What a race that was at the weekend then? 57 compelling laps full of incident. A Grand Prix where right up to the line we didn’t know for sure who was going to come out on top. I loved it and from start to finish it was a delight to commentate on.
Congratulations to Sebastian Vettel who drove superbly to hold off the two Mercedes and celebrate his 200th Grand Prix start in style. Here was exactly what Formula 1 want for the future of the sport, a driver who made all the difference. The hero of the day, fending off the dual challenge of both Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton, who at plenty of stages during the race, looked like they had the upper hand.
In truth Mercedes did have the race in their hands. They’d forced the Ferrari to ditch a planned two stop strategy and take the only option that would bring home maximum points. But Vettel’s ability to stretch out his stint on the soft tyres for 39 laps and keep up a pace where Bottas was kept at arms length for all but the final lap, was masterful.
Once again Bahrain under the lights produced a brilliant contest, more than making up for the rather tepid opener in Australia. I love going to Melbourne it’s a great city and the support from the fans ensures a wonderful atmosphere all weekend long. But unless changes are made to the circuit in Albert Park, I don’t see how the sport can create a spectacle that befits an opening race of the campaign? Speaking to Mark Webber on Sunday night in the Paddock he was of the view that modifying the final corner would be a good start. It does need looking at. We spend all winter in eager anticipation of the first race of the new campaign, and then when it comes along we spend the next two weeks bemoaning the lack of excitement, to the extent where an emergency meeting is called to look at improving overtaking.
Unlike in football where a poor match can be swiftly forgotten by the next game following on much sooner. F1 has to wait a fortnight to erase those memories. Thankfully Bahrain did just that and to a wider audience that didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to tune in. Maybe it’s time to re-think the location of the season opener? You won’t guarantee a classic, but you can help the odds a bit, and play it out to a wider worldwide audience. Surely that’s better for the sport than travelling all the way to Melbourne just to end up frustrated. I am not for one second looking to drop Australia altogether. Melbourne deserves its place on the calendar, just maybe not right at the start of the year.
One little side note on the subject of fans in Bahrain. I’ve often mentioned in commentary of the large number of fans who turn up to the circuit but prefer to enjoy the facilities in the fan zone rather than take their place in the Grandstand. This year, there were many more bums on seats in the stands, a significant number of people watching the track action in front of their eyes, rather than on the big screens out the back. Does that mean that the local fans are becoming more passionate and interested in F1 now? Silverstone celebrates the 70th anniversary of the first Grand Prix held there this year, this was only the 14th Bahrain Grand Prix and fingers crossed we saw a small sign that more and more people are coming to see the show on the track, not the just sideshows off it.
And finally it’s brilliant to hear that the Ferrari mechanic who suffered a fractured shinbone and fibula during the pit stop that ended Kimi Raikkonen’s race, has had successful surgery. It was a horrible accident and not the first time over the weekend that Kimi had been released before all of his tyres, and in the case of the race, the correct tyres, had been fitted properly.
I’m told that Charlie Whiting, the Race Director, wants to get tough on unsafe pit stop releases, we’ve had four over the course of the first two races of the season. This means of course that the majority pass off safely and add to the spectacle of the sport, a two second pit stop is a wow factor and a great sight to see. But I’m not sure that a €50,000 fine is really getting tough, Ferrari can certainly afford it and it hardly sets a deterrent for something like this happening again.
Would it not be more of a deterrent to start deducting constructor points, or a 15 place grid penalty at the next race? You could even make it apply to both cars, not because you want them to suffer a harsh penalty but as a way of stopping unsafe releases becoming a more frequent event.
Only when teams know that a major penalty is coming their way, will there be a desire to change automated pit stop systems that allow for a car to be released long before it’s ready. This is about safety in the pit lane, for everybody working in the pit lane. A place where we see races won and lost – sadly due to the lack of overtaking opportunities at times, but that’s another story for another week – but a place where the extreme pressure to win those races should never override the need for as safe an environment as possible for those within it. We have a Halo to offer extra protection to the drivers, those same safety standards should extend outside of the cockpit too.