- Photo Credit: Mercedes Media Database

'Close but no Cigar'

Relive the last Bahrain Grand Prix ahead of the double header coming your way to kick off the end of the 2020 season.

7w ago

It's been 86 weeks and 2 days since the lights last went out to signal the start of the 2019 Bahrain Grand Prix. A lot has happened since then and if you can't remember what happened the last time Formula 1 went to Bahrain or are unsure if Bahrain is a good venue to hold two of this year's races, then read on for a taster of how a race in the desert can go...

Coming off a two week break since Formula 1’s last outing in Melbourne, the Bahrain Grand Prix was certainly worth the wait. It had everything you could ask for in an F1 race; excitement, edge of your seat drama that kept your eyes glued to what was unfolding as the race went on as well as moments of shock and heartbreak. All of this under the floodlights of the track as since 2014, the race is held at night, was a spectacle to behold. It was a race that a Hollywood screen writer couldn’t have scripted and it demonstrated just why this sport has so many fans all across the globe. If the Australian Grand Prix had been a teaser for what was to come, then Bahrain definitely showed us what a season this year of Formula 1 will turn out to be.

Going into the race following the practice sessions and qualifying, Ferrari looked like they were back on dominant form with twenty-one-year-old Charles Leclerc setting the timing screens alive throughout the weekend and achieving his maiden pole position on Saturday, ahead of his four-time World Champion teammate Sebastian Vettel (still the youngest pole sitter in F1 himself). But come race day and none of that matters because it means nothing if you can’t translate the performance to the race. Leclerc lost first position on the opening lap to Vettel but fought back magnificently as the race went on to retake the position and open up an eight second lead on his teammate. On a weekend where Leclerc did nothing wrong, it came down to a case of extremely bad luck ten laps from the end of the race. A power unit issue resulted in Leclerc losing a significant amount of his cars’ performance and having to nurse it home the best he could, his first victory in Formula 1 slipping from his grasp in the process. Leclerc finished third in the end, due to safety car drama in the closing laps which still allowed him to secure his first podium in F1, but it was bittersweet when victory was so close. As someone so young and with so much raw talent – and also being the godson of the late Jules Bianchi, who died following the Japanese Grand Prix in 2014 who seemed destined for Ferrari stardom at the time – it was gut wrenching to see this Grand Prix win taken from him. But that’s Formula 1 and this was a classic, if brutal, example of how unpredictable the sport is and that the race isn’t over until it’s over.

Photo Credit: Mercedes Media Database

Photo Credit: Mercedes Media Database

Lewis Hamilton capitalized on Leclerc’s bad luck and went on to win the race with his teammate and current Championship Leader Valtteri Bottas finishing in second. It was a weekend where Mercedes didn’t have the performance they needed to challenge for the win, something that was noted by Hamilton just after the chequered flag fell. “We were definitely lucky today, but we have to take it as it comes.” Bottas had a relatively quiet race in comparison to others, fighting occasionally for track position but mainly keeping the Mercedes ship steady. Hamilton meanwhile found himself in the thick of it with Vettel as the two fought wheel to wheel over second place for a portion of the race. Seeing two F1 Champions with nine World Championships between them going toe to toe with one another was electrifying, especially when you consider that they weren’t even fighting over first place, a position occupied at that time by a driver in only his second season in Formula 1. Whilst Hamilton proceeded to win the race, Vettel had another unfortunate result in 2019, spinning out of his own accord after battling Hamilton, the resulting degradation on his tyres a likely cause for his front wing to spectacularly vibrate off his car half a lap later. After a pit stop to replace the damage, the best Vettel could manage was fifth, one place lower than where he finished in Australia and not something he will want to repeat again.

Red Bull Racing Honda had a mixed race that probably didn’t live up to their expectations for the weekend. Max Verstappen finished fourth after a relatively lonely race with all the drama of the desert seemingly happening to everyone except him. But he still managed to get some valuable points on the board for the team and their race pace was consistent with what they had in Australia. Pierre Gasly didn’t have a great race sitting in tenth place and not being able to make much more progress until the safety car drama unfolded in the final laps of the race where he got promoted into eighth position. So even though it wasn’t a terrible result for him at the end of the day, Gasly doesn’t seem to be acclimatising to life in a Red Bull car as fast as he or the team may like and there is still plenty of work to be done in the future if he hopes to be out front battling with Verstappen and the other front runners.

