#999 2019 Bahrein Grand Prix

2021-04-20 00:00

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#2019, Fulvio Conti, Giulia Mizzoni, Translated by Sofia Monteferri,

#999 2019 Bahrein Grand Prix

On the 29th of March 2019 the Formula 1 Circus moves to Bahrain for the second round of the Championship. The protagonists are always the same: Merced


On March 29th, 2019, the Formula 1 Circus moves to Bahrain for the second round of the Championship. The protagonists are always the same: Mercedes, back from a perfect, flawless, weekend, willing to repeat the results obtained in Australia; and Ferrari, looking for redemption, ready to show what it is capable of and to let people know that they are here to win. The Maranello team is confident: the Sakhir circuit has certainly not denied Ferrari any victories and celebrations in the past. On the contrary, Ferrari has won six times on this track - the last of them with the German driver Sebastian Vettel. The question naturally arises: will Ferrari give proof of their potential, or will they show the same problems as in the past weekend? Team principal Mattia Binotto analyzes the circuit and declares himself ready to redeem himself on track:


"We expect to see the effect of the corrections we have made. Compared to the Australian track, the Sakhir circuit has got very different characteristics with traction and braking being important elements. I think that, as a team, we need to make sure we have understood and managed the areas of weakness that in Australia, for a whole series of factors, did not allow us to exploit the full potential of the car. We are aware that our opponents will once again be very strong. Having said that, we can't wait to get on track and confront them".


The German driver, who only finished fourth in Australia, knows he must not underestimate the situation now more than ever and that he must stay focused and avoid the slightest mistake:


''You pay a high price for every mistake you make. But it is normal at this level of difficulty. Having said that, it's not always easy to get the right pace in practice because the track is dirty with sand and there is often a strong wind. So, in many cases, every lap is different from the previous one and it can make the difference, especially in qualifying. Every mistake here can cost you dearly in terms of time: you must be very cautious when overtaking, waiting for a small mistake from the driver in front to try to pass him. The ideal points to attack? Turn 1 and turn 14, after two long straights".


While Leclerc acknowledges his mistakes in Australia, he doesn't lose heart and arrives in Bahrain confident in the team and ready to give his all:


"There is a lot of work to do but the mentality is right, and we have to keep it throughout the year. I have confidence in the team, I don't think there is a structural problem, it's just a matter of optimizing things. We are all confident that we can do better. Bahrain is a rather technical track where us drivers often find extreme conditions. That's why it's interesting to try many different configurations during free practice to be prepared for any eventuality. It is a track where I really like driving. I raced here in Formula 2, and I was very satisfied right away. Last season it was a bit tough, but I was only at the beginning of my Formula 1 career. This year I can't wait to get on track at Sakhir with Ferrari: I want to bring home a good result".


Same mentality for the reigning World Champion, Lewis Hamilton. Despite the excellent results, the British driver does not let his guard down and expresses his opinion not only on Ferrari, convinced that it will be stronger, but also on Red Bull, third power in the championship:


"I assume Ferrari has worked hard to try to understand what went wrong in Australia and I expect that both here and in the next race they will be stronger, also because they have always been fast on this track. Red Bull certainly has a much better power unit, they will be even closer to us this weekend and, given their reliability, they will be there to fight with us".


Finally, once again he modestly shares his amazement at the results of the first race weekend:


"I know some people thought we were hiding, but I'm honest when I say that we came into the first race believing that we would all be much closer and not thinking that we would be in front. For the information I had, we were behind the Ferraris. But we're understanding the car better and we're moving in the right direction".


His teammate and World Championship leader acknowledges the great job done by his team and, after his excellent performance in Australia, he is intent on repeating it:


"It's a good feeling even if it's only the first race, but I'm already focused on this weekend. We were all positively surprised by the performance of the car, but Melbourne is a particular circuit and here - and in China - we will have a clearer picture of everyone's performance level. Our pace was a nice surprise, the feeling was much better than in winter testing and this means that a very good job has been done in a very short time. Australia was probably my best race ever. The start was the key to take the lead, then I didn't make any mistakes and I kept everything under control. When you feel you're giving your best it's a good feeling and I want to relive it".


Max Verstappen, who shared the podium with the two Mercedes drivers, is confident and happy with the potential of his car:


"Melbourne confirmed the feelings we had during winter testing in Barcelona: our car is competitive and reliable. If anything, the outside observers seemed surprised by our level of performance. On the other hand, we didn't even expect to see Mercedes at that level. Here in Bahrain, we will know more about the behaviour of our chassis, but the package seems to have come together well".


