Two races into the year and things and starting to become clear in Formula One. Read on as Kyle Archer talks through eight things we learnt from the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Formula One is leaving itself with egg on its face whether they like it or not when it comes to qualifying. But when it comes to the race, the action is hot and fiercely contested throughout the field. Even if Rosberg did win the Bahrain Grand Prix at a canter with only back markers in his sights, continue his winning streak and set himself up perfectly for a historic first championship win.
- FIA reject qualifying changes… again
One attempt failed, so they tried again. But this time it was even worse as elimination qualifying showed itself to be a terrible idea once more at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Following qualifying at the Australian Grand Prix, teams and fans lobbied for the elimination format to be thrown out after the show fell flat and the results were determined while the sessions still had minutes to spare. But the FIA had other ideas, and rejected the teams’ pleas to revert to the previous format. Instead they offered a compromised elimination format, which would see just Q3 changed back to a non-knockout session. Yet without the support of McLaren and particularly Red Bull – who will repeatedly reject the format – it could not be implemented. Leaving qualifying as it were for the second race of the year.
Leaving it as it were at least gave everyone in the paddock and beyond a chance to try again and see if the issues were a one off. But, as Albert Einstein defined, doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results is insane and that proved to be as the session could be argued as being worse than in Australia.
Back Down Under, the first qualifying stage was at least decided as the chequered flag waved with Jolyon Palmer beating the drop to go on and beat the drop in his debut race. Bahrain though? Q1 in the desert saw the drivers post one lap, begin to be ticked out, and only two seriously had to go back out. Force India however miss-timed Sergio Perez’s second run and after a shock improvement from Pascal Wehrlein in the Manor, the Mexican was eliminated.
Come Q2, it was more of the same as drivers were eliminated with only one lap time posted. Romain Grosjean in the Haas garage even admitted to cheering on Nico Hulkenberg as the sole remaining Force India attempted to get into Q3 when he was the only driver in the session to go out in search of a better time.
Thankfully Ferrari sent both of their drivers out for a second run in Q3 this time after settling for third and fourth in Australia. But they needn’t have bothered with neither able to improve on the times laid down by the Silver Arrows. Although had Lewis lost more time during his first run after running wide, the man who would go on to take pole would have been eliminated.
Now, like in Australia, the teams found themselves accepting the format was heavily flawed and was ruining the show it was designed to improve. With a meeting scheduled for the Sunday morning to discuss what to do next.
Yet in the world of F1, that was never going to be as simple as it sounded and after a 90-minute meeting between the teams, FIA and Formula One Management, nothing was decided. Well, nothing other than there would be a vote on the following Thursday for what qualifying will be used next time out in China.
Although it is what many want, no option will be given to revert to 2015 format. This is mainly down to the FIA (Jean Todt) and Formula One Management (Bernie Ecclestone) believing this will be too confusing for the fans. But it is more down to them not wanting to accept the format they created is worse than what we had.
Rather than reverting already, other options were discussed with the lead idea coming out of the meeting being aggregate qualifying.
The format would be based on the qualifying used in 2015, except rather than the driver’s best individual laps being the one that matters, it would be worked out from the driver’s best two laps per each stage. Meaning the track should be busier, which was the main idea of changing qualifying, but it already has potential problems.
Mainly tyres are a potential problem for the proposed format with the current selections not being enough for more than one run per each stage depending on how far through qualifying you expect to be. Now, Pirelli flying in more tyres or drivers having to set two timed laps per set can solve this. However for Pirelli to fly in more tyres they would need to know as soon as possible but there would be just one week between the meeting and the next race.
Should aggregate qualifying be voted in, it would be the first time since 2005 that an aggregate format will be used in F1. Back then, the format saw drivers set lap times on Saturday and then Sunday morning but the format lasted just six races and was the last time there was a mid-season change to the qualifying format.
