Formula Once-Over: Investigating the issues from Bahrain

Formula Once-Over: Investigating the issues from Bahrain

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Following on from his previous article, Formula One Correspondent James Coghlan analyses the performances of Force India, Williams, and Red Bull in the Bahrain Grand Prix:

After a couple of relatively underwhelming races in Australia and Malaysia, the Bahrain GP saw Formula 1 regain its appeal, with one of the most exciting spectacles in recent years. To be sure, the thrilling performance given by Mercedes will secure the race a place in Formula 1 history. However, it wasn’t all about the dynamic duo up front, as the outcome of some equally enthralling battles further back permitted some teams to jump for joy, and gave others some causes for concern.

A Force to be reckoned with?

The race in Sakhir will be particularly memorable for Force India, who secured their best ever result with a third and fifth place finish. As the race couldn’t have come at a better time for Formula 1, a podium couldn’t have arrived sooner for Sergio Perez, who has a big point to prove after his ejection from McLaren last season. The emphasis the track placed on having good straight-line speed, and supreme traction, allowed the flying Mexican to finally fulfil his potential, qualifying an impressive fifth on the grid. A stellar drive to the podium topped off a glorious weekend for Perez, and will undoubtedly give him the psychological boost he desperately needs in the wake of his disappointing performances in Melbourne and Sepang.

Hulkenberg and Pérez should be pleased with their performances, Image Credits: Sky Sports F1
Hulkenberg and Pérez should be pleased with their performances. Image Credits: Sky Sports F1 News

In all honesty, the podium place should have gone to Hulkenberg, as he was consistently quicker than Perez in both qualifying and the race. Had it not been for his mistake at turn 11 in Q2, and the ERS issues that plagued him in the closing stages of the race, he would have undoubtedly come out of this weekend as the top dog. Perez couldn’t match Hulkenburg’s pace, and it was only his team-mate’s botched attempt to overtake Williams’ Felipe Massa, on lap 26, that allowed him to slip in front. Nevertheless, Perez managed to capitalise on that, and defend against a quicker Hulkenberg all the way to the finish. It was a supreme demonstration of driver skill, and shows that Perez is a force to be reckoned with on his day.

Where’s Williams?

At present, Williams have continued to miss out on some major point finishes. As was shown in qualifying, their car is genuinely fast, thanks to a sound aerodynamic package, and that mighty Mercedes powertrain. In terms of raw pace in dry conditions, they have easily been the third fastest team in Formula 1 this season.

The Williams racers made a good enough start in Bahrain – Massa and Bottas maintained third and fifth place respectively – until their first pit-stops. However, bad tyre degradation resulted in the implementation of a three-stop strategy, which allowed the tyre-friendly, two-stopping Force Indias, to leapfrog them in the middle stages of the race. Qualifying demonstrated that Williams were ultimately as fast as, if not slightly faster than, Force India, but they failed to convert that speed into race pace. This was entirely avoidable, as the team completed a mere 65 laps over the practice sessions on Friday and Saturday, claiming that they had plenty of tyre data from the pre-season tests.

Force India, on the other hand, completed 115, and were thus able to get a better understanding of the set-up required to maximise both pace and tyre management. Had Williams done this, a podium finish may have been achievable. Williams need to capitalise on their car’s ability at this stage, as their car’s development will likely stagger as the season progresses. If they don’t consolidate their position soon, not even their Mercedes powertrain will save them from an unceremonious slide down the pack.

Not bad for a number two driver?

Unlike the wasteful Williams, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo made use of every opportunity, this weekend, to gain a psychological edge over quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel. The manner in which Ricciardo walked over Vettel in this race was truly astonishing, and would have undoubtedly made Mark Webber squirm with delight. Despite starting three places behind Vettel, the young Australian took the challenge to him by calculating a superior tyre strategy. What’s more, after his pit-stop on lap 35, Ricciardo managed to close the three second gap to Vettel by the time the safety car emerged on lap 41. That is mightily impressive, as Ricciardo was on a set of medium compound tyres, whilst Vettel was on a brand new pair of softs.

To add insult to injury, the Australian pulled a fantastic manoeuvre on lap 50 to snatch fifth from Vettel. All things considered, Ricciardo wiped the floor with Vettel on the Sakhir circuit, comprehensively beating the German throughout the weekend. Without a doubt, his surge from thirteenth to fourth more than made his presence in the race.

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