Vettel leads the Championship but Max Verstappen takes the headlines: F1 2018 Bahrain and China double bill review

After the season opener in Australia, the night of Bahrain hosted the second round of the 2018 F1 World Championship and it certainly threw up an intriguing and exciting race. But if Bahrain, served up an exciting race, it was nothing compared to the Chinese Grand Prix the following weekend.

In Bahrain, Red Bull threatened to make it a three-way battle for ole position and the win but their place in the day FP1 session did not cross over into the night of Qualifying as Verstappen spun at turn 2 in Q1 while Ricciardo qualified 5th. Mercedes struggled in Qualifying so it was Sebastian Vettel who took pole position in Bahrain.

Vettel led from the start with much of the action happening behind him. Bottas passed Raikkonen for 2nd at turn 1 and Hamilton having started 9th due to a gearbox change penalty climbed to 4th in the space of 8 laps including an incredible three car overtake on lap 3. Verstappen’s race ended after contact with Hamilton on the second lap gave him a rear left puncture. Ricciardo’s race ended almost at the same time as he lost power on the second lap resulting in a nightmare double DNF for Red Bull.

Sebastian Vettel holds off Valtteri Bottas to win in Bahrain. [Image from formula1.com].

The race centred around strategy with Ferrari seemingly opting for a two-stop strategy to Mercedes one stopper. Both drivers took soft tyres on their stop but Ferrari’s plans were scuppered when Raikkonen’s second stop went wrong resulting in his retirement and a horrific double leg break for mechanic Francesco Cigorini, who had been taken out by the unsafe release of Raikkonen’s car. Vettel was then forced to one stop and despite taking the soft tyre beyond its limit, held off Bottas to win. Hamilton finished 3rd.

Pierre Gasly finished in a thoroughly deserving 4th place finish in the Honda-powered Toro Rosso. Kevin Magnussen came home 5th as Haas bounced back from their nightmare in Australia while Hulkenberg finished 6th and last on the lead lap. Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne finished 7th and 8th as McLaren secured another double points finish while Marcus Ericsson scored his first F1 points in two years coming home in 9th. Esteban Ocon finished 10th as Force India got off the mark for 2018.

Bahrain Grand Prix Result
Q1: 1st Kimi Raikkonen 1:28.951……………15th Fernando Alonso 1:30.530
ELIMINATED: 16th Romain Grosjean +0.000, 17th Marcus Ericsson +0.533, 18th Sergey Sirotkin +0.884, 19th Charles Leclerc +0.890, 20th Lance Stroll +0.973

Q2: 1st Sebastian Vettel 1:28.341………10th Esteban Ocon 1:30.009
ELIMINATED: 11th Brendon Hartley +0.096, 12th Sergio Perez +0.147, 13th Fernando Alonso +0.203, 14th Stoffel Vandoorne +0.514, 15th Max Verstappen (no time set)

Q3: 1st Sebastian Vettel 1:27.958, 2nd Kimi Raikkonen +0.143, 3rd Valtteri Bottas +0.166, 4th Lewis Hamilton +0.262, 5th Daniel Ricciardo +0.440, 6th Pierre Gasly +1.371, 7th Kevin Magnussen +1.400, 8th Nico Hulkenberg +1.612, 9th Esteban Ocon +1.916, 10th Carlos Sainz +2.028

Race Result
1st Sebastian Vettel 1:32.01.940, 2nd Valtteri Bottas +0.699, 3rd Lewis Hamilton +6.512, 4th Pierre Gasly +62.234, 5th Kevin Magnussen +75,046, 6th Nuco Hulkenberg +99.024, 7th Fernando Alonso + 1 lap, 8th Stoffel Vandoorne +1 lap, 9th Marcus Ercisson +1 lap, 10th Esteban Ocon +1 lap, 11th Carlos Sainz +1 lap, 12th Cahrles Leclerc +1 lap, 13th Romain Grosjean +1 lap, 14th Lance Stroll +1 lap, 15th Sergey Sirotkin +1 lap, 16th Sergio Perez +1 lap, 17th Brendon Hartley +1 lap, Kimi Raikkonen DNF, Max Verstappen DNF, Daniel Ricciardo DNF

Points
Drivers: Sebastian Vettel 25, Valtteri Bottas 18, Lewis Hamilton 15, Pierre Gasly 12, Kevin Magnussen 10, Nico Hulkenberg 8, Fernando Alonso 6, Stoffel Vandoorne 4, Marcus Ericsson 2, Esteban Ocon 1

Constructors: Mercedes 33, Ferrari 25, Toro Rosso 12, Haas 10, McLaren 10, Renault 8, Sauber 2, Force India 1


In China, Mercedes went quickest in Friday practice but the cooler conditions in Qualifying turned the tide in Ferrari’s favour as they secured a second successive front row lockout. Kimi Raikkonen seemed set for pole before Vettel’s final run set a new track record moments after the Finn had done the same. Mercedes had no answer for Ferrari as they locked out row two over half a second behind while Red Bull locked out row 3 after just getting Ricciardo out in time after a turbo issue in FP3.

Sebastian Vettel took pole position in China. [Image from Mid Day].

In the race, Vettel started well and controlled the pace for the opening sting, staying a comfortable 2.5 second ahead of Bottas who had got passed Raikkonen at turn 1 again. Raikkonen lost further ground to Verstappen who had also passed Hamilton at turn 1. Red Bull triggered the pit stop phase double stacking their cars and into the Medium tyres. Mercedes followed suit and when Vettel eventually pitted on lap 20, he came out behind Bottas. Ferrari used Raikkonen as a block to Bottas to aid Vettel but was unsuccessful and pitted the Finn on lap 26.

Daniel Ricciardo sends a daring move down the inside of Bottas at turn 4 for the race lead and the win. [Image from YouTube].

The two Toro Rosso’s collided at the hairpin on lap 29 with the resulting debris bringing out the safety car. Red Bull were best placed to take advantage and double stacked their cars again, fitting them with fresh soft tyres while Raikkonen’s late stop was neutralised. The front three of Bottas, Vettel and Hamilton were left exposed having not pitted. Verstappen was the first Red Bull to look at Hamilton but tried around the outside of turn 7 which cost him ground to Ricciardo which proved key. Ricciardo was passed Hamilton, Vettel and Bottas with bold moves to win in Shanghai.

Much to the disapproval of Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo celebrated his victory with a shoey. [Image from Sky Sports].

Verstappen made another high profile error as he spun into Vettel at the hairpin on lap 45. Vettel consequently finished 8th behind Hulkenberg and Alonso who took advantage of the Ferrari on shot tyres. Verstappen recovered to finish 4th on the road ahead of Hamilton but was classified 5th after the stewards handed him a 10 second time penalty for the incident. Carlos Sainz and Kevin Magnussen rounded off the top 10.

Chinese Grand Prix Result
Q1: 1st Sebastian Vettel 1:32.171……………15th Brendon Hartley 1:34.013
ELIMINATED: 16th Sergey Sirotkin +0.049, 17th Pierre Gasly +0.088, 18th Lance Stroll +0.272, 19th Charles Leclerc +0.441, 20th Marcus Ericsson +0.901

Q2: 1st Lewis Hamilton 1:31.914………10th Carlos Sainz 1:32.970
ELIMINATED: 11th Kevin Magnussen +0.016, Esteban Ocon +0.087, 13th Fernando Alonso +0.262, 14th Stoffel Vandoorne +0.535, 15th Brendon Hartley +0.825

Q3: 1st Sebastian Vettel 1:31.095, 2nd Kimi Raikkonen +0.087, 3rd Valtteri Bottas +0.530, 4th Lewis Hamilton +0.580, 5th Max Verstappen +0.701, 6th Daniel Ricciardo +0.853, 7th Nico Hulkenberg +1.437, 8th Sergio Perez +1.663, 9th Carlos Sainz +1.724, 10th Romain Grosjean +1.760

Race Result
1st Daniel Ricciardo 1:35.36.380, 2nd Valtteri Bottas +8.894, 3rd Kimi Raikkonen +9.637, 4th Lewis Hamilton +16.985, 5th Max Verstappen +20.436, 6th Nico Hulkenberg +21.052, 7th Fernando Alonso +30.639, 8th Sebastian Vettel +35.286, 9th Carlos Sainz +35.763, 10th Kevin Magnussen +39.594, 11th Esteban Ocon +44.050, 12th Sergio Perez +44.725, 13th Stoffel Vandoorne +49.373, 14th Lance Stroll +55.490, 15th Sergey Sirotkin +58.241, 16th Marcus Ericsson +62.604, 17th Romain Grosjean +65.296, 18th Pierre Gasly +66.330, 19th Charles Leclerc +82.575, Brendon Hartley DNF

Points
Drivers: Daniel Ricciardo 25, Valtteri Bottas 18, Kimi Raikkonen 15, Lewis Hamilton 12, Max Verstappen 10, Nico Hulkenberg 8, Fernando Alonso 6, Sebastian Vettel 4, Carlos Sainz 2, Kevin Magnussen 1

Constructors: Red Bull 35, Mercedes 30, Ferrari 19, Renault 10, McLaren 6, Haas 1

