Rosberg capitalises on first lap chaos
With his fifth consecutive victory and second of the 2016 campaign, Nico Rosberg’s rich vein of form continued in Bahrain. Despite losing out to teammate and chief rival Lewis Hamilton on Saturday afternoon, Nico dominated Sunday’s race after the Briton was heavily compromised by another poor start, followed by contact with Valtteri Bottas at the turn one pressure point. Recovering to finish third, Mercedes’ inter-team battle currently sees Rosberg a substantial 17 points ahead having recorded the maximum so far.
Hamilton’s Hail Mary strategy
The new start procedure, governed by a single rather than duel clutch mechanism, has certainly introduced an element of unpredictability off the line. Ferrari’s devastating launch in Melbourne was not repeated at Sakhir, but Hamilton’s woes did resurface and ultimately, defined the race.
While Rosberg comfortably made it to turn one ahead, Hamilton’s poor start allowed Valtteri Bottas a clear sight up the inside at the apex. Albeit, clearly not an attempt at an overtake, the Finn soon found himself pinched against the kerb. Had it not been for a cold tyre snap of oversteer, he would not have slithered into the side of the Mercedes, thus changing the complexion of the race.
Hamilton’s floor damage was costly. While he and Kimi Raikkonen – who also endured a poor start – managed to cut through the field quickly, the Briton was unable to catch the Ferrari.
A move to the medium tyres, which eventually proved to be far less effective in race conditions than was originally predicted, was somewhat of a Hail Mary from strategist James Vowles. The pit wall acknowledged that to beat Raikkonen, Hamilton had to make use of a contra-strategy.
Ferrari had Hamilton covered, and in turn, Rosberg had Raikkonen covered. Hence, the battle for the podium positions was rather tame. It would have been intriguing to see where Sebastian Vettel would have been had his day not been curtailed by unreliability. Equally, how much did race winner Nico Rosberg have in reserve given that he was largely unchallenged out in front.
Two contrasting races
After emerging from the hectic first corner second and third, Williams found themselves slipping down the order throughout the day. Valtteri Bottas’ drive-through penalty did not help matters, but their commitment to running the medium tyre ultimately proved unsuccessful.
Unlike in Melbourne two weeks ago, the white-striped tyre was lacking in pace and longevity. Felipe Massa’s two stop strategy which saw him run two medium tyre stints was painful viewing for Williams fans, as the Brazilian was a mobile chicane at times.
Williams’ negative strategy was in stark contrast to Haas’ approach. Romain Grosjean finished fifth, after running three separate stints on the super-soft tyre, as the team were clearly unperturbed at the prospect of following cars and navigating traffic. Grosjean drove effortlessly once again and was uncompromising in combat, praising a reliable brake pedal for the relative ease of overtakes.
“It was an aggressive strategy, but managing tires has always been my strength in the past,” Grosjean stated. “Knowing we had a softer compound for this racetrack was something I liked. The car was set up well for the supersoft tires and I had a fantastic race. The car has a very good baseline. Everything is working well. I don’t think I’ve ever been as high as fifth in the driver standings. This is the first time in my career, I can’t believe it.“
While Haas’ early achievements are one of F1 good news stories, (which seem few and far between for the sport at present), McLaren’s recovery effort is another. After a disastrous 2015 campaign, Honda are making marked progress and this weekend demonstrated that.
While Fernando Alonso acting as nothing more than an adviser to the team in Bahrain was a set-back, Stoffel Vandoorne’s debut weekend as his replacement was hugely impressive. The Belgian was faultless, building in confidence throughout the weekend, culminating in a special lap on Saturday which proved good enough to out-qualify teammate Jenson Button.
The Briton’s pace in the early phase of the race prior to his retirement seemed to be a response to Stoffel’s heroics on Saturday. Button was shaping up for a strong points haul, holding station on the periphery of the top ten and saving fuel along the way. Another ERS failure leading to another DNF was a disappointment, but the weekend in general should provide a boost to team morale.
Button ended FP2 in third, Vandoorne cruised past a Force India on the straight, and bagged the team’s first point of 2016 on debut. Plenty for Dennis, Boullier and Hasegawa to smile about.
Driver of the Day
The Frenchman had to be at his aggressive best to make the three stop strategy work. He dispatched cars effortlessly all afternoon, demonstrating supreme race craft. Fifth in the drivers standings after two races and putting in a performance to prove that Melbourne was no flash in the pan, Grosjean and Haas are set to be big players in the 2016 story.
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari +10.2
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +30.1
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull +62.4
5 Romain Grosjean Haas +78.2
6 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso +80.9
7 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull +1 lap
8 Felipe Massa Williams +1 lap
9 Valtteri Bottas Williams +1 lap
10 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren +1 lap
11 Kevin Magnussen Renault +1 lap
12 Marcus Ericsson Sauber +1 lap
13 Pascal Wehrlein Manor +1 lap
14 Felipe Nasr Sauber +1 lap
15 Nico Hulkenberg Force India +1 lap
16 Sergio Perez Force India +1 lap
17 Rio Haryanto Manor +1 lap
Carlos Sainz Jr Toro Rosso
Esteban Gutierrez Haas
Jenson Button McLaren
Jolyon Palmer Renault
Sebastian Vettel Ferrari