The head-to-head between the top Formula 1 teams certainly is a topic of great interest in the paddock, but this weekend the spotlight is elsewhere. In fact, Bahrain is also the venue for the Formula 2 championship, a category that projects new talents into the perspective of entering the queen category, and it is precisely on the Formula 2 grid that we recognize a great surname: Schumacher. Mick Schumacher, son of one of Maranello's and Formula 1's greatest champions, newly crowned F3 champion and new member of the FDA, makes his debut in the Formula 2 championship. But this is not the only news. In fact, the last time this surname was seen driving a Ferrari was back in 2006, in the Brazilian Grand Prix; and now, for the first time in thirteen years, the same excitement can be relived. Mick Schumacher will make his debut on a Ferrari on April 2nd, 2019, right on the Sakhir circuit, and, following that, on Wednesday, he will be busy with a session on the Alfa Romeo C38. However, this is not a debut in Formula 1 for the young Schumacher: the German driver had the great opportunity to drive the Benetton 1994 last August on the circuit of Spa. Being the son of a champion is certainly not easy, considering the weight you have on your shoulders. But Mick doesn’t think so, and he is obviously honoured to be able to carry on this great story. Not only the one written by his father, but also by Ferrari:


"I don’t mind the comparison with my Dad. It has never been a problem for me to be compared to my father, on the contrary, being compared with the best driver in the history of Formula 1 is an honour. I just have to learn and improve. I can learn a lot from them (the FDA), they made me feel at home right away, but Ferrari has always been part of my life".


This is a big step for any driver's career and this day won’t be easily forgotten. Before his surname, there is a driver who is growing up and making his own experiences to prove he deserves to be where he is. He admits he owes a lot to his parents, and he is very excited about the idea of driving a Formula 1 Ferrari. Who knows, maybe one day we'll be lucky enough to see this name on the grid again.


"I'm not scared. I'm ready and confident. My mom is happy; she has always supported me, but I wouldn't be here without my father. I'm the son of the best driver in Formula 1. It's part of me. I'm used to managing the attention on me, I'm my father's son and I'm happy to be. His career made him the best in the history of Formula 1, and I can only be happy he is my Dad. I wouldn't be who I am now without him. We laid the foundation for this adventure together, from our karting days. That's when I knew I wanted to do this as a job. I felt Formula like something close and personal until two or three years ago, but it's better than I expected. It's helped me a lot along my journey. My Mom was overjoyed when she heard that I would be driving for Ferrari, an opportunity that suddenly materialized. When I got the news, I was elated. Entering Maranello for the first time gave me special emotions, you must go there to understand. I prepared myself on the simulator and above all with physical training to withstand the heat. I started discovering Formula 1 two years ago. The cars are beautiful and fast and the dream of getting there is strong".


Nevertheless, Schumacher is undeterred, and he immediately clarifies that his priority is Formula 2 at the moment and that he is intent on giving his best with Prema. Before the race weekend begins, a meeting held on March 26th, 2019, in London, defines the new technical and sporting rules starting 2021. These changes, which will come into effect when the current Concord Pact expires, must be ratified by June 30th, 2019, although it seems that some teams want more time before the final choices. Article 18.2.2 of the Sporting Code, in fact, establishes that, in the event of a substantial change in the technical design of the cars or in the balance of performance between the various single-seaters, the regulations can only come into force from the second year after June 30th. At the end of last season, the managing director of Liberty Media, Ross Brawn, said that the main problem was preventing the bigger teams from gaining an advantage from the early signing of the agreement on the new rules:


"We don't want teams with more resources to have an advantage over teams that don't have the same budget, but it's difficult because the longer we delay the publication of the new rules, the greater advantage for the teams with more money. The teams will have about a year to work on the design of the new single-seaters. Once they have created the 2020 cars, they can concentrate on the 2021 ones".


In addition to the technical aspects, the main topics discussed at the meeting concerned the general management of the Championship and the containment of operating costs. Ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix, Pirelli is offering a choice of Hard (C1), Medium (C2) and Soft (C3) compound tyres, the three hardest planned for the season. Unlike 2018, there are three zones in which drivers can activate the Drag Reduction System: the first zone on the pit straight, with the point for determining the gap between drivers set before turn 14; the second zone in the section between turns 3 and 4, with the detection point set before turn 1; the third zone between turns 10 and 11, with the detection point before turn 9.


