, once the starting lights went out everyone’s plans were immediately thrown out the window. Rosberg came out of the blocks like a man possessed, sweeping across the track to keep Vettel behind him and showing an amazing amount of aggression during the opening laps. Once his tires started to fall, off he began to drop back through the field but for the entire race Rosberg was simply a brawler, fighting for every inch of track and basically driving the wheels off the car. In the end he finished 9th, still in the points but no doubt a frustrating result for the German.
Race favorites Massa and Alonso had what amounted to a nightmare race. Alonso had a mechanical failure with his DRS system and after pitting twice in as many laps, early in the race, he was forced to run nearly the entire race without the advantage of DRS. At one point Alonso was down in 18th and on a track like Bahrain, with it’s two DRS zones, things were not looking good for the Ferrari driver. In a performance that was definitely in contention for drive of the day Alonso fought back to finish 8th and limited the damage to his championship hopes.
Ferrari’s Cinderella story this year is a revitalized Massa. Starting on the hard tires Massa looked to capitalize with an alternate tires strategy. A slight coming together with Sutil and the fact that his hard tires didn’t seem to last much longer than the mediums put paid on Massa’s plans. To add insult to injury, during his second stint one of his hard tires delaminated, much like Hamilton experienced in practice, forcing him to come into the pits and later in the race debris on the track caused a puncture forcing another unscheduled pits stop resulting in Massa dropping well out of the points and finishing in 15th. It was a tough day to be a Ferrari driver.
Force India showed impressive pace with Di Resta just missing out on his first podium, as Lotus driver Grojean snuck past him in the closing laps to grab third behind his teammate Kimi Raikkonen.
Looking impressive as always Sebastian Vettel diced with Rosberg and Alonso during the opening laps but once he was out front in clean air he simply drove away from the field. No one was surprised to see the Red Bull driver have winning pace but the ease with which he did it was shocking, considering the pace of the Ferrari and Lotus teams during practice.
There will probably be much debate among fans about what might have been if Ferrari’s race had gone to plan. They have three weeks to debate that question before Formula 1 goes the Spain for the first of the European races. A number of teams are planning to debut the first round of serious updates to the cars in Spain so we can expect some surprises when Formula 1 returns to the continent. Lets hope the Grand Prix at Catalunya turns out to be just as exciting as the Bahrain Gran Prix.
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