Furthermore had the proposed aggregate format been in place for the Bahrain Grand Prix, it would also not have shaken up the grid in the way the FIA are after. Ok, Lewis would not have been on pole or even the front row. But his Mercedes team-mate would have started the race on pole with Hamilton behind. And in terms of big-name knock outs, only Kvyat in the Red Bull would have been a surprise down in 15th.
- The future is bright
Moving away from qualifying and the downside to F1 to the bright side and there are plenty of young drivers showing their worth. Particularly Mercedes’ reserve driver Pascal Wehrlein, McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Red Bull’s young gun Max Verstappen.
Max showed the world that being under the age of 18 was no reason not to put him in F1 last year, even though he didn’t even own a road driving licence. And the young Dutchman is continuing to shove off any doubters who thought he would suffer from second season syndrome as the expectations on him were raised. Instead the Toro Rosso driver continues to pull of moves on whoever he has in front of him, including Valtteri Bottas – a man tipped last year to go to Ferrari and replace the former World Champion, Kimi Raikkonen.
As for Wehrlein, the 21-year-old German brought into Formula One by Manor is impressing many despite being in a Manor. With the 2015 DTM Champion almost scrapping through to Q2 in just his second race had it not been for a three tenth gap to the Red Bull of Kvyat. Then come the race, Pascal pulled off multiple moves that left strong cars behind him and suggesting Mercedes have a man who is more than capable of stepping into the works team should Rosberg or Hamilton no longer fit their programme.
Pascal’s performance particularly impressed Kevin Magnussen as the Renault driver failed to follow the Manor stating, “there is no way I can pass the Manor, it’s like a rocket on the straight”. This could be put down to the car being a leap forward from last year, but Pascal’s team-mate was a distant 17th come the flag.
And now for Stoffel Vandoorne. The Belgian was not set to race for McLaren this year and was even in Japan on the Thursday before the race. But after the FIA told Fernando he could not race following the Spaniard suffering broken ribs in his crash in Australia, McLaren called their reserve driver in and gave him his F1 debut.
From the off, Stoffel set out by smoothly ticking off the laps and get accustomed to the car. A car he had never driven nor driven on the simulator around the Bahrain International Circuit. Yet despite not driving the car and flying overnight from Japan to arrive on Friday, Vandoorne went on to out qualify Button and score a point in his debut race. The last Belgian to score points in F1 came all the way back in 1992 as Thierry Boutsen finished fifth for Ligier in Australia.
- High five for Rosberg
After victory in Australia, and three more at the end of the 2015 season, Rosberg went to Bahrain looking to set a personal best string of wins. And after a poor start for Hamilton, Raikkonen and Vettel not starting, Nico never looked challenged as he hunted that fifth consecutive win.
No man other than Rosberg has won a race since Hamilton claimed the 2015 title, and more good omens sit with Nico as all seven drivers to previously achieve five consecutive wins have gone on to claim the drivers title in the year which they claimed their fifth straight win.
Only three men as well have gone on to complete longer winning streaks in Formula One with Michael Schumacher (seven), Alberto Ascari (nine) and Sebastian Vettel (nine) currently holding stronger records.
- Haas continue to impress
While pre-season expectations of Haas were for them to be on the edge of the points and dip in here and there, the team opened the season with sixth place in Australia. In doing so, they became the first team to score points on debut since Toyota in 2002. Not many expected them to go on and score so highly again so soon, after Grosjean’s sixth place was helped by not pitting in normal circumstances.
However, Romain went one better in Bahrain and finished in fifth place to move fifth in the Driver’s Championship – ahead of Vettel. Romain’s race showed off many of the highlights to the Haas, specifically how kind it is on it’s tyres. The aerodynamic design of the car is allowing Romain to go longer with each set of Pirelli’s than some of their rivals. While the Ferrari power unit on board is aiding the straight-line performance of the car.
The result for Haas also means they set another landmark, as the last American team to score in back-to-back races was Team Haas in 1986. Although similarly named, the two teams have no relation.