Following the criticism that some drivers made in the previous Grand Prix for the poor visibility of the traffic lights at the start due to larger rear wings, the FIA decides to introduce, from this race, a new row of traffic lights positioned in the middle of the grid, as in 2009. Former Formula 1 driver Emanuele Pirro is appointed as assistant steward for the race. The Italian has performed this function on several occasions in the past, most recently at the 2018 Brazilian Grand Prix. The duties performed by Charlie Whiting, race director who died shortly before the Australian Grand Prix, are shared within the International Automobile Federation among Michael Masi (who completely replaced Whiting in the Melbourne race, and future race director and safety delegate), Christian Bryll (former logistics manager, who becomes the race start manager) and Colin Haywood (race control systems manager, who will help Masi as deputy race director). From this race, the Mission Winnow branding, removed for the Australian Grand Prix to avoid the accusation of indirect advertising to a cigarette brand, returns on the Scuderia Ferrari cars. Thus begins the second race weekend of the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship. Friday opens with the first free practice and finally Ferrari seems to be back, or at least the performance is what was expected from the car seen at the winter tests. The Red Bull doesn't disappoint, setting very good times, but Ferrari steals the scene without any problem and takes the first place with a very good 1'31"741, set by Vettel, immediately followed by Leclerc, only in the first half hour. Despite Bottas' several attempts to keep the first position, the two Ferrari drivers are always able to counterattack and, with thirty minutes to go, Leclerc sets the best time of the session placing himself first (1'30"354), followed by his teammate, only two tenths behind. Ferrari are also strong in the race pace, always using soft tires, so that Vettel scores a good 1'35"100. Mercedes is right behind with Bottas - a little less than a second behind - and Hamilton - one second and two tenths behind -, and then we find the two Red Bulls, followed by the McLaren of Sainz with a new power unit, which replaces the one damaged during the race in Australia.


A fantastic Nico Hulkenberg in eighth position, involved at the end of the session in an accident with the Italian driver of Alfa Romeo, but without causing any damage to the car. The top ten is completed by Kvyat and Raikkonen. In the afternoon the single-seaters go on track for the second practice, ending the first day of free practice. This Friday turns out to be a great day for Ferrari, which repeats the performance of the morning, once again placing the two cars in first and second position. The same results as in Australia, but with reversed teams, thus raising Ferrari fans’ hopes for Sunday's race. In the first thirty minutes Bottas sets the best time (1'30"124) on Medium tires, followed by Leclerc and Verstappen, but the fastest time is soon taken away from him when the two Ferraris mount the Soft compounds. In fact, Vettel runs fast and sets a fantastic time under 1'30"00, precisely 1'28"942, followed by Leclerc (1'29"083). Both Red Bulls start fast, setting good times in the first part of the session, but still lower than Ferrari's. In the second part of the session, the two Ferrari drivers improve further and, despite a small mistake at the last corner, Sebastian Vettel sets the best time of the day, 1'28"846, with his teammate just 35 thousandths behind him. The Mercedes, fitted with Soft tyres, lower their times, but they only manage to place themselves more than six tenths behind Ferrari. A surprising Nico Hulkenberg - fifth, even passing the Dutchman, who is only sixth - follows the Ferrari and the Mercedes drivers. The Haas drivers divided by Norris, and Kvyat, setting excellent times, conclude the top ten. Leclerc sets a time of 1'34"300 with Soft tyres, better than Mercedes, which reveals a high degradation of the tires with this compound; the Monegasque driver manages to improve by six tenths with Medium tires, but this time the Silver Arrows show a better performance. Friday ends with Ferrari completely dominating the other teams. Ferrari-powered Haas also gets good results, placing both cars in the top ten, unlike Alfa Romeo: due to some oil leaks, both cars were kept in the pits, not allowing the drivers to improve their time once back on track, towards the end of the session.


At the end of the session, Charles Leclerc seems satisfied with the work done:


"It's a positive Friday: speaking of balance, I think we are better placed than in Australia, but it's good to keep our feet on the ground. I am sure that our rivals did not show their full potential, so tomorrow will not be easy. Overall, I'm satisfied, because we were able to do the whole program of the day, even managing to do a few laps in qualifying configuration as FP3 is not significant here because of the high temperatures. In the car, I feel better lap by lap, but tomorrow we have to put everything together".


Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel preaches calmness:


"This is not the car I drove in the Barcelona tests, but it’s been certainly better today than in Australia. I'm not completely satisfied with the balance and for sure we have to push ahead tomorrow. Today was not an easy day, especially for the slippery asphalt which made it difficult to fully exploit the tires. We had a different program from the others and that's why we have to improve further for tomorrow. I am convinced that there is more potential to pull out of the car ahead of qualifying".


It was a difficult day for everyone due to the high temperatures. In this regard, Lewis Hamilton comments:


"It's difficult for everyone to work on track; FP1 was incredibly hot, the track reached 50 degrees, so everyone struggled with the tires. The Ferraris were fast right from the start and got into the right rhythm straight away, so it's completely different to what we saw in Melbourne. We had some issues with the car balance, but we brought some improvements for FP2. At the moment, it looks like the Ferraris are ahead, so we have to keep our heads down and keep working, analyze everything in the evening and try to come back stronger tomorrow. It will be a tough fight, although I think we will be closer in qualifying".


