The Australian Grand Prix ends with a request sent to FIA by Force India and McLaren to investigate the relationship between Scuderia Ferrari and Haas F1 Team, suspecting an illegal transfer of technical knowhow between the two teams. In the Australian Grand Prix qualifying, Haas succeeded in placing both its cars on the third row and in the first stint of the race they held onto the fourth and fifth position ahead of the Red Bulls, before the mistakes in fitting the tyres on both cars during the pit stops would force Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean to retire.
This very good performance has raised a lot of questions on the collaboration between Haas and Ferrari, which provides the American team with the parts it is not obliged to build on its own, but also allows Dallara, which builds Haas’s chassis, to use its wind tunnel. Otmar Szafnauer, Force India’s Chief Operating Officer, claims he will raise the issue at the next meeting of the Strategy Group, with the aim of granting that the restrictions on the transfer of information and personnel are respected.
"I don’t know how they did it, it’s magic. It has never been done in Formula 1 before. I just don’t know how it’s possible that someone who’s been in Formula 1 for just a couple of years can build such a competitive car… Did they do it by magic? If they did, I want their magic wand".
To what concerns Romain Grosjean, he explains that using Ferrari’s front suspensions, which is allowed by the technical regulations, causes inevitably some similarities in the aerodynamic development because of the way by which the air flows over the rest of the car. Then, Zak Brown admits that he can’t prove that Haas is operating out of the rules, but adds:
"We all know that they [Haas] have a very close partnership with Ferrari and I think we should just make sure it’s not too close. There could be a bit of their influence because some parts look very similar to Ferrari’s last-year car. But it’s up to the engineers and the FIA to take a closer look at the issue".
Brown and Szafnauer both state that they will support a clarification of the relationship between Ferrari and Haas. To be more specific, Szafnauer underlines that he wants the FIA to explain the process that assures the guidelines are respected.
"All the aerodynamics should be yours. If they’re not, you can’t tell unless you start to investigate. Technical verifications only tell you if a car complies with the rules or not. But is it your idea or another team’s? This is the real question. And, at the moment, we don’t know the answer. Maybe those are their ideas and these are just suspects, but how can you acquire a certain knowledge without the history, the tools and the right people?"
Gunther Steiner, Haas’s team principal, also speaks about the topic and admits:
"We have a team that can be proud of what they are achieving right now. We aren’t doing anything that we shouldn’t or can’t do".
While waiting for this request to be accepted or denied, the test that Force India should have done right after the Chinese Grand Prix to test the 2019 tyres is cancelled, due to logistic reasons. Therefore, the British team is assigned an extra day of testing at Barcelona in May, where it will have two cars available: one for the 2019 tyres and one for the 2018 type to be developed.
With the first race of the season witnessing the victory by the Ferrari-Vettel duo now in the history books, it is time to focus on the second round of the year: the Bahrain Grand Prix. Sakhir circuit was built in the outskirts of Manama, capital city of Bahrain, by famous architect Hermann Tilke and has hosted Formula 1 since 2004. Being in the middle of the desert, the major problem here is the sand brought on track by wind. Therefore, to prevent the grains from disrupting the course of the races, the areas which are more exposed to this phenomenon are treated with a special adhesive spray.
Besides, this race will be held at night, so the drivers will face the 5412 metres and the 15 turns of the Bahrain International Circuit at sundown. There are two DRS zones: the pits straight and the one between turn 10 and 11. Regarding the tyres, for this weekend Pirelli has opted for Mediums, Softs and Supersofts. Three sets that the drivers will try to exploit at their best in order to adapt to track conditions, as grip decreases progressively with track temperature during the race, since it is held at night.
The year 2018 has already brought in several new technical solutions and updates in the regulations, but the driver market has also seen some changes, and among them the most interesting is undoubtedly Charles Leclerc’s arrival to Alfa Romeo-Sauber, back in the world championship after 33 years of absence. The Monegasque, member of the Ferrari Driver Academy since the end of 2015, 2016 GP3 and 2017 F2 champion, was born right above Circuit de Monte Carlo’s first corner, the Sainte Devote, patron saint of the Principality:
"From home I could see the races and, most of all, I could hear them, I was excited by the noise of the engines".
In an interview after the Australian Grand Prix, Charles reveals several aspects of both his private and sporting life. Are you satisfied with your debut?
"I’m happy, but I have a lot to learn, especially about the pace I should take. The circuit was new for me too, a street circuit, very difficult. I think that here in Bahrain it will be easier, I already know the track and I have already raced in a Grand Prix".