- Inconsistent stewarding
Another issue F1 faces, other than 2017 rules and 2016 qualifying, is the inconsistent stewarding of the races. During the Bahrain Grand Prix’s opening laps, there were multiple little clashes resulting in drivers taking damage, having to pit and/or compromising their race. Notably Valtteri Bottas’ collision on the opening lap with pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton’s poor launch left him conceding the lead and looking to secure second place. But as he stuck to the left hand side before cutting back across, Valtteri saw a chance to gain another position and went for the gap. In his words he could have potentially braked sooner, but he locked up slightly and rolled into the Mercedes, damaging Lewis’ front wing, floor and sidepod. But while Hamilton was able to continue without pitting and go on to secure a podium finish, Bottas received a drive through penalty and his race was heavily compromised as he already had been forced to pit due to the damage he sustained.
Yet while he received a drive through, Sergio Perez received no penalty when he – on the second lap of the race – hit the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz at the first corner. It was a similar incident to the Bottas/Hamilton one, where one went down the inside as the other turned in, but this time cost both drivers heavily as they had to pit for replaced parts. The Force India with a broken wing, while Carlos Sainz suffered a puncture along with other damage which subsequently forced him to retire.
So who really came off worse in those incidents? Hamilton, the driver who went on to finish on the podium and unable to challenge for the lead or Sainz, who had to pit due to a puncture and later retire?
- Triple tyre strategy once again proved a success
Like in Australia, the FIA’s decision to introduce a third dry tyre compound proved to be a success. This coming at a time when the Formula One rule makes keep messing around with the qualifying format so as not to get egg on their face in admitting defeat. Whereas the option of another tyre compound resulted in mixing up the order.
One team who chanced their hand by running a different strategy were Williams, after the team put their drivers onto the medium compound early on. This could easily have played to their favour with strategists expecting the mediums to be a good race tyre. But in the hotter than expected conditions, the mediums could not generate the speed needed while the softer compounds lasted longer than expected.
In the end, Massa – who had run in second place following Bottas’ incident at turn one with Hamilton – ended the race in a lapped eighth place. His position nearly 10 seconds clear of the McLaren’s stand-in Stoffel Vandoorne.
- The V6 turbo charged hybrid out-paced a 3.0l V10
One of the biggest good news stories to come from the Bahrain Grand Prix was Lewis Hamilton setting a new lap record at the Bahrain International Circuit for a Formula One car.
Mark Webber held the previous record when the Australian set a 1:29.527 during practice back in 2005. But while he posted that time with a 3-litre V10 engine, Hamilton bettered the long-standing record with a 1.6-litre hybrid V6 power unit. A huge sign of the development these power units have had and what they are capable.
But with the current qualifying format, Hamilton may not have even had the chance to post his 1:29.493. As had Lewis lost more time in his first Q3 run, he would have been eliminated and therefore would not have been able to run again. Meaning Rosberg’s 1:29.570 would have been the pole setting time and there would not be a new fastest lap ever around the Bahrain International Circuit.
- Mercedes still struggling with their clutches
While Ferrari were not able to capitalise on it this time and Mercedes arrived at the first corner in first and second, Bahrain showed the Silver Arrows are still struggling to get off the line. This time though, the issue was predominantly with Hamilton as he suffered greater levels of wheelspin and lost the lead from pole position.
Luckily for Mercedes though, only Lewis lost places off the line – before his first corner collision with Bottas – with Kimi messing up his start and Seb not making the start. For Kimi, he could not challenge the Silver Arrows and fell back down the order as his finger slipped off the clutch paddle causing him pull away slowly. As for Vettel, he could not make it back to grid after suffering an engine failure towards the end of the formation lap.
Rosberg himself nearly missed the start of the race after activating anti-stall at the start of the formation lap as he selected second gear by mistake. This type of error was the intended effect of the clutch system changes brought in for this season and is the first major time it has kicked in.
Feature image credit of Mercedes-Benz AMG Formula One Team