The final free practice sessions take place on Saturday morning, while qualifying is scheduled in the afternoon, as usual. Alfa Romeo immediately gets to work to make up for lost time, while Williams soon has problems with the DRS on Russell's car. Ferrari goes on track at the beginning of the session with used Soft tyres, setting a first time of 1'31"617 with Vettel, while Mercedes waits halfway through the session to enter the track. Bottas, on new Soft tyres, sets the best time, 1'31"169, shortly after taken off by his teammate for only ninety-five thousandths. Red Bull is the last to hit the track, but Verstappen immediately proves to be very competitive and, with new tires, he is in first position with a time of 1'30"959. With only twenty minutes left, the Ferraris are back on track - wearing new tyres this time - and they immediately set very good times, so that Leclerc is in first place with a 1'29"569, and Vettel is just a few thousandths behind him. The two Mercedes are over a second behind. As always, the last half hour is dedicated to the race pace simulation and Ferrari does not disappoint. The British McLaren driver Lando Norris is astonishing: with an excellent time, he is positioned right behind the Ferraris, shortly after surpassed by Hulkenberg, once again author of good performances, and Grosjean. Mercedes comes back on track only two minutes before the end of the session, with new tyres, but this is not enough to interrupt the Ferrari dominance: Bottas positions himself third, then overtaken by Hamilton, who stays anyway behind the two Ferraris by a good eight tenths. Once again, during this weekend, Ferrari is at the top of the standings. All eyes are on qualifying now: will Ferrari be able to get the first pole of the season or will Mercedes steal the show? The first drivers to enter Q1 are the two Williams, followed by the Toro Rosso rookie, Alex Albon. He sets the best time, while Russel is more than one second behind, and Kubica does not set any time as he immediately returns to the pits.


The other cars start coming out at the end of the session: Norris is the first to begin his lap, and he easily takes the first position at the expense of Albon with a time of 1'30"406. Not bad, considering that, towards the end of the session, Grosjean's Haas suddenly blocks his way, resulting in an investigation against the Frenchman. The British driver keeps the position also on Kvyat, who temporarily marks the second-best time. This ranking doesn't last long: Bottas takes the lead with a time of 1'29"498, ahead of his teammate, but the young Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc restores the order and steals the best time from the Finn, marking 1'28"495. The other drivers start setting their times too: Sainz is more than two tenths ahead of Hamilton; Hulkenberg takes the position of Norris; Vettel follows his teammate; Grosjean is behind Sainz; Ricciardo (with a new chassis, as the one used in Australia was damaged at the start) sets a better time than Hulkenberg; Kvyat drops to eleventh position preceded by Stroll and followed by Giovinazzi. Finally, the Red Bulls get ready for their lap and, with Magnussen taking fifth and Kubica improving his time, the first driver to drop down the rankings and enter the elimination zone is the young George Russell. Perez takes Albon's position, while Kimi Raikkonen moves up to eighth, behind Hamilton. Gasly marks his first time and he only reaches tenth position, unlike Verstappen who earns sixth. At this point, we find the two Ferraris in the first positions, with a time that allows them to finish Q1 comfortably, followed by Bottas, Sainz, Magnussen, Verstappen, Grosjean, Hamilton, Raikkonen and the two Renaults divided by Gasly, Norris, Stroll and Kvyat, while Giovinazzi, Perez, Albon and the two Williams drivers are in the elimination zone. Before the cars return to the pits to prepare for the final stint, Albon improves his time, bringing Ricciardo behind him and putting his teammate at risk of elimination. Three minutes before the end of Q1, Hamilton, behind Vettel, improves his time, and the same goes for Kvyat who moves up to ninth position putting Lando Norris at risk. However, he will take the fourth position with a fantastic lap.


Red Bull decides not to let Verstappen go out for another attempt (a strategy that was not effective for his French partner in Australia), while Gasly once again drops into the elimination zone after Giovinazzi climbs to twelfth position. A few moments later, Albon sets a good time and he earns the sixth place, while, in the rear, Stroll does not improve enough and remains at risk of elimination. Hulkenberg soon throws away the chance of saving himself by climbing to fourteenth position and putting his teammate Ricciardo on the edge of elimination. Hulkenberg has only one chance of making it through Q1: no one below him should improve his time. But this is not the case. With Gasly climbing to thirteenth and Ricciardo to eleventh, the German driver finds himself incredibly out of Q2 after a weekend that has seen him consistently in the top ten. Giovinazzi, Hulkenberg, Stroll, Russell and Kubica are excluded from Q2. The single-seaters hit the track for Q2 ten minutes before its start. The first to set a qualifying time is Bottas, 1'28"830, followed by Magnussen, Grosjean, Raikkonen and Kvyat. Then, Lewis Hamilton, two tenths faster, improves his teammate time. The two McLarens set excellent times, placing themselves in fourth and fifth position with Lando Norris ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr., while Albon and Perez follow Kvyat. As we have been used to seeing during this weekend, Leclerc takes the first place with a time of 1'28"046, thus ending his Q2, while his teammate, due to a blockage, is only sixth behind Max Verstappen. A few seconds from the end of the session, we find Ricciardo, the Red Bull driver Pierre Gasly, the two Toro Rosso drivers and Sergio Perez in the elimination zone. Three minutes left to improve their positions and save themselves. Hamilton, as Bottas and Leclerc, doesn’t get on track, while Vettel tries a second time. Grosjean improves and goes up to seventh, while his teammate remains fourth, dropping then to fifth as the Ferrari driver takes second. Perez improves but remains out of the top ten. Same for Alex Albon, who rises from last position to twelfth, qualifying not only ahead of his teammate for the second time, but also ahead of Gasly, who fails to reach Q3 again.