Team by Team Review


Mercedes
Bahrain Qualifying: Valtteri Bottas 3rd, Lewis Hamilton 4th
Bahrain Race Result: Valtteri Bottas 2nd, Lewis Hamilton 3rd
China Qualifying: Valtteri Bottas 3rd, Lewis Hamilton 4th
China Race Result: Valtteri Bottas 2nd, Lewis Hamilton 4th
Points: Valtteri Bottas 36, Lewis Hamilton 27
Constructor Points: 63

Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff was hoping for an improved result in Bahrain after Australia’s computer glitch reminded them ‘every error is punished’. He was also anticipating ‘an exciting and competitive weekend’ in Bahrain. They got the excitement but they did not have the pace to match Ferrari in Qualifying and even in the race even when it seemed they had picked the optimum tyre strategy. However, they can take heart from Hamilton’s climb from 9th to the podium after an unscheduled gearbox change. Despite scoring a double podium in Bahrain, Mercedes expected more as Wolff labelled it ‘the minimum result to expect’ and to ‘show a performance worthy of Mercedes’ in China. Mercedes had another struggling weekend in China though. After a positive Friday, they were never really on the pace and while they had done well to undercut Ferrari in the race were undone by the Safety car and Red Bull pitting for fresh tyres. It proved the deciding factor when Mercedes ‘believed gaining track position was key’. They finish the double bill with ‘much to understand about our car and how to get the best from the tyres’. After being unlucky in Australia, they were no where near challenging in Bahrain and China resulting in them losing three successive races for the first time in the turbo era.

Valtteri Bottas closed in on Sebastian Vettel in the closing stages of the Bahrain Grand Prix but could not make a move [Image from The Telegraph]

After a less than ideal start to the season, Valtteri Bottas needed a much-improved performance in Bahrain. The Finn did just that. He had the pace advantage over Hamilton for much of the Bahrain weekend and carried that over into Qualifying and the race. Last years pole sitter qualified 3rd, just 0.166 off Vettel’s pole time. From third on the grid, Bottas had a great getaway and passed Raikkonen at turn 1 but could not get close to Vettel in the opening stint. Mercedes pitted Bottas on lap 20 and put him on the Medium tyres in reaction to Ferrari’s stops. Bottas had not used those tyres all weekend but nevertheless made the one-stop strategy work as he took the tyres to the end. As Vettel’s tyres began to fall off the cliff, Bottas closed the in but could not challenge and post-race described his tyres ‘Only in the last three laps I started to struggle with the tyres and once I got close to Sebastian everything got more difficult’. However, beating Hamilton in both Qualifying and the race was what he needed.

Bottas (pictured passing Raikkonen) had a strong race in China too but after successfully undercutting Vettel was forced to settle for 2nd after not being able t0 pit under the safety car. [Image from formula1.com.

Bottas was accused of bottling the battle with Vettel in Bahrain. He could not be accused of that in China but again finished second best. Bottas marked his 100th Grand Prix start in China (the sixth Finn to do so after Mika Salo, Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen, Kimi Raikkonen). The Finn out-qualified Hamilton again on a circuit Hamilton normally goes well at by 0.050 seconds but that was only good enough for third. As he did the week before in Bahrain, Bottas got a clean getaway and capitalised on his compatriot’s misfortune at turn 1 to take second. He could not get close to Vettel in the opening phase of the race but remained around 2.5-seconds off. That allowed Mercedes to attempt the undercut when they pitted him n lap 19 and Bottas executed it well and maintained position despite Ferrari’s attempts to use Raikkonen as a block. However, the Safety Car came at a poor time for Bottas and he could not respond leaving him at a disadvantage. Bottas pulled away after the restart but it was only a matter of time before he conceded the lead to Ricciardo on the fresh soft tyres on lap 45 as the Red Bull dived down the inside late at turn 4. Bottas surely must have thought he couldn’t get the move done there but was mature enough not to close the door completely. Post-race, he described his 24th career podium as not feeling ‘like winning a podium but losing a win’. His 100th start was a very good performance and having got the better of Hamilton in both qualifying and the race in both of this doubleheader is a fantastic result for the Finn.

Lewis Hamilton made a sublime three car overtake (pictured) as he climbed from 9th to 3rd in Bahrain. [Image from formula1.com].

Lewis Hamilton became the first driver in F1 history to contest 100 Grand Prix with two different teams as he marked his 100th with Mercedes in Bahrain. However, it was a difficult weekend for Hamilton as he only got the better of his teammate once throughout. That was in Q2 when he was on the Soft tyre. The reigning Champion incurred a five-place grid penalty after a hydraulic issue from Australia forced Mercedes to change his gearbox. That meant finishing 4th in Q3 was a starting slot of 9th. Despite the perceived disadvantage of the soft against the supersoft of the line, Hamilton started well as he passed two before turn 1. However, they came back at him at turn 1 and even found himself behind Alonso as the opening lp developed. That left him at the mercy of Verstappen on the start/finish straight and at turn 1 on the second lap survived contact. Hamilton’s charge through the grid started with a sublime three car overtake at turn 1 on lap 3 which is surely a contender for overtake of the season. He was up to 4th by lap 8 but Hamilton felt by now the race was lost. Mercedes pitted him on lap 26 after being passed by Vettel on track and finished 3rd after Raikkonen’s pit stop incident. The anticipation of Vettel’s second stop that did not come allowed for some entertaining radio messages between the driver and his team. A concerned Hamilton was already looking at the Championship and was looking to `China, a circuit he has won at five times to bounce back.

After not pitting behind the safety car, Lewis Hamilton was first to be picked off by the Red Bulls on fresh soft tyres but finished 4th due to Verstappen’s 10 second time penalty/ [Image from autorsport.com].

However, Hamilton will be disappointed with his 2018 showing in China. Despite going fastest in Friday practice, the Chinese Grand Prix rather went away from Hamilton as he admitted to ‘’underperforming; after Saturday and Sunday that ‘feel like a disaster from my side’. Despite going quickest in Q2, he finished nearly six tenths shy of pole position in Q3 after making an error on his final run. The race was equally disappointing. After losing out to Verstappen at turn 1, he found himself unable to make an impression on the Ferrari of Raikkonen in 5th. Mercedes performed the undercut with Hamilton first I lap 18 which elevated him to 4th but was bemused to realise the Red Bull’s were behind him on track with fresh tyres during the Safety car. It seems if Mercedes wanted to pit for fresh tyres at that point, Hamilton was not past the pit lane entry, unlike his teammate. The decision backfired as Hamilton, who had been on his Mediums the longest was easy meat for the Red Bulls as Ricciardo and then Verstappen twice passed the Mercedes left him thankful for the latter’s ten second time penalty for ‘doing me a favour in terms of the points standings’. This was a disappointing double bill for Hamilton as he lost ground on the Vettel only for Verstappen’s collision with the Championship leader sparing him from a bigger deficit in the Championship. Plus, he now has a teammate in Bottas performing well in what he described as a tough challenge to retain his title in 2018.

Ratings
Bahrain: Mercedes 7.5, Valtteri Bottas 8, Lewis Hamilton 7.5 
China: Mercedes 8, Valtteri Bottas 9, Lewis Hamilton 6

Ferrari
Bahrain Qualifying: Sebastian Vettel 1st, Kimi Raikkonen 2nd
Bahrain Race Result: Sebastian Vettel 1st, Kimi Raikkonen DNF
China Qualifying: Sebastian Vettel 1st, Kimi Raikkonen 2nd
China Race Result: Kimi Raikkonen 3rd, Sebastian Vettel 8th
Points: Sebastian Vettel 29, Kimi Raikkonen 15,
Constructor Points: 42

After winning the season opener in Melbourne, Ferrari arrived in Bahrain looking to carry on the momentum. The team did that as the beat Mercedes in Qualifying to secure a front row lockout and after an action-packed race won they’re first back to back season opening races for the first time since 2004. However, they left with questions to answer regarding unsafe release after two incidents during the weekend. They raked up fines of £55,000 for them while the second incident saw mechanic Francesco Cigorini suffer a double leg break and a first race retirement of the season. Moving to China and they would have hoped to avoid a repeat of those scenes and maintain their winning start to the season. They avoided those errors in China and seem to have the quickest car in Qualifying having secured a second successive front row lockout for the first time since 2006 (USA and French Grand Prix that year) whilst in Vettel’s hands they seemed to have the quickest car in race trim too. However, their strategy needs examing. As they were caught napping with the undercut though were u; ultimately unlucky with the timing of the safety car and so too was Vettel with the incident with Verstappen which cut his Drivers Championship lead and contributed to Ferrari losing the lead in the Constructors.

Sebastian Vettel kisses the trophy as he celebrates winning in Bahrain on his 200th Grand prix start. [Image from Sky Sports].

Sebastian Vettel marked his 200th Grand Prix in Bahrain and just as was the case in Australia, he did not seem so comfortable with his car. The four-time World Champion did not get the better of his teammate on the timesheets until Q2 and even then put pressure on himself in Q3. A mistake at the final turn on his first run meant he would’ve been third but pulled it out the bag to take his 51st pole position in F1. In the race, Vettel led rather comfortably from pole and pitted on lap 18 for the soft tyre. That choice indicated a two-stop strategy from Ferrari meaning he had to pass Hamilton on track to make it work and he did just that on lap 25. After the pit lane incident involving his teammate, Ferrari kept Vettel out and he had to nurse his soft tyres home. He did 39 laps and withstood pressure from Bottas in the closing stages to take the chequered flag despite believing “Mercedes had checkmate’. This was Vettel’s 49th Grand Prix victory becoming the fifth man after Michael Schumacher, Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton to win on his 200th Grand Prix. This was also the first time since 2014 he had won the first two rounds of the season.