Says Leclerc, who came in thirteenth in his debut race in the majestic world of Formula 1. Were you born a racing driver, or do you become one?
"For me, one is made for this sport or he isn’t. Mentally speaking, you can do a lot, take me: now you see me calm, but I was a different person, very emotional, I used to ruin my performance. Now I don’t. I work a lot on the mental aspect: already at the age of twelve I was in Viareggio at Formula Medicine with Doctor Ceccarelli just to take care of this. Since then, I’ve been training on concentration and pressure management, following this path in Maranello".
How did you start?
"I was four and a half years old and I told my father I was sick, but it wasn’t true, I didn’t want to go to kindergarten. Coincidentally, that day he had to go to Brignoles circuit, property of Philippe Bianchi, Jules’s father. He took me with him. I tried a kart. Already on the way back I told him: when I grow up, I want to do this. Then we went more often to the circuit, we bought a kart and did some races".
Is it fair to say it was not so difficult to convince your father?
"It wasn’t difficult at all. He enjoyed it. My brothers used to race on karts too, but at a certain point my parents had to make a choice because it’s an expensive sport. My mom is a hairdresser and my dad was able to support me with some sponsors until 2010, then I would have had to stop if it hadn’t been for our friendship with the Bianchis. Jules told Nicolas Todt, Jean’s son, about me and he took me in his management. They focused on me because, at the time, I was the best. My brother Lorenzo is twenty-nine now and works in finance. Arthur, seventeen, has started F4 and has just won his first race".
Charles’ father Hervé, former F3 driver, sadly passed away in June 2017. As we have seen, his father was a crucial figure in Leclerc’s human and sporting growth, and the fact that the Monegasque driver was still able to get on a plane and race in Baku the day after his father’s death still impresses all the fans of this sport.
"It was very difficult, he was my fan, he accompanied me to every race. But then I thought that the only thing he wished for up there was to see me on track. I raced to honour him".
Charles says that on that tragic weekend he really honoured his father’s memory in the best way possible: pole position, victory in race 1 and second place in race 2. And regarding the relationship with Jules Bianchi?
"When we were little we were always at his place, we grew up together. When I was in trouble, I used to call him and he came during the GPs to give me a hand. The day of the accident I was in Jerez and my father tried to hide the news from me. I knew that he had a shunt, but I didn’t know how hard he crashed or how serious his conditions were. All the controversy? The only thing that matters is that he’s not with us anymore. Jules’s death was a shock and a great loss".
Are you scared when you race?
"I’ve never thought about the risks. It was very hard to get over Jules’s loss, but I never doubted my career or my will to continue. The risks are there, but it’s also the reason why I love this sport. Driving these cars is a challenge, it gives me adrenaline".
Alfa Romeo is back in Formula 1. Have you studied its glorious story?
"I had the privilege to go to the factory and get to know its past, it’s a great honour to be part of this family, I’m looking forward to improving as a team".
Your name has been repeatedly associated with Ferrari for the next few years.
"When I was in F2 my dream was to become an Formula 1 driver, I didn’t think it was possible. Now it’s the same, I’ve been dreaming to drive for Ferrari one day since I was a kid. But it doesn’t seem realistic. I think I’m still very far from there, so I don’t think about it. I concentrate on 2018, by the end of the year we will check the opportunities".
Charles, have you some role models to draw inspiration from?
"My father passed me the passion for Ayrton Senna, I’ve seen a lot of films about him. What inspires me the most about him is his obsession to improve instead of being content with his talent. A trait of personality that I find in champions like Vettel and Schumacher, examples that are always on my mind".
There has been a lot of talking about the future of Formula 1. How do you want it to be?
"I’m not a politician, as a driver I would like to have a car that is louder than current cars, because at the time it was the noise that gave us emotions. And, also, I would like more overtakes".
And now the big question: who wins this year?
"It’s hard to tell, but I hope Ferrari".
The press conference on Thursday 5th April 2018 sees participate the two Finnish drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas, and Spanish driver Fernando Alonso. Kimi Raikkonen comes back to the third place clinched in Australia:
"We are satisified with how things went in Australia, but there’s always something to improve and to work on".
And then, confident, he focuses on the upcoming Bahrain round:
"It’s a totally different circuit from the ones we’ve been on until now, Barcelona and Melbourne. However, in the past I’ve always enjoyed being here".