The first driver out of Q3 is Ricciardo with Renault, followed by Albon, Gasly, Perez and finally Kvyat, while Charles Leclerc is once again in first position. Q3 starts with the best time set by Lando Norris, immediately beaten by Romain Grosjean, who, however, drops down to third place behind Sainz and Magnussen. But a few moments later Hamilton takes the first position away from his teammate and gets the provisional pole position with a time of 1'28"190. Leclerc does not disappoint and takes the pole from the British driver, going under the wall of 1'28", equalling the track record set by Vettel the year before, with a time of 1'27"958. Three minutes left before the end of Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying and the drivers are back on track: Vettel and Verstappen are the only drivers with no lap time – the former forced to make a single attempt due to a mistake made in Q2. Norris improves and moves up to sixth, but then he drops to seventh behind Grosjean and Sainz. Vettel launches himself for his lap, managing to place himself only second behind his teammate, so the spectators' eyes are all on Leclerc and the two Mercedes, waiting to find out who will secure the pole position. But Bottas does not improve, and so does Hamilton. Pole position already belongs to the young Monegasque driver, but that doesn't stop him: Charles Leclerc crosses the finish line getting the first pole position of his career and setting the new circuit record with a time of 1'27"866, thus becoming the second youngest driver to reach a pole position in Formula 1, as well as the youngest Ferrari driver to achieve this goal. Ferrari confirms once again its dominance on this circuit, colouring the front row with red. The young pupil of Ferrari will start in first position, after his weekend’s fantastic performances:


"I feel a flood of emotions thanks to this first pole, but I'm trying to keep calm as much as possible, because the points are awarded tomorrow, in the race, and not on Saturday. I'm still enjoying the moment. We've had a great week so far, and a great day today, but we have to aim to have the best race possible tomorrow. I'm happy with my lap in Q3. It was a matter of putting all the pieces together, and it seems like I did that, increasing my feeling with the car lap by lap. I was disappointed after qualifying in Melbourne, but I'm very happy today. Tomorrow, before the race, we will talk with the team to set the best possible strategy that will allow us to get the best result. The start will be the key of the race; the track is dirty and the tires easily skid".


The driver also receives compliments from his teammate, who, despite some mistakes in qualifying, admits that he could not reach him anyway:


"We were able to fight today, getting back to where we wanted to be. It is important to do well tomorrow in the race, but we can definitely be glad for today, as we are in a much better position than two weeks ago. Charles did a great job, deserving to be on pole. He is a good boy, or rather a good man, because once you get pole in Formula 1 you become a man! It's a great result and I'm happy for him. Hats off! Our single lap pace has been very good all weekend, and we managed to confirm it in qualifying. I'm much happier today and it's good to see that we're back on track".


Ferrari's Team Principal also says he is satisfied with the performance, particularly after the results in Australia:


"The only important thing is that they don't clash with each other. Charles and Sebastian were incredible. We are happy. We knew it would be difficult. Mercedes is close, but the result mattered a lot for us after Australia and it's the best result possible. We are happy for the way the team reacted. We gave a strong signal. Tomorrow will be tough and we'll see how it goes. Reliability matters a lot but the season is still very long. Let's think about tomorrow and then about the next races".


More than three tenths from the first position, Mercedes starts in the second row. Despite the results obtained, Hamilton does not give up and he challenges Ferrari:


"I really enjoyed these qualifying sessions and I’m happy with the progress made over the weekend. I want to congratulate Charles, who did a great job and deserved pole. They had a great pace since the beginning of this weekend; we tried to reduce the gap, but they made a big difference to us especially on the straight. As for the car, today it behaved well on a circuit on which, for various reasons, we have never been completely at ease. Anyway, we managed to qualify well and we hope to continue tomorrow. It will be a tough race, both from a physical and a tire point of view. Last year we had a good pace, and I hope we can repeat that this year. A close battle? I love these situations. It's how it should always be".


Starting from the second row, alongside the Brit, his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, who comments on qualifying, stating:


"Fourth position doesn't satisfy me, but it's not a disaster either. I'm just a few hundredths behind Lewis and I think Ferrari was faster today. I honestly think that the pole was out of reach for us. Our opponents have shown a good pace this weekend, but it doesn't surprise me at all. It's clear that they have fixed the problems that plagued them in Melbourne. We improved session after session, but they stayed ahead. What counts, however, is the race. Our pace in free practice was very good, as well as tire management. I think it will be an exciting race".