Sebastian Vettel was leading until Ferrari missed the undercut and then was spun by Verstappen on fresher tyres in the second half of the race which cost him performance. He finished 8th. [Image from Sky Sports].

The following weekend in China and Vettel again took his time to gradually come into the Grand Prix weekend as despite being over 8 tenths off the pace in opening practice, took a sensational 52nd career pole position with a new track record of 1:31.095. It was close as he delivered it on the final run again and edging out his teammate by just 0,087 seconds. From pole, Vettel squeezed his teammate at turn 1 to preserve position and was duly in control for the first phase of the race. It was like his controlling performances in the Red Bull when he won his four Championships. Ferrari though underestimated the power of the undercut as he lost position to Bottas having pitted on lap 20 with a 2.5 second lead before the pit stop phase. He too was unlucky with the timing of the Safety car and was a sitting duck to the Red Bulls on fresher tyres. Vettel knew that and said post-race he wouldn’t have resisted too hard. However, Verstappen wen into the hairpin on lap 43 too hot spun him. Vettel admitted ‘I think we could have stopped even there’ but having lit up his tyres in the spin was a sitting duck on worn tyres to the likes of Hulkenberg and Alonso as he just finished 8th. Vettel’s performance deserved more than P8 but his misfortune has made for a more tasty looking Championship from a points perspective.

Kimi Raikkonen walks away from his Ferrari having been told to pull up after an unsafe release. [Image from formula1.com].

What must Kimi Raikkonen be thinking after this doubleheader? In Bahrain, for the second successive race weekend, he looked like he was getting the most out of the Ferrari as he went quickest in second and third practice as well as Q1. However, he found himself out-qualified by Vettel and after he failed to finish was left 38 points adrift in the standings. After only two races that is a lot! Starting 2nd, the Finn caught some wheelspin off the line which cost him position to Bottas at turn 1. Ferrari pitted Raikkonen the lap after Vettel for the first of a two-stop strategy. That dropped him to 4th temporarily but was running third when he came in for the second time on lap 35. The rear left had not been changed and the mechanic was still trying to get it off when Raikkonen was given the green light to go. In pulling away, Raikkonen took the mechanic with him in a horrific double leg break. Post-race, Raikkonen said, ‘What happened to our guy Francesco today at the pit-stop is very unfortunate. I feel sorry for him and hope he’s going to be OK soon’ and describing the incident, ‘As for the accident itself, all I know is that I moved when I saw the green light go on. I couldn’t have possibly realized that there was an issue with the rear left wheel’. This was Raikkonen’s fourth such DNF since rejoining Ferrari in 2014.

Ferrari used Raikkonen as a block for Bottas after undercutting Vettel but keeping him out later meant he had fresher tyres for the rest of the race after the safety car and a podium for the iceman probably an unintended result. [Image from Sky Sports].

The following weekend in China and yet again Raikkonen seemed to be able to get the most out of the Ferrari in Practice and nearly had pole position in Q3. After setting a new track record, he lost out by 0,087 seconds to Vettel. That 0l087 nearly defined his race which he described as ‘painful and not a very enjoyable one’. He was squeezed by his teammate on the inside of turn 1 which cost him position to Bottas for the second weekend in a row as he had to pull out of the turn and lost out to Verstappen at turn 4 as the Red Bull got by on the outside. Ferrari kept the 2007 Champion out longer than any of the other top 6 as they used him as a blocker to Bottas when he came out ahead of Vettel in a truly shameful move. Pitting that late on lap 26 played into his hands as the Safety car hunched the field together thus neutralising his disadvantage. On the fresher mediums, Raikkonen struggled in the turbulent air more than the Red Bulls as he only got passed Hamilton by taking the inside line to avoid the Vettel Verstappen incident and could not challenge Bottas for second as ‘I just couldn’t get enough of a run on him’. Third, secured Raikkonen’s 93rd career podium but after Ferrari’s shameful tactics it must be said for this early in the season (later in the season and if he’s out of contention I can understand) make it clear he won’t be allowed to challenge for the title in 2018.

Ratings
Bahrain: Ferrari 5, Sebastian Vettel 9.5, Kimi Raikkonen 7
China: Ferrari 6, Sebastian Vettel 8, Kimi Raikkonen 7

Red Bull
Bahrain Qualifying: Daniel Ricciardo 5th, Max Verstappen 15th
Bahrain Race Result: Max Verstappen DNF, Daniel Ricciardo DNF
Chain Qualifying: Max Verstappen 5th, Daniel Ricciardo 6th
China Race Result: Daniel Ricciardo 1st, Max Verstappen 5th
Points: Daniel Ricciardo 25, Max Verstappen 10
Constructor Points: 35

After showing good race pace in Australia, Red Bull were hoping Bahrain and China would allow them to showcase their potential more. In Bahrain, the Red Bull was quickest in FP1, it was not so quick in the sessions that mattered in the night. Unfortunately, they could not get a chance to showcase their race pace in the desert as a double DNF in the opening laps ended their race prematurely. After two rounds and their pre-season promise had yet to materialise. They travelled to China in need of bouncing back with Max Verstappen having finished on the podium there last year having qualified 16th. While Qualifying put them on the third row was an improvement on 2017, their race performance was fantastic. Two successive double stacking pit stops including taking advantage of the Safety Car helped the team secure a surprising victory which Christian Horner described as ‘the result of a fantastic team effort’. It certainly was and it brings them well into contention although Max Verstappen caught the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Daniel Ricciardo walks away from his Red Bull after it completely shut down on the second lap. [Image from formula1.com].

Daniel Ricciardo stunned everyone in Bahrain by going quickest in FP1 indicating that Red Bull could be in for a challenge for pole and the race win. As the weekend progressed though, the challenge failed to materialise. Ricciardo was outpaced by Verstappen in the other two practice sessions and looked likely to be out-qualified by his teammate before his spin in Q1 took him out of contention. The Australian qualified 0.440 seconds off Vettel’s pole position lap in 5th. Red Bull were hoping from there that their long stint pace would bring them into contention. However, after a solid start by Ricciardo, he was forced to retire on the second lap. Describing hos retirement, Ricciardo said, ‘I lost all power, everything switched off without warning’ in what Christian Horner believed to be a ‘failure of the energy store’. There was little he could do as he recorded his 4th DNF in 6 races.

Ricciardo could not stop smiling after he won in China. [Image from formula1.com].

Ricciardo had never secured a podium in China but rather hoped ‘we will have a good chance with the RB 14’. For large parts of the weekend in China, it didn’t look like that was going to change. The Australian suffered a turbo failure in FP3 which the Red Bull mechanics were only just able to get him out in time to get out of Q1. He eventually qualified 6th behind Verstappen but it could’ve been much worse for the honeybadger In the race, Ricciardo held station from the start and was bottom of the top 6 when Red Bull pitted both times. The second stop, coming behind the Safety car proved key to victory. He was still 6th though with the grid hunched up at the restart on lap 36. Ricciardo seemed to have a shot of victory when his teammate got too hot on Hamilton and lost out. On top of that, Ricciardo made three sublime passes on the Mercedes pair and Vettel as he went from 4to to 1st in the space of 6 incredible laps. The latter move on Bottas was the pick of the bunch, diving late and tight down the inside of the Mercedes at turn 4 was incredible. Post-race, Ricciardo expressed, ‘once I had a sniff of victory I wasn’t going to let it go’. After a run of four retirements in 6 races, Ricciardo deserved his luck in China, the smile on his face told you all you needed to know of what it meant to him. His 6th career victory also continued the trend of his race victories coming from 4th or lower on the grid.

after crashing out of Qualifying, Max Verstappen picked up a puncture off Hamilton’s Mercedes to top off a poor Bahrain Grand Prix for Red Bull. [Image from formula1.com].

Max Verstappen had a frustrating Grand Prix weekend in Bahrain. The Dutchman pulled up with a mechanical issue in FP1. Despite the lack of track time, he was faster than Ricciardo through the rest of practice and in Q1. However, a spin in Q1 saw him out of Qualifying in 15th. In the race, Verstappen had an electric start rising from 15th to 11th and had a look at Hamilton for 10th on the start/finish straight as they started lap 2. Diving down the inside of the Mercedes and with Alonso just in front, Verstappen perhaps did not give Hamilton enough room on the outside and caught the front wing of the Mercedes. The Red Bull picked up a rear puncture which ultimately brought his race to a premature end. The stewards declared it a racing incident which the Dutchman was not happy about. This was now Verstappen’s third high profile error of the season.