Ferrari’s excellent performance in Melbourne confirmed that the car built in Maranello is more competitive in the race than in qualifying:
"I don’t care being seven tenths behind if I win the race, the most important thing is to see the lap times on Sunday".
The Ferrari driver is asked what he thinks about all the changes that Liberty Media is going to announce regarding the future of Formula 1, but even in this case Raikkonen has no problems in cutting the story short, claiming:
"I don’t have the power to change Formula 1 and I don’t understand why you ask me, we don’t make the rules, what’s the point in saying that and make up stories about it?"
After all, it’s common knowledge: Finnish people do not like to talk. In fact, next to Raikkonen is sitting Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas, another man of few words:
"Ferrari and Red Bull are close to us, we’ll see what happens during the weekend".
The Finnish driver has to make up for his terrible qualifying in Australia and the consequent eight place in the race, but he seems not too worried about it:
"On race day it was already out of my mind. Also because there still are twenty races and now we are in Bahrain and we have a competitive car. We have to work a lot to improve it".
On the other hand, Fernando Alonso is rather critical and puts himself in the spectator’s shoes, hoping for more entertaining races:
"I would like to see a closer battle. I re-watched a race from the ‘90s on tv and, except the first four cars, all the others had been lapped. If we look at other series, there is more unpredictability. Here, instead, we could write the order of qualifying right now".
The McLaren driver doesn’t deceive himself: he knows he can’t fight for the first places:
"The gap from the best drivers is still quite big. But it’s up to us, the team, to do the right things. If we can put the performance on track and reduce the gap, then it will be different. The next two months will be crucial. We hope we can improve the car and if we’re not competitive for the title, then we hope to achieve some good results".
Regarding the Liberty Media issue, he says:
"Liberty has been very open to us. There has always been a confrontation and we accept their decisions. They have the power in their hands, we hope they can bring some changes to improve the show".
On Friday 6th April 2018, Liberty Media, the company that manages the Formula 1 brand, presents its guidelines for the future of Formula 1. The main novelty is the research for a cheaper, simpler, more powerful and louder power unit. The American company also proposes the introduction of a budget cap, which limits the teams’ expenses, even though this is not appreciated by top teams. In a press release, Liberty Media illustrates its proposal, containing all the guidelines that will define the future of Formula 1 from 2021 onwards. All the team representatives participate in a meeting with Liberty Media CEO Chase Carey, who explains the project also in the presence of FIA delegates.
"Formula 1 is a sport with a rich history. We want to preserve, protect and enhance that history by unleashing F1’s potential, by putting our fans at the heart of a more competitive and more exciting sport. We are driven by one desire: to create the world’s leading sporting brand. Fan- centred, commercially successful, profitable for our teams, and with technological innovation at its heart".
These are the key strategic initiatives of the proposal:
- The Power unit must be cheaper, simpler, louder, have more power and reduce the necessity of grid penalties.
- It must remain road relevant, hybrid and allow manufacturers to build unique and original PU.
- New PU rules must be attractive for new entrants and Customer teams must have access to equivalent performance.
- We believe how you spend the money must be more decisive and important than how much money you spend.
- While there will be some standardised elements, car differentiation must remain a core value
- Implement a cost cap that maintains Formula 1's position as the pinnacle of motorsport with a state-of-the-art technology.
- The new revenue distribution criteria must be more balanced, based on meritocracy of the current performance and reward success for the teams and the Commercial Rights Holder.
- F1’s unique, historical franchise and value must and will still be recognised.
- Revenue support to both cars and engine suppliers.
Sporting and technical rules & regulations
- We must make cars more raceable to increase overtaking opportunities.
- Engineering technology must remain a cornerstone but driver’s skill must be the predominant factor in the performance of the car.
- The cars must and will remain different from each other and maintain performance differentiators like aerodynamics, suspensions and PU performance. However, we believe areas not relevant to fans need to be standardised.
- A simple and streamline structure between the teams, the FIA and Formula 1.
Some call the document released by the American promoter Liberty-act: it sums up in thirteen points all the proposals made by Chase Carey and his collaborators to define 2021 Formula 1. A long-awaited first step, which marks the beginning of a series of discussions bound to last the majority of 2018. Toto Wolff comments:
"Previously we didn’t know Liberty Media’s intentions, but now we know their position and we can work to try and reach the objectives together, underlining what we like and what we don’t, what we think we can do and what we believe it’s harder to pursue".