Max Verstappen and Kevin Magnussen are in the third row. Another excellent performance by the Ferrari-powered US team, which brings both drivers into the top ten; in fact, Grosjean is just behind the seventh position occupied by Carlos Sainz Jr. The Dutch Red Bull driver comments:


"We suffered a lot with the balance of the single-seater this weekend, especially when switching to softs. I had a lot of oversteer in qualifying and the car was sliding even with little power, making it difficult to understand what to do and how to approach the corners. My only attempt in Q3 was an all-or-nothing one, and I don't think I made any mistakes. Obviously, I'm not happy for qualifying behind Ferrari and Mercedes but, at the same time, I can say I'm almost satisfied with 5th place, since, after Q1 and Q2, it seemed that we couldn't even fight for such a position. Tomorrow promises to be an interesting race and I think we can have a solid race pace. So far, the long runs, especially with the medium tyres, have gone well this weekend".


Kimi Raikkonen, Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo follow. Despite Renault’s excellent performance, the team is not only out of the top ten, but Hulkenberg is even seventeenth. Concluding the starting grid: Albon, Gasly, Perez, Kvyat, Giovinazzi, Hulkenberg, Stroll and the two Williams once again at the bottom of the grid. Expectations for the race are high: Ferrari finally gives proof of being competitive and with the potential to win the race. We just have to wait for the engines to be started. On Sunday, March 31st, 2019, the traffic lights at the Sakhir circuit go off, starting the second race of the championship. With a great start, Vettel manages to overtake his teammate, while the latter, in difficulty, loses the position on Bottas, who has now gained two positions. Leclerc also has to defend himself from Hamilton's attacks, but he manages to maintain P3 despite a contact between the two in turn 8.


A turbulent start also in the back of the grid, as a contact between Grosjean and Stroll at turn 2 forces the two drivers to return to the pits to repair their cars, while Hulkenberg gains six positions thanks to a great start. Due to the contact, Grosjean will be forced to retire at the beginning of the sixteenth lap. During the second lap, Leclerc gets back in P2 passing Bottas; then, a mistake in turn 1 brings the Finn to battle with his teammate and to be overtaken in turn 6. On lap 3, also Max Verstappen makes a mistake, which allows Carlos Sainz Jr. to get closer. With the help of the DRS, the Spaniard tries to overtake him at turn 4 on the next lap, but Verstappen resists and the two of them make contact. The Dutchman continues without any damage, while Sainz suffers a puncture of the right front tire and he is forced to pit. He will re-join the track only twentieth. In the meantime, Leclerc's pursuit of victory continues with several fast laps; after disobeying his engineers’ orders to keep his position, he manages to take the lead over Sebastian Vettel during the sixth lap, at turn 1, thus starting to create a gap on his rivals. Vettel tries to regain the first position at turn 4, taking advantage of the DRS, but without success. At the same time, Magnussen loses several positions: after being overtaken by Ricciardo, who goes up to sixth, the Danish is passed by Raikkonen, Hulkenberg, Perez and finally, after a fight, also by Norris. At the ninth lap, pit stops begin: the first drivers to pit are Raikkonen (who switches to Medium), Gasly and Albon (who stay on Soft tires), followed at the tenth lap by Magnussen and Norris. Bottas makes his tire change on lap 12, re-joining fifth ahead of Max Verstappen who entered a lap earlier, switching to Medium tires. During the same lap Hulkenberg stops too, while Kvyat is involved in a contact with Giovinazzi, who hits the left rear wheel and sends the Russian driver into a spin. Towards the end of the twelfth lap, Max Verstappen not only wins the fastest lap, but also manages to overtake Valtteri Bottas.


Then, it's Charles Leclerc's turn: the driver is called back to the pits on lap 13 to fit Medium tyres, and he returns to the track in third place. The same strategy is applied by Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton, who tries to undercut Sebastian Vettel on Soft tires. The move is successful: also due to a driving error of the German, committed before the stop, Hamilton manages to pass the Ferrari driver. Daniel Ricciardo is now in the lead of the race, but he is easily overtaken by Leclerc. The Australian keeps losing positions, as he has not made his stop yet, being passed by Hamilton, Vettel, Bottas and Verstappen – shortly before overtaken by the Finnish driver. As mentioned, on lap sixteen Grosjean ends his race, forced to retire due to the damages he suffered during the contact at the beginning of the race, while a five second penalty is given to Kvyat for exceeding the speed limit in the pit lane. On lap 21, Hülkenberg passes Kimi Räikkönen for seventh place. On the next lap Vettel, taking advantage of Hamilton's poor tire grip, passes the World Champion for second place. On lap 25 Räikkönen gives up another position, to Lando Norris, while Ricciardo returns to the pits to change tires. On lap 32 Verstappen pits for a second stop, replacing his worn tires with a Medium compound, immediately recovering positions once back on track. On lap 34 Hamilton pits for Medium tires, while Vettel stops a lap later to finish third ahead of his rival. In the meantime, Leclerc has managed to create a twenty-four seconds gap on Valtteri Bottas, ensuring a safe pit stop; in fact, he re-joins the track still in first place with a two second margin on the Finnish driver. In the following laps, Hamilton and Vettel keep on fighting for the second position. The hopes for a Ferrari one-two in the desert become more and more alive. On lap 38, Vettel, after passing Bottas, who immediately enters the pits afterwards, is attacked again by Hamilton. The reigning World Champion, this time, manages to get the better of the German, who goes into a spin at the moment of overtaking. Shortly after, some front wing problems force him to a new stop. He re-enters in ninth position.