Max Verstappen’s rash racing in China arguably cost him victory but the incident with Sebastian Vettel ruined both of their races [Image from eurosport.com]

The following weekend in China would see more such errors from Verstappen. For much of the weekend, Verstappen was performing well as he out-qualified his teammate to start 5th and had a strong start passing Hamilton at turn 1 and Raikkonen at turn 4 on the opening lap. Being the lead Red Bull in 3rd, Verstappen benefitted from being the front car as Red Bull double stacked their drivers though he did just miss out on getting the undercut to work on Bottas. He was also the first man in when Red Bull double stacked again in the Safety Car period. That put Verstappen as the first man on fresh tyres to attack the top 3. However, this is where it started to go wrong for Verstappen. While looking at Hamilton he attempted a move at turn 7 which forced him wide and cost him ground to Ricciardo. Tying to make up further ground, he made a late move on Vettel at the turn 14 hairpin but locking his rear tyres saw him go into the Ferrari. The stewards gave him a 10 second time penalty and even though he passed Hamilton again for 4th he couldn’t finish 10 seconds clear of the Mercedes to keep the position. Post-race, Verstappen said, ‘The team executed everything perfectly today…so it’s a real shame’. It certainly was for Verstappen who despite showing raw pace in 2018, he has shown too many signs of overdriving already in the three races of 2018 resulting in too many errors for someone hoping to challenge for the title.

Ratings
Bahrain: Red Bull 4.5, Daniel Ricciardo 6, Max Verstappen 5.5
China: Red Bull 10, Daniel Ricciardo 10, Max Verstappen 5.5

Renault
Bahrain Qualifying: Nico Hulkenberg 8th, Carlos Sainz 10th
Bahrain Race Result: Nico Hulkenberg 6th, Carlos Sainz 11th
China Qualifying: Nico Hulkenberg 7th, Carlos Sainz 9th
China Race Result: Nico Hulkenberg 6th, Carlos Sainz 9th
Points: Nico Hulkenberg 16, Carlos Sainz 2
Constructor Points: 18

Renault arrived in Bahrain with several hopes and expectations. Managing Director Cyril Abiteboul wanted ‘another trouble-free weekend, especially as we enter a double-header far away from our European base’. Nico Hulkenberg set the challenge to ‘reduce the gap to the front’ while Carlos Sainz was looking for points after scoring in Australia. The pace was there for Renault who took both cars into Q3 in both Bahrain and China. They did not get a double points finish in Bahrain but did in China. After Bahrain, they felt they needed improvements in terms of their race pace while in China they were the best of the rest in a result Abiteboul felt showed ‘we are gaining in maturity’.

Nico Hulkenberg performed excellently for Renault in Bahrain as he finished 6th and last on the lead lap. [Image from motorsport.com].

In their failure to score double points in Bahrain, Nico Hulkenberg was the star of the show for Renault. The German was in the top 10 in every session of the weekend bar Q1 and out-qualified his teammate by over four-tenths of a second. He qualified 8th in a mighty performance but started 7th due to Hamilton’s penalty. From 7th, he lost out to Hamilton off the line but then regained the position at turn 1 and was ahead of Magnussen for a brief spell before the Haas got back ahead. He needed a mature head and did well to avoid Hamilton as the last car in his brilliant three car overtake. Renault pitted their lead driver on laps 20 and 39 as part of a two-stop strategy as he passed the one-stopping Ericsson for 6th on lap 41. The German was unable to challenge the Haas of Magnussen ahead as he finished 15 seconds behind. However, there were fuel saving issues to contend with which contributed to that margin and despite that, Hulkenberg was the last to finish on the lead lap. Hulkenberg stated post-race, ‘we got the maximum possible from the race today’ and he certainly did that!

Hulkenberg again drove a string race in China as he capitalised on Vettel’s misfortune to finish 6th. [Image from formula1.com].

Despite a slow start to the Chinese Grand Prix weekend, Hulkenberg was again Renault’s main man. He had been slower than his teammate in most of practice but found form in Qualifying and didn’t look back after going 5th in Q2. He qualified 7th for the third successive race and three-tenths quicker than Sainz. After holding off an opening ap attack from his teammate, Hulkenberg and Renault ‘were on top of the midfield’. Renault pitted Hulkenberg on lap 13 and for a second time taking advantage of the Safety car which aided their two-stop strategy. The driver though felt it irrelevant to their result, ‘even without the safety car I think we would have come out on top’. Hulkenberg was still 7th at the race restart and would’ve finished there if not for the Verstappen and Vettel coming together as he capitalised on Vettel’s misfortunate magnificently. The German finished 6th but could easily have been classified as 5th, just over six-tenths kept him out of 10 seconds of Verstappen. Overal though, it was a fantastic performance!

Carlos Sainz failed to score points in Bahrain and was comfortably out-performed by Hulkenberg in both the race and Qualifying. [Image from motorsport.com]

Carlos Sainz had a tougher time of it than his teammate. In Bahrain, the Spaniard was completely out-performed by Hulkenberg for much of the weekend, mostly between four and six tenths shy of the German. Sainz qualified 10th. Race day did not get easier for the Spaniard. From 10th on the grid, Sainz had a lot of wheelspin off the grid which dropped him to 14th and from there he felt his race was compromised. Renault pitted Sainz twice but both times he complained of coming out into traffic. After pitting on lap 15, he came out behind the Force Indias and although the undercut worked when they pitted him a second time on lap 26, he now had to go to the end on those tyres. Despite his best efforts for 39 laps and ‘surviving in the end with very tired soft tyres and having to do a lot of fuel saving’ he couldn’t keep his rivals behind and Ocon got passed with three laps remaining. So close but so far to points in a difficult weekend for Sainz.

Carlos Sainz had to get past the Haas of Kevin Magnussen to finish 9th but still he was out-performed by Hulkenberg as he battles to fully understand the 2018 Renault. [Image from motorsport.com].

In China, Sainz seemed to be getting the better out of the Renault in practice but could not produce it when it mattered. He qualified almost three tenths slower than Hulkenberg as the German out-qualified him for the third time this season. Sainz still got into Q3 and qualified 9th. He started behind the Force India of Perez and passed the Mexican on the opening lap on the exit of turn 6 but lost out to Hulkenberg as they had a little scrap. That defined his race as the Spaniard remained behind Hulkenberg until pitting a lap earlier than his teammate on lap 19 and was up to 8th when the safety car was called after passed on Leclerc, Gasly and Stroll. Pitting behind the safety car dropped him to 11th. From the restart, he immediately passed Grosjean and got passed Magnussen on lap 47. In the end, Sainz finished 9th and within half a second of Vettel in 8th leaving him to rue ‘had their been another lap would have had him’. Small margins like that mean he has been well out-performed by Hulkenberg and is not getting as much out of the Renault and he acknowledged he had to ‘work hard with my engineers to get full confidence in the car’.

Ratings
Bahrain: Renault 7, Nico Hulkenberg 8, Carlos Sainz 6
China: Renault 8, Nico Hulkenberg 9.5, Carlos Sainz 7

 

McLaren
Bahrain Qualifying: Fernando Alonso 13th, Stoffel Vandoorne 14th
Bahrain Race Result: Fernando Alonso 7th, Stoffel Vandoorne 8th
China Qualifying: Fernando Alonso 13th, Stoffel Vandoorne 14th
China Race Result: Fernando Alonso 7th, Stoffel Vandoorne 13th
Points: Fernando Alonso 12, Stoffel Vandoorne 4
Constructor Points: 16

After a positive start to the season in Australia, McLaren were in high spirits. However, as Team Principal Eric Boullier said going into Bahrain, ‘we can’t take anything for granted’. Fernando Alonso hoped ‘we can continue that momentum as we head into these back to back races’ stressing the need to ‘maintain good reliability if we are to maximise our potential’. The reliability was there in Bahrain as McLaren delivered a second successive double points finish but would have been rather red-faced finishing behind the Honda-powered Toro Rosso of Gasly. That was short lived and even though they were expecting a more difficult showing in China they comfortably outperformed Toro Rosso. Qualifying was their weakness in both races but as Alonso demonstrated their race pace is their main strength after two results that showed ‘our righting spirit’ according to Boullier.

Fernando Alonso was ahead of Hamilton during the opening laps in a strong race performance as he finished 7th. [Image from f1live.org].

Fernando Alonso has had to drag McLaren since rejoining in 2015 and his performance in this doubleheader was of the tallest order. The two time World Champion seemed most likely to get the McLaren into Q3 in Bahrain judging by his pace in practice. However, he finished two tenths shy of a spot in the top 10 in Q2, qualifying 13th after only just getting into Q2. Still, he qualified more than three tenths faster than Vandoorne. Alonso had a typically fast start and was up to 8th from 13th by the end of the opening lap having passed the Mercedes of Hamilton at turn 8. That didn’t last long but gained a place on Ocon as he capitalised on Hamilton’s three-car overtake. McLaren pitted Alonso twice and after pitting for the second time on lap 39 passed Ericsson for 7th on lap 44. Alonso got the absolute maximum out of the McLaren but was within two seconds of 6th, in the end. Post-race, Alonso statted the team ‘need to raise our game as this weekend was not good enough in terms of performance’. Still, 7th from 13th on the grid was a good result.

Fernando Alonso drove fiercely with moves on the likes of Perez and Vettel in the closing stages to finish 7th again. [Image from Sky Sports].