As it was easily predictable, the teams’ consent is not unanimous. However, Zak Brown admits:
"When a project gives priority to the fans, then we all win: teams, sponsors, media and spectators watching us on tv. Even though we’ll have to make some compromises, I think it’s the right path to follow".
Claire Williams and Gunther Steiner are on the same line:
"I think the proposals are positive".
As long as the proposals listed in the press release remained very generic, there were not problems, but in the over two-hour meeting held in the paddock of the Bahrain International Circuit, Carey analyses in detail some points of the Liberty-act, one of which is the so-called budget cap. Liberty proposes to set a budget limit of 150 million dollars that is supposed to be reached over a span of two seasons. And here disagreement arises, as top teams like Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull believe that working with such low budget is impossible. In the evening of Al-Sakhir Toto Wolff makes a clear statement:
"This figure is too low for top teams; such a budget would jeopardize our organization and our employees. We should keep in mind that we’ve been in this sport for a long time, and also Ferrari and Red Bull obviously. We’re talking about big organisations which have made huge investments in the infrastructures and the number of employees. We’re open to evaluate sustainable business models that aim at reducing costs, but without causing problems to the big companies. On our part we can confirm that as long as we are sure that all these ideas aim at Formula 1 and its audience’s growth, we’ll be part of the game, but we want Formula 1’s traditions to be preserved. This is a sport that has always had state-of-the-art technology as its staple, and we want to keep it that way. For us it’s crucial to know that in this paddock there will always be the best cars and the best drivers in the world. And if it’s possible to keep all these aspects together with a solid business model, we’ll be very happy to be here".
Even though the figure does not include the drivers’ salary and marketing costs, the budget cap is deemed too restrictive as it is formulated.
"Maybe we could negotiate and find a compromise, but it will depend on what we can exclude from this figure. It is hard for us to implement it as it is now".
Liberty Media’s next step will be a meeting with each team to evaluate reactions and possible counterproposals, but the next stage will be Formula 1 Commission meeting scheduled for the week after the Chinese Grand Prix. That meeting should also see the presence of Ferrari president Sergio Marchione. On that occasion Liberty Media is supposed to explain how to monitor the teams’ expenses, which is a big question mark but also a crucial aspect, because the teams (especially top-tier ones) frown upon the idea that extremely sensitive information, as their financial plans are, are shared with external personnel.
As predicted, the simplification of the current power units announced by Liberty Media implies the elimination of the MGU-H unit, with a more powerful MGU-K. The combustion engine will remain unaltered (V6 1.6 litres) but with a higher engine speed, which should allow to improve the sound. A crucial aspect involves the standardization of certain components, a topic that is very dear to Liberty Media because it would allow to simplify the work of new manufacturers potentially interested in entering Formula 1.
Without the MGU-H and with a standard battery pack, research and development costs could drop significantly, and if the turbocharger too was to be added to the standardized parts, a potentially new manufacturer would be required to invest less than half the money of current teams. This could happen theoretically, because if on one hand one can hypothesize that a new manufacturer could find the offer appealing, on the other hand current engine suppliers would be obliged to radically redesign the power units currently in use, with an estimated 100.000.000-euro cost, according to Niki Lauda.
FIA announces a meeting on Saturday with team managers in order to find some solutions to increase the number of overtakes, thanks to modifications to the aerodynamics of the cars that should be introduced in the 2019 season. In fact, by the 30th of April 2018, the technical regulations for the following season must be approved. Furthermore, FIA allows Pirelli to bring a slightly modified type of tyres to the recently resurfaced tracks, which are Barcelona, Paul Ricard, and Silverstone. These tyres have a thinner tread of 0.4 millimetres, because the new tarmac has more grip and causes less wear. According to Pirelli, this should not affect performance. So, there will be a one-kilo weight reduction for every tyre set that teams should take into account to comply with the minimum-weight rule.
"We asked FIA to be allowed to use tyres with a slightly different tread for three races. These are Barcelona, Silverstone and Paul Ricard".
States Mario Isola, head of Pirelli’s Formula 1 department.
"The reason for this request is that, in general, the new asphalt has a lot of grip and low wear. With such grip lap times improve a lot. We have seen that in Barcelona, in pre-season testing, lap times were three seconds faster than last year. But the point is that we retain a lot of rubber on the tyre, because with low wear the tread remains and generates high temperatures. So, to try and decrease temperatures a bit, we have asked a reduction of tread thickness. We had already tested this solution last year and, from the point of view of performance or considering other consequences, almost nothing changes".