The reason for the safety car being deployed with five laps left to go – and causing the race to finish under the supervision of the safety car for only the eighth time in Formula 1 history -was all down to the disappointing demise of the two Renault cars. Up until this point, both Hulkenburg and Ricciardo, who’d been in sixth and tenth places respectively, had driven very strong races, battling with each other and the other mid field contenders in order to finish the race as the best of the rest. But simultaneous engine trouble for both cars caused them both to pull off the track and exit the race. It was the second time in two races that Ricciardo failed to finish for his new team Renault and they have a big job ahead of them to find out what caused such a major malfunction to occur. This is a team that showed signs of improving over Winter Testing but that doesn’t appear to have translated into the race weekends thus far.

Photo Credit: Mercedes Media Database

Photo Credit: Mercedes Media Database

This double retirement allowed already impressive rookie Lando Norris to finish in sixth place for McLaren, making him and the team the best of the rest for the Bahrain Grand Prix. It was great to see McLaren back on fighting form after such a horrible few years for the team and hopefully this new-found lease of life continues for the team as the season progresses. Norris’ teammate Carlos Sainz was forced to retire earlier in the race after a gearbox issue following a coming together with Verstappen when they’d been battling. But despite the retirement and anger about a wasted opportunity that could have seen him get some points for himself and the team, Sainz was able to find some positives from the race: “I think you all saw my start, the mega start, the mega first laps, having a lot of pace.” Nevertheless, McLaren appear to on the right track in terms of performance and time will tell if they are able to repeat a result like Norris’ in the future.

Alfa Romeo Racing proved that they are also going to be strong mid field contenders this year with Kimi Raikkonen coming home in seventh place and Antonio Giovinazzi finishing in 11th place, just outside the points. Both drivers were part of the many battles that occurred during the race and showed their cars’ consistent performance. Raikkonen in particular should be commended for being able to achieve seventh place because not only did he switch from Ferrari to a mid-field team meaning less performance but he’s also the oldest driver on the grid, double the age of McLaren driver Lando Norris. Youth it would seem is no guarantee of advancement.

Toro Rosso had a decent time in Bahrain too with Alexander Albon finishing in ninth place and securing his first points in Formula 1. He is the first Thai driver in sixty-five years to score points in Formula 1, the last time by Prince Bira who drove from 1950 to 1955, scoring his last points in 1954. If Albon scores seven more points this season, he will be the highest scoring Thai driver in F1 history. His teammate Daniil Kvyat finished in twelfth place, both cars finishing slightly lower than they might have liked as result of such a tight mid field battle between themselves, McLaren, Renault, Alfa Romeo and Haas. Despite the result though, both drivers should be relatively happy with another steady result.

It was a disappointing day all around for the remaining three teams on the grid: Haas, Racing Point and Williams. Romain Grosjean retired early in the race after a collision with Lance Stroll that caused floor damage which manifested a few laps later on. It isn’t a good start to the year for the Frenchman, particularly in a weekend that was full of potential. The same can be said for the other Haas driver Kevin Magnusson who only managed to come home in thirteenth place, despite showing promise in the opening stages of the race. It was the opposite of his result from Australia where he had been the best of the rest for the U.S owned team. It would appear that there is still plenty of work to be done for Haas if they want to keep improving like they have so impressively done in their past few years in the sport.

Sergio Perez and Lance Stroll finished in tenth and fourteenth place respectively, earning the team only a single constructor championship point. Despite being involved in the dicey mid field battles that made the Bahrain Grand Prix so great to watch, neither driver particularly stood out from the rest of the grid and were easily forgettable once the race came to an end. The same can be said too for Williams Racing who had another dismal race as their two drivers of Robert Kubica and George Russell propping up the final results table for the race. There is sadly not much to be said on Williams – they still severely lack performance and don’t seem to have improved at all since the last race or indeed since Winter Testing. It’s sad to see such a beloved team withering at the bottom of the leader board tables but until they can actually make some strong strides in terms of performance, that it where they’ll stay.

The Bahrain Grand Prix was a race unlike any other, each of the fifty-seven laps around the 3.363-mile circuit as nail-biting as each other. On a track where Vettel and Ferrari hold the record for most wins (four and six respectively), it should have been their day, but it wasn’t to be. Hamilton was able to continue his streak of being on the podium of every Bahrain Grand Prix since the Hybrid Era of Formula 1 began back in 2014 with Bottas still able to hold onto the lead of the driver’s championship by one point, for now. One of the things Charles Leclerc can take away from the race is that he still managed to come away from the race with a point for the fastest lap, which is no mean feat in itself. It was a race that can serve as a reminder for everyone that anything can happen in Formula 1; victory is never certain, no matter how fairy tale like the story might be, it’s always worth fighting until the end and sometimes, luck just isn’t on your side. As Formula 1 moves to China for its landmark 1000th Grand Prix since it began in 1950, the Bahrain Grand Prix proved that it was top shelf material and the quality of this race on all of its emotional levels will be hard to beat.

What did you think of the Bahrain Grand Prix? Let me know in the comments below.

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