The following week in China and Alonso was driving magnificently again. Post-race, he said ‘our pace wasn’t there all weekend and we’re still not fast enough in the race’. He had just finished 7th again and ahead of a Ferrari. That says it all about the double World Champions level of performance. Like in Bahrain, Alonso looked likely to be challenging the top 10 throughout practice but finished just a few tenths shy in Q2. That was good enough for starting 13th for the second successive weekend and was over a quarter of a second faster than Vandoorne. In the race, Alonso had a decent start and was up to 11th at the end of turn 1 after making an opportunistic move on Perez on the approach from turn 8 to 9. The McLaren driver climbed to 7th before pitting on lap 24 which dropped him back down to 13th but was back up to 9th during the safety car period. After the restart, he drove magnificently to take advantage of Magnussen’s degrading tyres and Vettel’s woes in a well-executed move on lap 54 to finish 7th. Even with Vettel’s car damaged, I’m sure Alonso enjoyed passing the Ferrari really as the move topped off ‘a well-executed race from our side’.

Stoffel Vandoorne had a poor start in Bahrain but climbed from last at turn 1 to finish 8th. [Image from race fans.net].

Stoffel Vandoorne will want to forget parts of his Bahrain Grand Prix weekend. The Belgian could not match the pace of his teammate for much of the weekend and qualified over three tenths slower in 14th. His start from 14th was ‘terrible’ as too much wheelspin meant he was last at turn 1. What the Belgian delivered after that was a fantastic recovery drive. Following the resumption of racing following the VSC on lap 3, Vandoore made moves on Stroll and Grosjean before pitting early on lap 10. McLaren pitted him a second time on lap 28 as he went to the finish. Still, he had enough in the tyres to pass Ericsson five laps from the end to finish 8th. Considering his start to the race, finishing 8th was a fantastic achievement and result he didn’t believe possible which delivered a ‘very pleasing’ double points finish for McLaren.

Stoffel Vandoorne was comfortably out-performed again by his teammate as McLaren’s one-stop strategy did not work out due to the safet [Image from McLaren].

The following weekend in China Vandoorne avoided a repeat of the start but may well have expected more from himself as it wasn’t good either. The Belgian was again comfortably out-paced by his teammate as Alonso out-qualified him for the third time this season and for the second successive weekend, he was 14th. To make matters worse he was still over a quarter of a second slower. His start was not good as he lost places to both Williams cars on the opening lap and whilst he passed Sirotkin a few laps later on track, he needed the undercut on lap 22 to get past Stroll. Mclaren’s one-stop strategy didn’t work for the Belgian either as after the restart from the safety car he was passed by both Force India cars on lap 36. He was able to keep Stroll behind though and finished 13th due to Grosjean stopping for a late second stop. Post-race Vandoorne was running the timing of the safety car as the race ‘wasn’t the day we were hoping for’. Even without that, he is still being comfortably out-classed by his teammate.

Ratings
Bahrain: McLaren 7.5, Fernando Alonso 8, Stoffel Vandoorne 7
China: McLaren 7, Fernando Alonso 9, Stoffel Vandoorne 6

Toro Rosso
Bahrain Qualifying: Pierre Gasly 6th, Brendon Hartley 11th
Bahrain Race Result: Pierre Gasly 4th, Brendon Hartley 17th
China Qualifying: Brendon Hartley 15th, Pierre Gasly 17th
China Race Result: Pierre Gasly 18th, Brendon Hartley DNF
Points: Pierre Gasly 12, Brendon Hartley 0
Constructor Points: 12

Toro Rosso came into the doubleheader looking for an improved performance from Australia. They certainly delivered that in Bahrain as Pierre Gasly finished 4th and ‘best of the rest’ in an incredible performance that secured Honda’s best result since returning to F1 in 2015. Brendon Hartley was looking ‘to score my first points in F1’. Both drivers had fond memories of Bahrain with Gasly winning the 2015 GP2 race there and Hartley in that year’s World Endurance Championship. Gasly delivered in Bahrain and a nearly unthinkable double points finish just alluded them. They could not replicate that in China as they left empty handed and red-faced after a miscommunication saw their two drivers coming together in a poor performance.

Pierre Gasly put in a phenomenal performance in Bahrain finishing 4th! [Image from Sky Sports].

There’s only one place to start with Toro Rosso and that is Pierre Gasly in Bahrain. What a performance! The 22-year-old was phenomenal in Bahrain and thoroughly deserved his first points finish in F1. He was in the top 10 throughout the weekend and qualified 6th; his best in F1. He started 5th due to Hamilton’s penalty. Starting that high up did not phase him as he got ahead of the Red Bull of Ricciardo for moments on the first lap before conceding position. Although Hamilton breezed past him on lap 9, Gasly had the outright pace in the Toro Rosso and even when Magnussen passed him on track, the Frenchman passed him back. He duly utilised Toro Rosso’s two-stop strategy and updated package to come home 4th comfortably ahead of the Haas. It was a result Team Principal Franz Tost described as ‘a fantastic result for Honda and Toro Rosso’. Post-race, HGasly described that he could ‘push flat out and the pace was good’ as well as claiming the race was ‘unbelievable’. It certainly was unbelievable which matched the best race finish for Toro Rosso since winning the 2008 Italian Grand Prix (Vettel 4th Brazil 2008, Verstappen 4th Hungary 2015).

Pierre Gasly thought his teammate was letting him through at the hairpin but clashed with him resulting in the safety car. [Image from formula1.com].

However, Gasly had one mighty bounce back to reality in China. After looking like he could challenge for the top 10 again in practice, he then failed to get out of Q1. The Frenchman qualified 17th and behind his teammate. Toro Rosso decided to split their driver’s tyre strategy so Gasly started on the Medium tyre and a slower launch off the grid dropped him down to 19th on the opening lap. That along with a poor start for Hartley saw the two teammates fighting over the same piece of track. The team ordered Gasly to be let through on lap 4 which helped him get to 15th by lap 15. After pitting on lap 20, he was behind Hartley again. On a different strategy to Hartley, Gasly thought he was being let through at the hairpin on lap 29 only for Hartley to close the corner. The collision brought out the Safety car and damaged his front wing as well as the ‘steering bent at the end of the race’ as he crawled home 15th. The stewards felt the incident was Gasly’s fault and promptly gave him a penalty. Post-race, Gasly said, ‘I apologise to Brendon for the contact we had, the team told me that they were going to switch our positions so I went on the inside of the back straight thinking he would give me space’. No matter what caused it, the 22-year old broke the golden rule in racing, don’t hit your teammate but he will learn from it.

Brendon Hartley caught Perez on the opening lap which earned him a 10 second time penalty and was penalised for a froth indiscretion on the formation lap. [Image from formula1.com].

Brendon Hartley’s goal of scoring his first F1 points still eludes him. In Bahrain, he was completely outclassed by his teammate but even then. Despite some disappointing times in practice came so close to Q3. The Kiwi was only 0.096 seconds shy of Q3 but ultimately just under three tenths shy of Gasly. Hartley’s race was summarised well by the driver himself, ‘An amazing day for Toro Rosso but a disappointing day for me’. Hartley made contact with the rear of Perez at turn 4 on the opening lap which the stewards gave him a 10 second time penalty for. The decision frustrated Hartley as ‘we had the pace to be in the points without the penalty’. When he pitted on lap 20 the penalty took hi from 9th to last and when he pitted again on lap 47, his chances of points were gone. The Kiwi was then hit with an additional 30 second time penalty for that race director Charlie Whiting described as ‘odd’ behaviour on the formation lap which compounded an already poor weekend.

Brendon Hartley had been asked to allow Gasly through earlier. [Image from formula1.com].

The following weekend in China, Hartley needed to bounce back and he was by no means out-classed by Gasly. The Kiwi was slower in Friday practice but got more out of the car on Saturday as he got into Q2 ahead of his teammate. Hartley qualified 15th. Toro Rosso started him on the ultra-soft tyre and despite it being the grippier set, he dropped down to 18th on the opening lap. Toro Rosso ordered him to swap positions with Gasly on lap 6 due to the different strategies they were on pitting on lap 10 after complaining of having no grip. Hartley was back ahead of his teammate when he pitted and Toro Rosso wanted them to swap positions again. Hartley claimed post-race he ‘was going to let him by on the exit of turn 14’ but a miscommunication saw the pair collide at the hairpin. The incident contributed to his race retirement on lap 51, the only driver to fail to finish in Shanghai.

Ratings
Bahrain: Toro Rosso 9, Pierre Gasly 10, Brendon Hartley 5 
China: Toro Rosso 4, Pierre Gasly 5, Brendon Hartley 5

Haas
Bahrain Qualifying: Kevin Magnussen 7th, Romain Grosjean 16th
Bahrain Race Result: Kevin Magnussen 5th, Romain Grosjean 13th
China Qualifying: Romain Grosjean 10th, Kevin Magnussen 11th
China Race Result: Kevin Magnussen 10th, Romain Grosjean 11th
Points: Kevin Magnussen 11, Romain Grosjean 0
Constructor Points: 11

Haas arrived into this doubleheader looking to right the wrongs of Australia. A wheel nut issue denied them a big result with Haas the surprise package in Melbourne. Team Principal Guenther Steiner stated, ‘The aim is to do everything right and come home with a good result’. Neither driver was taking anything for granted. They were not so much the surprise package in either race but delivered a healthy chunk of points over the doubleheader regardless and both cars finished the two races.