A race to build up for Sebastian, trying to regain as many positions as possible. As the German leaves the pits, the two Renault drivers, Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hülkenberg, touch at Turn 1, with the Australian slightly damaging the wing. Vettel passes Norris and Ricciardo shortly after. The Australian also has to give way to Norris and Kimi Räikkönen. The fate of the race seems already sealed: this victory would mark Leclerc's first win in his Formula 1 career, and it would be well deserved after a weekend of total domination. Well deserved, if it were not for the fact that during the 45th lap he opens the radio channel and confesses to having an engine problem, which will be confirmed by the telemetry and the engineers. The young Monegasque is easily overtaken by Hamilton during the forty-eighth lap, and six laps later also by Bottas. Leclerc is so slow he even risks not to step on the lowest step of the podium, after all his efforts. In the meantime, Vettel has moved up to fifth, after passing Norris and Hülkenberg. On lap 55 the two Renaults of Ricciardo and Hülkenberg retire almost simultaneously, and in the same place: the first for a power loss and the second for an engine failure. The race direction sends the safety car on track and it neutralizes the race. Leclerc crosses the line under the safety car, reaching the podium for the first time, although not as a winner. In spite of the great misfortune and disappointment, this is the first podium in his career: over the weekend, the Monegasque driver has got the first pole of the season, the fastest lap time (1'22"41) and certainly great admiration from the fans. The five-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton crosses the finish line first, with a bit of luck, followed by Valtteri Bottas. Out of the podium: Verstappen, Vettel, Norris, Raikkonen, Gasly, Albon, Perez, Giovinazzi, Kvyat, Magnussen, Stroll and the two Williams of Russell and Kubica. Mercedes ends another weekend with a one-two, although unexpected. The victory seemed to be destined to the young Leclerc, and there are no doubts that everybody in the paddock thought the same. The race winner himself says so, despite congratulating his team for the great job, after cheering up the Monegasque driver:


"It was a difficult race and I gave everything. We were very, very lucky to get this one-two, as Ferrari overpowered us throughout the weekend. Your ultimate goal is fighting and overtaking someone because they are faster; situations like today's can seem strange and you cannot believe how lucky you were. I've experienced episodes like that in my career, but Charles has done a great job and he has a bright future ahead of him. It’s our second race only: we were fast and definitely ahead in the first, while Ferrari was strong in the second. It's hard to predict what will happen in the next weekends, but I think there will be a hard fight between us and them. Our task is understanding what happened here and where we can improve. As we have seen today, reliability is also key. Let's take the points gained here in Bahrain and let’s look ahead to the next round, in China".


Luck was definitely on Mercedes' side once again, as ranking leader Valtteri Bottas also says:


"It was not an easy race. The car was very difficult to drive and the conditions were definitely complicated, with the wind making driving unpredictable. I made a good start, managing to get into second position; but on the next lap the wind caused me to make a mistake in turn 1, losing my position again, then coming back to fourth after a battle with Lewis. After that, it was a relatively lonely race for me, not facing anyone. The Ferraris were really strong in the race, as in the whole weekend; but luck was on our side today, and I see it almost as a compensation, after all the bad luck of last year. On the other hand, our car proved to be very reliable and, in the end, we managed to win. Charles had a difficult Sunday, but he did a great job all weekend and I'm sure his time will come. We leave Bahrain with a lot of points, but also with a lot of work to do for the Chinese round".


Team principal Toto Wolff agrees:


"We had great luck. The god of racing has looked down on us today. The strategy worked well: Hamilton put pressure on Vettel but the truth is that Leclerc was the fastest today. But that's how racing is. They go very fast in the straights and that's something we have to understand. We have to be careful with team orders, because one weekend can go well for one driver and the next for the other. The fans love seeing four drivers in the fight for the World Championship".


The Mercedes-Ferrari fight once again saw the triumph of the former. While Ferrari was not up to the comparison in the first race weekend, this time a reliability problem has betrayed them, along with an unfortunate mistake made by the German driver. Mattia Binotto is aware of the great missed opportunity, but he also dwells on the improvements brought by Australia:


"Today is a missed one-two. These things can happen, but we have to say that we lacked reliability and we have to work on this. There are many positive things, from the performance to the reaction we had after Australia. Leclerc wanted to do well and it was obvious. I'm sorry for him, but we learn from this as well. As for Vettel, we need to talk and understand what happened to him".


