After a two year hiatus, Formula One was due to resurface in the desert setting of Bahrain, at the Sahkir International Circuit, with the 2011 race being postponed, then cancelled off the calendar all together, as a result of mass demonstrations and protests about the race going ahead. Fast forward to the beginning of 2012, and yet again, the announcement of Bahrain holding a race, meant that people were up in arms again over the race being held.
And as it drew closer to the race itself, there were members of the Sahara Force India team that went back home, as a result of an incident they stumbled across, which was a demonstration involving police and petrol bombs, as well as some of the Sauber F1 team coming across unrest as well. In many ways, there was a barrage of incidents, deaths and numerous statements from both FIA president Jean Todt and FOM chairman Bernie Ecclestone, saying that it was OK for the teams to travel to the kingdom to race. In his usual tough talking and uncompromising demeanour, Bernie did add fuel to the fire, by talking about the media to an extent that they were creating stories to provoke reaction. But enough about politics, it was almost back to normality for the teams and drivers this time around, after a short respite after the dominance of Mercedes and Nico Rosberg in Shanghai.
Second practice showed that there was a notable midfield team missing, which was Force India, as the upper management had decided to get back before dark, so Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg were fine with having to give up time behind the wheel to ensure safety of their colleagues. On to qualifying, and Red Bull Racing had decided to run the new exhaust configuration on both their cars, that helped Mark Webber out in Shanghai, with Vettel following suit. And Vettel was back to his best, securing Pole Position from Lewis Hamilton by just one tenth of a second, with the Briton being the meat in a Red Bull sandwich, and Jenson Button starting 4th.
Last week’s winner in China, Nico Rosberg, struggled, qualifying 5th, followed closely by a very impressive session from Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo, securing his best qualifying position in his career so far in 6th. The final slots on the grid consisted of Grosjean (Lotus), Perez (Sauber), Alonso (Ferrari) and di Resta (Force India). The main casualties were that of Lotus’ Kimi Raikonnen, who just missed out of getting into Q3, whereas Michael Schumacher could not even get out of Q1, due to a technical issue on the W03’s Drag Reduction System, which could not be fixed in time. Then, to add insult to injury, Mercedes decided to change the gearbox on the legend’s car as well, meaning that “Schumi” would start from 22nd on the grid, after a 5 place grid penalty for the gearbox change. But the race would show that qualifying isn’t the end of the world, if a driver has suffered a dreadful qualifying session.
Race day, and there was not just tension in the air at the paddock, but the heavens provided a brief bit of drama, by drops of rain being dropped from the sky, but this did not really impact on the race, as the humidity in Bahrain would soon dispel any damp patches on the track. So as the cars lined up to start, the famous five lights came on, before the 24 four-wheeled monsters roared off the line, flying towards turn one. As per China, there was wheel-to-wheel racing, with several drivers banging wheels, but some clean and mindful driving, meant that all the field apart from Caterham’s Heikki Kovalainen rolling into the pits with a left rear puncture after the first lap, putting a black cloud over his best qualifying all season, having started 16th.
It looked as though Sebastian Vettel was back to his usual best, pulling out over a 2-second gap over the rest of the field, with a consummate performance to secure his 22nd career victory at Sahkir. But the drivers looking to spoil the current champion’s party was the Lotus duo of Raikkonen and Grosjean, with the E20 showing how quick it was, by both drivers cutting their way through the field, with the Enstone-based squad delivering on its promised race pace, with the “Iceman” nearly taking the victory from the young German several laps from the end. It was instantly apparent that Lotus were showing they were in the fight, with both drivers jumping up several places at the start, and continued to show up the rest of the field.
Last week’s winner in China, Nico Rosberg, suffered a dreadful start, dropping to ninth initially, before finishing where he started, but courted controversy, as well as the attention of the stewards, as there were two very stern defensive moves from the young German against both Hamilton and Alonso, but he escaped without any penalty, after the stewards investigated both incidents. But the Mercedes driver made a late overtake past Force India’s Paul di Resta with five laps to go, securing his finish in the upper half of the top ten. Mark Webber showed that he had now become “Mr. Consistency” this year, surpassing Lewis Hamilton, keeping himself in the title hunt, securing his fourth successive fourth place finish on a lonesome run in the desert, and showing his maturity in his title challenge, with no sign of the Australian veteran retiring yet.
Hamilton and Button really suffered a bad weekend this time around, with the younger of the two suffering botched pit stops on both occasions, with the Stevenage racer’s pit crew having a wheel nut issue of the left rear tyre, costing the Brit time, and meaning the 2008 champion had to follow di Resta and Alonso, ending up in 8th place, finding himself now 6 points behind new points leader Vettel. But Button ended up retiring on the penultimate lap, due to a mechanical issue, just one lap after having his left rear tyre punctured, especially as the “Frome Flyer” had been spending the majority of his time in the top six.
The Ferrari duo of Fernando Alonso (finishing 7th) and Felipe Massa (finishing 9th) both started assertively, with them gathering momentum early in the race, with the Spaniard getting as high as fifth, but yet again, the Maranello-produced F2012 showed that its pace is clearly not in the same league as some of the other top teams. Seems like they still have more work to do.
Schumacher, however, put his problems behind him, and drove a measured race, and climbed the order to secure the final point in 10th position, whereas Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo tumbled down the order to the back of the field, before a nose change, ending up 15th, whereas the Williams-Renault duo of Senna and Maldonado ended up retiring, giving the Grove squad its first double retirement of the season.
So in an eventful race weekend, both on and off the track, involving the local population, international media and race team members, the Formula One fraternity leaves a troubled land behind, with their new focus being on the upcoming test in Mugello, which is the first time F1 has welcomed in-season testing for a long while, before moving on to the Spanish Grand Prix in just under three weeks’ time. The political dust from the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend may have started to settle, but there may be a doubt over the race venue for future years to come.
So, PopFodder will be back in three weeks time, reporting on the latest round of the FIA F1 2012 Championship, where we will see teams bringing their latest upgrades to the fight to see who is truly king of the “fastest sport on four wheels”, and will we yet again have another driver at the top step of the podium.
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