Romain Grosjean had a difficult race in Bahrain which was made worse by pieces of his bargeboard coming loose. [Image from Motorsport.com].

Just as he did in Australia, Romain Grosjean seemed to be getting the most of out the Haas car in practice but when it mattered most he could not deliver. Thre Frenchman made an error on his final run in Q1 and consequently fell out of qualifying even though he had an identical time to Alonso in 15th. More damaging to Grosjean though was the near second gap to his teammate. While Magnussen finished 5th in the race, Grosjean languished home in 13th. From the start, he climbed to 14th courtesy of the red Bull retirements but had also been passed by Stroll and Ericsson off the start. He regained position from Stroll a few laps later. Hass attempted a one-stop strategy with Grosjean but needlessly getting in the way of his teammate on lap 30 prompted the team to stop him again while pieces falling off his bargeboard saw him come in again on lap 45. He claimed the car to he ‘absolutely undriveable’ with the issue bit felt he could’ve finished 7th or 8th without it. Instead, he finished 15th on track in a weekend he would probably want to forget.

Grosjean was not happy having to let his teammate through on lap 6 as they ‘ballsy strategy’ did not pay off. [Image from formula1.com].

It did not get much easier for Grosjean in China. The Frenchman suffered a brake by wire issue in FP3 meaning like Ricciardo, he only just got the car out in Qualifying. Despite that, he went on to get into Q3 at the expense of his teammate; both a first of the season. Unlike Ricciardo though, that’s where the good story ended for Grosjean. Starting on the ultra-soft tyre, he passed Perez on the opening lap before Haas instructed him to let his teammate through on a different strategy on lap 6. That brought an understandable rant on team radio. It was only lap 6 after all on the opening stint that he knew was key to his race. That defined his race really as after pitting on lap 16, he was not near Magnussen again. The Safety car cost him badly as ‘ballsy strategy going on the ultrasoft to the mediums’ did not pay off. Haas did not pit Grosjean during the safety car and after the restart was left to the mercy of the two stopping cars. He finished a disappointing 17th after Haas eventually decided to pit him again 10 laps from the end. Unfortunately, his great qualifying performance was compromised by race strategy as Grosjean remains one of five drivers without a point in 2018.

Kevin Magnussen made up for the missed opportunity in Australia by matching the Haas teams best ever finish, 5th. [Image from formula1.com].

Kevin Magnussen seems to be delivering in the Haas. Although he was outpaced by Grosjean in Bahrain practice, the Dane got the most out of the car in Qualifying and the race. Magnussen qualified 7th and started 6th due to Hamilton’s penalty. From there, he managed to gold 6th after regaining position from Hulkenberg having been tipped wide at turn 2 by the Renault. Magnussen couldn’t keep Hamilton behind for long and he got by on lap 5. The Dane put in a battling performance and after Grosjean got in his way on lap 30, he eventually got passed Ocon on track allowing him to benefit from the later second stops of Alonso and Hulkenberg to finish 5th. Post-race, Magnussen was ‘happy about today. It’s good to get 10 points and get our Championship started’ and was also full of praise for the pit crew. He may not have been able to challenge Gasly for 4th but his strong performance matched the Haas teams best ever result.

Kevin Magnussen drove well again in China but degrading tyres meant he could only finish 10th. [Image from motorsport.com].

The following weekend in China turned into a more difficult weekend. That was mostly to do with the safety car as his pace throughout the weekend was strong. He had been inside the top 10 throughout the practice sessions before he finished 0.016 outside in Q2 as he qualified 11th. It meant he had been out-qualified by Grosjean for the first time in 2018 but also meant he had a free choice of tyres to start the race on. After passing Perez on the opening lap, Magnussen passed his teammate as a result of team orders on lap 6 and was at one stage 6th before pitting for fresh tyres on lap 24. Magnussen didn’t pit again under the safety car and had fresher tyres than Grosjean so did not have quite the same struggles. However, he still lost positions to Alonso and Sainz in the second half of the race as Magnussen finished 10th. Post-race, Magnussen rued the safety car timing as ‘we didn’t get the advantage out of the strategy that we would’ve had otherwise’ with Steiner feeling they could’ve finished 7th. However, another top 10 finish and finishing ahead of Grosjean is still a good result for Magnussen.

Ratings
Bahrain: Haas 6.5, Kevin Magnussen 9, Romain Grosjean 5
China: Haas 5, Kevin Magnussen 7, Romain Grosjean 6

Sauber
Bahrain Qualifying: Marcus Ericsson 17th, Charles Leclerc 19th
Bahrain Race Result: Marcus Ericsson 9th, Charles Leclerc 12th
China Qualifying: Charles Leclerc 19th, Marcus Ericsson 20th
China Race Result: Marcus Ericsson 16th, Charles Leclerc 19th
Points: Marcus Ericsson 2, Charles Leclerc 0
Constructor Points: 2

Sauber arrived in Bahrain for the first part of the double bill feeling optimistic following their showing in Australia. Marcus Ericsson was ‘going into round two feeling positive’ whilst Charles Leclerc was hoping to build on his F1 debut at a track he wad great memories from Formula 2 last year. They had a poor qualifying in the dessert but left with a result Team Principal Frederic Vasseur described as ‘a very good first step for us and a reward for the hard work during the winter by the whole team’. However, it was back to reality in China as another poor qualifying could not correct by strategy. Despite failing to score points though, Vasseur believed ‘overall the race pace is there and we can that we can get in the fight with the midfield’. Considering where they were last year, they are certainly still making progress.

After failing to score points for the longest spell in F1 history, 49 race, no wonder Marcus Ericsson was in a cheery mood after the Bahrain Grand Prix. [Image from formula1.com].

Marcus Ericsson. A driver who I personally believe should not be in F1 I have to admit put in an incredible performance for Sauber in Bahrain to score his first points since the 2015 Italian Grand Prix. His pace during the weekend as a whole was not great and suggested he would not get out of Q1. He did not but was a strong four-tenths of a second faster than Leclerc as he qualified 17th. The Swede had a storming start climbing to 12th by the end of the opening lap. Sauber attempted a bold one-stop strategy pitting him on lap 23. His pace had been consistent to that point and even though the stop dropped him from 6th to 15th, he got back to 6th by lap 40 due to drivers going for their second stop. One stopping though meant, ‘I had t be clever as a driver as a driver and pick the right fights’ to avoid using too much of his tyres. He did just that including a key move on Perez on lap 20 but after lap 40 did not fight the two stoppers coming back to him as he finished 9th. Post-race, he described it as ‘an amazing feeling to be back in the points’. Having gone 49 races without points, it is the longest gap between points finishes in F1 history.

Despite struggling for most of the Chinese Grand Prix weekend, Ericsson’s stint on the Mediums took him ahead of Leclerc (behind) to finish as the lead Sauber. [Image from autosport.com].

It was back to reality for Ericsson in China the following weekend. The Swede’s pace in practice was generally slower than his teammate and he eventually qualified plum last, 20th. Perhaps more embarrassing was the near half second deficit to Leclerc In the race, Ericsson didn’t make ground off the line as he went wide on the opening lap. He struggled ‘quite a lot as the balance didn’t feel great’ on the soft tyres which he discarded when he stopped on lap 29. That was just before the safety car. Now on the Medium tyres, Ericsson passed his teammate on lap 40. He seemed to enjoy those tyres and felt he ‘caught up with the lower midfield and could keep up with their pace’. Despite his otherwise poor performance, his pace on the mediums meant he finished as the lead Sauber in 16th.

Charles Leclerc’s high-risk strategy’ did not really work leading him feeling unsatisfied with his weekend. [Image from formula1.com].

Charles Leclerc had an indifferent doubleheader. Arriving in Bahrain. He claimed to have ‘had one of my best races’ there last year. That familiarity with the circuit possibly contributed to him outpacing his teammate in practice but ultimately fell short when it mattered in Qualifying. He qualified 19th and over four tenths shy of Ericsson after making what he branded a ‘stupid’ mistake in Q1. The driver from Monaco had a good start and was up to 15th at the end of lap 1. However, Sauber pitted him during the VSC as they went for ‘a high-risk strategy’. They pitted him a second time on lap 34 and utilised his fresher tyres to finish 14th on the road which became 12th after post-race penalties were applied to Perez and Hartley. Post-race, Leclerc was pleased for his teammate but ‘At the same time, I am not completely satisfied with my result’. The rookie left Bahrain encouraged by the developments on the car but also frustrated.

Charles Leclerc out-qualified his teammate for the first time in China but a spin in the race compromised the car’s performance as he finished behind Ericsson. [Image from racefans.net]

The following weekend in China, Leclerc showed signs he is slowly getting to grips with F1 but there is still some way to go. The 20-year-old out-paced Ericsson for much of the Grand Prix weekend and out-qualified his teammate by nearly half a second despite going for a spin on his final Q1 run. He qualified and started 19th. From the start, Leclerc had passed both Toro Rosso’s and had got as high as 14th before pitting on lap 21. The youngster, however, had another spin on lap 28 on the long turn 1. That compromised his race as ‘I picked up some damage to the floor and started having some trouble with the balance of the car’. Unlike his teammate, he could not get the mediums as he finished a rather disappointing 19th which he described very well as a ‘not an ideal race today’.