Charles, evidently disappointed, accepts his fate, and congratulates the Mercedes pair:


"It can happen, it's part of Motorsport. Unfortunately, today was not our day, but I am confident that the team has done a fantastic job to make up for the lack of pace we had in Australia. I don't know what to say, I'm extremely disappointed, as the whole team, but it can happen over the course of a season. We made the most of the situation, we got lucky in a very unfortunate situation, with the final safety. Otherwise, we would have finished even further back and we would have had problems with fuel. It's very hard to swallow, but I thank the team for the fantastic car they gave me, and I'm sure we will come back even stronger. I didn't get a good start, but we were strong throughout the race. It's a shame we only finished third, but that's part of racing. It's my first podium, but I don't look so much at the result. I’m looking at what I can improve. Third place was not what we deserved. Congratulations to Lewis and Valtteri".


Vettel feels the same: he’s disappointed with his performance. After cheering up Charles Leclerc he makes a mea culpa:


"It was not the race we wanted. We started first and second and we didn't finish in the same positions. I started well, but halfway through the first lap I realized that the car was very difficult to drive. Charles struggled less than me, as he passed me with ease. We lost the second position at the pit stop, but we regained it soon after. The second stint with the medium tyres went better overall, although the pace was not good. I made a mistake in turn 4, one of the most difficult on the track, while fighting Lewis. I suddenly lost the car and spun. My tires were so damaged that I had a lot of vibrations, which eventually led to the collapse of the front wing. Charles? Today was his race, he was really unlucky. I'm very sorry both for him and for the team".


In the midfield, Norris and Raikkonen built a very good race, ending respectively in sixth and seventh position; not bad also for the Thai rookie, who closes the race in ninth place.


On the other hand, a disaster for Renault, far from getting good results. The weekend in the Bahrain desert ends with Bottas still leading the drivers' standings, as well as Mercedes for the drivers’ championship, while Ferrari still has to understand their problems, hoping to solve them for the Chinese Grand Prix, and to put an end to this series of defeats. For now, Binotto says that the engine will be sent to the factory for checks, but it will still be used during the third round of the championship:


"Analysing the engine will take some time. We will send it to the factory. We know that the problem is limited to one element, a cylinder in this case, and that it will be easily solved. We are not going to change the way we use the power unit. So, next week in China, we will definitely use it on Friday to evaluate its behaviour, its functionality and its performance. What’s certain is that we will not change the way we use the engine. After a failure like the one in Bahrain, you try to change the maps and the settings to see if there is any improvement. But it didn’t happen in the race, and so we just had to manage. I think it was a brave decision to continue racing in those conditions and it was the right one in the end, as we grabbed an important third place".


Before moving to China, the F1 Circus does not immediately greet the Bahrain desert, as two days of testing are scheduled on Tuesday, April 2nd and Wednesday, April 3rd in Sakhir. Great expectations are reserved for young Mick Schumacher, who will test the SF90 of Vettel and Leclerc on Tuesday and the Alfa Romeo on Wednesday. On the first day of testing, Mick sets the second-best time after completing fifty-six laps, ending just six tenths behind Verstappen. The return of this great name on board of a Maranello car makes great stir, so much that the return of Alonso on the McLaren fades into the background. His mother Corinna also came out to support her son, not only to witness the first race weekend of the Formula 2 championship (in which Mick finished eighth and sixth, respectively in race 1 and race 2), but also his debut on Ferrari. With his first day of testing concluded, Mick can't help but be excited:


"Max is much more experienced than me, so I know I did a good job. I stayed focused on my work. I felt at one with the car and I wanted to enjoy every moment, every turn. The most impressive thing? The braking: you feel like you've gone to the limit but you discover that you can go further. Every lap you move further ahead and you see that you still have a margin. The single-seater is incredible, it's hard to describe the emotion of feeling the power and speed, it's crazy. Still, I felt comfortable. More joy or respect? Respect: if you don't have it, it can be dangerous. Yet, the SF90 is quite easy to drive".


During the second day, the fastest lap goes to the latest Formula 2 champion, George Russell, a great British talent as well as a member of Mercedes' junior program. He takes the first position in Hamilton's car, beating the time set by Perez by sixty-six thousandths, while Schumacher is sixth on the Alfa Romeo. In the meantime, both Alex Albon and Dan Ticktum, who is also a member of the Red Bull program, test aboard the Red Bull and they are respectively in seventh and ninth place in the timesheets. With the conclusion of these two days, Formula 1 starts again in view of the next stage: the Chinese Grand Prix, scheduled on April 14th, 2019. Before seeing the single-seaters whizzing around the Shanghai circuit again, all we can do is wait and hope for a breakthrough.


©​ 2024 Osservatore Sportivo


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