Ratings
Bahrain: Sauber 8, Marcus Ercisson 9, Charles Leclerc 6
China: Sauber 5.5, Marcus Ercisson 5.5, Charles Leclerc 5.5

Force India
Bahrain Qualifying: Esteban Ocon 9th, Sergio Perez 12th
Bahrain Race Result: Esteban Ocon 10th, Sergio Perez 16th
China Qualifying: Sergio Perez 8th, Esteban Ocon 12th
China Race Result: Esteban Ocon 11th, Sergio Perez 12th
Points: Esteban Ocon 1, Sergio Perez 0
Constructor Points: 1

Force India brought updates to Bahrain hoping it would bring an improvement in their performance after Melbourne. The teams Chief Operating Officer Otmar Szatnauer said it was ‘a new front wing coming to Bahrain’ whiles the team stressed it was especially important to have a clean weekend to maximise every session’. It was not a clean weekend for Force India in Bahrain but the upgrades did seem to work as Force India got off the mark in 2018 leaving them with the impression they were heading in the right direction. They would have been hoping for further progress the following weekend in China. They were competitive in the midfield again but failed to score points in the Far East. They did come close to scoring more though.

Esteban Ocon scored Force India their first points of the season. [Image from formula1.com].

Esteban Ocon gave a solid performance in the Force India in Bahrain. After a slow start to the weekend, he managed to get the car into Q3 for the first time this season and out-qualified his teammate in the process. Having qualified 9th, he started 8th due to Hamilton’s penalty. The raw pace of the Force India seemed to be lacking as after capitalising in Hulkenberg’s battle with Magnussen on the opening lap, he was soon outgunned by the German after the VSC. He was the big loser of Hamilton’s three-car pass too as he dropped from 6to to 9th in that one sequence of turns. Force India’s two-stop strategy meant he was out-raced by Ericsson but was able to pass Sainz a few laps from the end to claim 10th and the final point on offer. Post-race, Ocon described it was a ‘nice reward’ for his team’s efforts but also his ‘always pushing, always fighting. Always chasing’ performance even if he was a little disappointed not to score more.

Ocon got into Q3 for the first time in 2018 but couldn’t score points in China. [Image from formula1.com].

In China, Ocon slowly came into the Grand Prix weekend and looked set to challenge for the top 10 in Qualifying after going 8th in FP3. The Frenchman came close but fell an agonising 0.087 seconds shy of Q2 following an error. He qualified 12th. The Force India lost out to Alonso and Stroll on the opening lap was 13th after also benefiting from his teammate’s misfortune. It took Ocon 5 laps to retake 12th from Stroll before pitting early on lap 11 in an aggressive move to try and undercut Alonso. The undercut did not work as Alonso pitted a few laps before the safety car and Ocon pitted again against it. At the restart, Ocon was 13th and easily got passed Vandoorne for 12th only to be stuck behind Grosjean for 8 laps before getting by lap 45. That hampered his attempts to pass Magnussen for 10th and after Perez couldn’t do it, finished 11th. Ocon was left ruing the safety car as Chian turned into ‘another race where things didn’t play into our hands, but the pace was competitive’.

Sergio Perez’s race in Bahrain was effectively over at turn 4 when he was spun by Hartley but after recovering to 12th on the road was penalised for a formation lap indiscretion. [Image from formula1.com].

On the other side of the Force India garage and looking at Sergio Perez’s pre-race comments in Bahrain, ‘I’ve always gone well there’. You can’t help but feel he jinxed it a bit. The Mexican struggled for pace against his teammate for much of the weekend but picked up after a difficult FP1. However, they were challenging for the top 10 which was encouraging for him even if he did miss out by just 0.147 seconds. He qualified 12th while Ocon got into Q3. His race was over by turn 4 when the Mexican was spun by Hartley’s Toro Rosso which dropped him to last with ‘a lot of damage to the floor’ which cost him performance throughout. Despite that, Perez did well to utilise a quicker two-stop strategy to climb to 12th on the road at the chequered flag. Perez was looking to the positives post-race, it was ‘a fun race, with a lot of battles and we are making progress with the car’. However, he was given a 30 second time penalty for an indiscretion with Hartley on the formation lap.

Another difficult opening lap for Perez in which he was forced wide by both Sainz and Alonso in different incidents hurt his chances in China. [Image from autosport.com].

The following week in China and Perez slowly came into the Grand Prix weekend as he got into the top 10 for the first time in FP3. The Mexican remained there in Qualifying as he got into Q3 for the first time this season while Ocon did not. Perez qualified 8th. He looked set for a good race however for the second successive weekend the opening lap ‘pretty much ruined our race weekend’. Perez was forced wide by an Alonso move on the approach to turn 9 having already lost ground at turn 6 due to being forced wide by Sainz. He was down to 14th and behind Ocon. Force India two stopped both their drivers and didn’t double stack unlike red Bull so Perez was now forced to pit the lap after Ocon twice even behind the Safety car which cost Perez position to Stroll and Vandorne. On fresher tyres, he passed both after the restart. The Mexican felt he was quicker than Ocon for the team to make a ‘strtagey call’ to allow him to attack Magnussen for 10th. He did not get the move done on the Haas and gave 11th back to Ocon as he finished 12th. Luck has not quite been on Perez’s side as despite hoping for his best year in F1, he is still without a point.

Ratings
Bahrain: Force India 6.5, Esteban Ocon 7, Sergio Perez 6
China: Force India 6, Esteban Ocon 6, Sergio Perez 6

Williams
Bahrain Qualifying: Sergey Sirotkin 18th, Lance Stroll 20th
Bahrain Race Result: Lance Stroll 14th, Sergey Sirotkin 15th
China Qualifying: Sergey Sirotkin 16th, Lance Stroll 18th
China Race Result: Lance Stroll 14th, Sergey Sirotkin 15th
Points: Lance Stroll 0, Sergey Sirotkin 0
Constructor Points: 0

Williams arrived in Bahrain hoping to gain a better understanding of where their car was with Chief Technical Officer Paddy Lowe believing they ‘should get a more representative comparison of the underlying performance of each team’. They also wanted Sergey Sirotkin to finish his first Grand Prix distance in Bahrain. He did just that but the pace was not good enough. They were poor in Qualifying in Bahrain and left as the only team yet to score a point or be in a points paying position for any racing lap in 2018. The latter changed in China and although they had a slight improvement in qualifying, their race pace was still short.

Lance Stroll had his worst ever qualifying in F1 in Bahrain but in the race recovered to finish ahead of his teammate. [Image from formula1.com].

Lance Stroll will want to forget about Bahrain after he started well in the desert but his pace deteriorated during the weekend as he qualified dead last in 20th. The Canadian finished almost a full second away from a Q2 spot in his worst every Qualifying result and the first time he finished last. Stroll had a very good start to the race and was up to 13th by the second lap which was aided by the issues at Red Bull. However, his race untangled when he picked up front wing damage from Grosjean on lap. This cost ’10 seconds as we had to change the front wing at the stop’. That came on lap 10 and coming out last, Stroll pitted once more and ahead of his teammate in a classified finish of 14th after penalties were applied. Post-race, Lowe admitted, ‘we didn’t have the pace today to compete with any other cars except ourselves’. A poor weekend overall for Stroll but at least he finished ahead of his teammate.

Lance Stroll had a slightly better race weekend in China but the one-stop strategy was foiled by the safety car. [Image from Beyond the Flag].

The following weekend in China, the Canadian had a slow start but found more pace as the weekend progressed. However, he was out-qualified again by Sirotkin by two tenths this time in 18th. Stroll made amends for his poor qualifying in the race by gaining 6 places on the opening lap. However, the pace was lacking as Ocon got passed on lap 5. Williams pitted Stroll on lap 24 and did a one-stop strategy, taking the set of medium tyres 33 laps to the end. However, he was left to rue the safety car ae as ‘the guys on two stops got a free pit stop in front of us’. Consequently, he never got to see how the strategy would have paid off as he came home in 14th. Stroll was left feeling ‘we got everything out of it today’ and after that start, it is hard to disagree with that assessment.

Were Sergey Sirotkin and Williams really racing in Bahrain as he described his team of looking like idiots. [Image from autosport.com].

After his short debut in Australia, Sergey Sirotkin had a better time of it in Bahrain. The Russian out-qualified his teammate for the first tie and finished a Grand Prix at the second time of asking. That’s the good points out of the way. Sirotkin qualified 18th, nearly nine-tenths off a Q2 spot with only 0.006 seconds preventing an all Williams back row. The Russian had a poor getaway and was last at the end of the opening lap bar Perez. Ultimately, Williams out Sirotkin on a two-stop strategy and finished behind Stroll in 15th. Post-race, he suggested the team looked ‘stupid’. His other post-race comments make me suspect Williams were not really racing Sirotkin but using the Grand Prix as a learning experience, ‘we’re just trying got get to the end of the race. I tried all the tyre compounds…so it was a measurable improvement’.

Sergey Sirotkin out-qualified his teammate for the second successive race in China but again finished behind Stroll. [Image from formula1.com].

In China, Sirotkin had his best Grand Prix of the season even if he did finish 15th again behind Stroll. The Russian produced one of the laps of the weekend to go 10th in FP3 but he couldn’t maintain that pace as another Q1 elimination loomed. Still, he out-qualified his teammate for the second successive weekend and was just 0,049 seconds shy of getting into Q2. He qualified 16th, his best result. He gained a position from the start even though he had been passed by Stroll. Williams intended to one stop both cars but split strategy under the safety car and pitted Sirotkin again on lap 33. However he ‘had far less grip than the mediums; on the soft tyre which cost him even more time in a race he was ‘really struggling to find the pace’. The Russian is improving as shown by his qualifying record against stroll but he needs to get the better of him in the race.

Ratings
Bahrain: Williams 3.5, Lance Stroll 6, Sergey Sirotkin 6
China: Williams 4, Lance Stroll 6.5, Sergey Sirotkin 6.5

Talking Points


Max Verstappen
Verstappen and Hamilton at turn 1 on lap 2 in Bahrain. [Image from Grandprix.com].

Three races in and Max Verstappen has made himself a talking point again. In 2016, we had the Verstappen rule over his aggressive driving style. In 2018, the talking point is still his aggressive racing style but more of him overdriving. A spin in Australia arguably cost him a shot at the podium, a spin Bahrain cost him a better qualifying spot. Then, in the race, he made contact with Lewis Hamilton at turn 1 on lap 3. This is what the drivers had to say about the incident…

Max Verstappen, post-race Bahrain,I had a good tow on the straight, the last corner was really good so it allowed me to stay close to Lewis. We got a bit squeezed but from the middle to the end of the corner I was ahead, I then felt a nudge from behind and could feel the puncture and therefore knew the race was likely over. In my opinion, there was plenty of room for the both of us to go around that corner and to say ‘no action taken’ is a bit harsh as I am now out of the race due to that contact on my left rear. If it was the other way around I’m sure he would want it looked into’.

Lewis Hamilton, post-Bahrain, ‘…I don’t know if they’re inexperienced or not totally mature decisions, they are not getting the results they should. Today he should have finished a decent race because he’s good enough to do that. I think to myself if Fernando [Alonso] was in that car today he would have finished a decent race and got points for Red Bull. I just hope for them he’s learning through whatever situation he’s going through. I went through that stuff when I was a young guy, so I know how it is…We were racing, which was all fine. Often when the car outside is running out of road, if you look at it I was ahead for quite a period of time, and then I accepted defeat, and I just I backed out because I knew he was going to try to run me wide, maybe. But then he just kept going. He didn’t need to keep going, to be at the track’. 

Christian Horner, Red Bull Team Principal,It was hard racing. Max is a hard racer. Lewis is a hard racer. When you put that combination together, that’s why people turn on their TV sets at the end of the day. You can argue it both ways. From Max’s position Lewis should have conceded the corner, given up, and from Lewis’s position, he’s saying Max gave him no room to work with. You’ve got two drivers fighting over the same piece of tarmac and unfortunately, the contact with Lewis’s front wing endplate and Max’s rear wheel is ultimately what’s done the damage. He was lucky to get away with no damage to his own car.

Fernando Alonso’s McLaren in front of Verstappen complicated the move slightly which sways it to me as a racing incident. [Image from Sportsnet.com].

Of the comments, I have to agree with Christian Horner. Hamilton was lucky to have no damage to his car and it is hard racing. Obviously, Verstappen was not happy there was deemed a racing incident. Could Verstappen have left more room? Well, I don’t think there’s anywhere else Hamilton could have gone otherwise he’d have been completely off the circuit and Hamilton was ahead going into the turn. Meanwhile, Verstappen had to judge it with Alonso right in front of the pair of them and on the exit of the turn had got himself ahead. It was just hard racing as Horner said.

The outcome of Verstappen locking up into Vettel at the hairpin in China [Image from The Daily Express].

Then, in China having gone wide looking at Hamilton had cost him ground to his teammate. Verstappen made a late dive on the inside of Sebastian Vettel at the hairpin. The incident earned Verstappen a 10 second time penalty from the stewards. This is what the two had to say…

Max Verstappen, post-race China,Seb was struggling a bit on the tyres so I knew I had an opportunity, I tried to take him on the inside but locked the rears and ended up hitting him. I am disappointed with myself that this is the outcome of the race’.

Sebastian Vettel, post-race China,After that it was clear that Red Bull was faster and I think there was no point to resist much at the way Daniel approached from behind, and then the same happened with Max. I gave him some room just in case he had a bit of tyre lock-up, but then obviously he had a big one and that’s why we crashed. I think he realized he was wrong. We were both lucky to continue but it was not necessary. However, I appreciated the fact he came to me straightway because that’s the way to solve things like this, face to face.’

The matter of the fact is, Max Verstappen has the raw pace to be challenging for the championship. However, he is making too many errors. His boss believes he can. Christian Horner told Sky Sports coming into the race in Baku, ‘I’m fully confident that he’s a phenomenal talent and he’s smart enough to recognise areas that he needs to work on and I have no doubt that he will address it.” For all the driver’s talent, it would be a shame if he could not work on his racing as so far he is costing himself position and points by pushing too much. There are moments I feel a cooler, more composed driver would not be making the same mistakes. He still has time to work on that. It is hard to remember despite everything he has already achieved in F1, he is still only 21 and could be in the sport for another 15 years at least if he wanted to. Time is certainly on his side for these errors not to define his career. Lewis Hamilton had a spell in 2011 where he made mistakes but he has since matured to become a four-time Champion and the most successful British driver in F1 history. Time will tell if Verstappen can get past the big mistakes…

New Regulations for 2021

In the build up the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend, Formula One published its proposals for what the sport will look like for the next set of regulations due to come into force for the 2021 season.

The vision from F1’s new owners Liberty Media is a simple one and one that a large number of fans would welcome. For example, the power unit from 2021 must be ‘cheaper, louder, have more power and to reduce the need for grid penalties’. The rules also put an end to deals seen in the past couple of years where teams have had a year old unit in their car compared to the latest one. For example, Sauber using a 2016 Ferrari engine last year.

Additionally, Formula One also want to introduce a cost cap with a yet to be decided figure. According to F1 Managing Director for Motorsport, Ross Brawn, that is ‘because that’s something we still want to discuss with the teams’. They also proposed a new revenue distribution centre where it would be base prize money distribution in a meritocratic way in a bid to reward success. That is almost like a more balanced and fair split of the prize money which some of the smaller teams have been calling for for years. There is also an emphasis placed on the role of the driver as their ‘skill must be the predominant factor in the performance of the car’.

The proposals received a generally warm reception. Zack Brown at McLaren said, “the impression is very positive and the direction in which they are taking is the right direction”. Red Bull’s Christian Horner believed “The positive thing is they are really focused on the fans and creating a better show and a more affordable Formula 1.”. Meanwhile, at Williams, Claire Williams was almost ecstatic. ‘It’s inevitable that when you are talking about a cost cap at the level we are talking about that the bigger teams are going to be hurt most. But I don’t feel too sorry for them – they have had 10 or 20 years of having a wonderful ride in Formula 1 and winning everything, we haven’t. We’ve been fighting and we’ve been fighting for survival.”

The proposals are a rough guide to where Liberty want to take Formula One and is a vision I pretty much like. It will be interesting to see how Ferrari take these rules, They have issued threats to quit F1 in the past which would be a big blow to the brand which has seen them race since the first ever season in 1950. Look out for next month as the F1 bosses hope to have the engine regulations for 2021 agreed in May.

If you would like to see the proposals in more detail, you can find the Formula One press release here.

Championship Tables and What next?


Drivers Championship after China. [Image from BBC Sport]

Following the doubleheader, Sebastian Vettel leads the Drivers Championship but does so with a lead of nine points over second-placed Lewis Hamilton instead of the 17 he held after Bahrain. It is a close battle between the Mercedes pair as they are separated by only five points. Daniel Ricciardo’s victory in China puts him only three points behind Bottas as the honeybadger occupies 4th. Fernando Alonso is 6th and is equal on points as Nico Hulkenberg (22 each) while Max Verstappen is 8th on 18 points. Pierre Gasly’s tremendous performance in Bahrain has him on 12 points in 9th and Kevin Magnussen rounds off the top 10 for Haas. Six drivers are yet to score points and they are Sergio Perez, Charles Leclerc, Lance Stroll, Romain Grosjean, Sergey Sirotkin and Brendon Hartley.

Constructors Championship after China [Image from BBC Sport].

In the Constructors Championship, Mercedes lead the way by a single point. They lead Ferrari 85 points to 84. Red Bull sit third on 55 points while McLaren occupy 4th and ‘best of the rest’ by three points from Renault; 28 points to 25. Toro Rosso sits 6th on 12 points while this seasons expected dark horses Haas have only 11 points in 7th. Sauber are two places better off than they were last season in 8th while last seasons 4th and 5th placed teams find themselves in the bottom two with Williams the only team yet to score.

Next time, Formula One is racing in Azerbaijan which had a very chaotic race last year. The race is in an early position in the calendar this season due to Russia focusing on hosting the World Cup in the Summer. To Baku, for round four!