This type of change for just a few races is unusual, but not without precedent. Pirelli had already utilized a thinner tread in Spa-Francorchamps and Monza, both in 2011 and 2012. Regarding the present Grand Prix, which comes back as the second race of the season as in 2016, already in the month of September 2017 the hypothesis to switch the dates of the Chinese and the Bahrain Gran Prix was advanced, to avoid the conjunction of the Chinese Grand Prix with a religious celebration. The switch was then confirmed with the approval of the new calendar in December 2017. The race also marks the beginning of the Formula 2 Championship.
There are two activation zones for the Drag Reduction System: the main straight and the straight between turn 10 and 11. The first detection point is positioned before turn 14, while the second before turn 9. The DRS zone on the main straight is 100 metres longer than previous year. Even a third activation zone was hypothesized. Scuderia Toro Rosso changes turbo and MGU-H for both drivers, while on Pierre Gasly’s car the combustion engine is replaced. McLaren announces a new aero package, while Force India brings a new front wing. Finally, former Formula 1 driver Danny Sullivan is nominated drivers’ representative in the steward panel for the race. The American had already carried out this role in the past, the last time being the 2017 Malaysian Grand Prix.
On Friday 8th April 2018, Daniel Ricciardo is the fastest in Free Practice 1 at Sakhir: The Red Bull driver sets a time of 1'31"060, preceding Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas’s Mercedes, who is second with a time of 1'31"364. Third and fourth place for the two Ferraris, with Kimi Raikkonen (1'31"458) ahead of Sebastian Vettel (1'31"470). Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton is only fifth (1'32"272), followed by Romain Grosjean (Haas), Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso), Carlos Sainz (Renault), Kevin Magnussen (Haas) and Nico Hülkenberg (Renault). An unlucky Max Verstappen is forced to stop his car right after the pit exit because of an electrical issue, not being able to set a valid lap time.
The second free practice session sees Ferrari on top: Kimi Raikkonen tops the session with a time of 1'29"817 (with Supersoft tyres, which however show a fast degradation), just 0.011 seconds ahead of his teammate Sebastian Vettel. The only downside of this positive day for Scuderia Ferrari is a problem to Raikkonen’s right front tyre, forcing him to end his practice session with ten minutes to spare. Valtteri Bottas is third with a gap of about 0.5 seconds, who ends his free practice ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton, 0.6 seconds slower than Kimi Raikkonen. From bad to worse for the Englishman: the Mercedes driver will be handed a 5-place penalty on the starting grid for changing his gearbox.
Fifth and sixth are the two Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, almost a second behind Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari, although the performance of the Dutchman is worth mentioning, being the fastest on race simulation. Regarding the other teams, Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly are still in the top-10, together with both McLaren drivers.
"It’s been a rather easy day and the car felt good. We have tested different settings, like every Friday, trying to get as much information as we can. In some parts of the track, we need a better feeling. Times are not very meaningful because it’s just the first day and it’s impossible to know what the others are going to do. In the second session, after the pit-stop, I felt a vibration in the car and the team told me to stop. Later we discovered that the tyre wasn’t well attached so I was forced to stop. We still have to improve, we’ll try to do even better".
Says Kimi Raikkonen, after Friday’s practice. The Ferrari driver is satisfied with his team’s competitiveness. Same as his teammate Sebastian Vettel:
"It’s hard to tell where we are after only a day, but we’ve made some progress. We can improve in the long run, so we’ll see how it goes. We’ve made some mistakes here and there, but we’ve tried to establish our pace for the qualifying. Today we had the chance to push the car to the limit, or at least try. I can’t come to any conclusion today, we have to focus on ourselves and improve the feeling with the car. We can improve".
Despite the unusual gap from the top, Lewis Hamilton does not seem dissatisfied:
"It’s been a normal Friday, we have completed our program. It seems that there is a very close battle between all the teams and we still have a lot of work to do to see if we can be in front. Tyres have never been better, very stable and with less wear. The track is fantastic at night".
Valtteri Bottas, instead, is not very pleased with his Friday:
"This weekend is quite difficult because the track improves every session, so the balance of the car changes constantly and we have to adapt to the following session. Our main goal is to make the softest compound work. The car is good, but we need to find a bit more speed, especially for the single lap".
Daniel Ricciardo finds his day positive:
"It hasn’t been a bad day. Obviously, this morning went well, but the second session didn’t go so well, we made some changes that didn’t work. We can improve, I am confident knowing that we’ll have a better car tomorrow and even better in the race".
Unlike Max Verstappen, who had bigger problems than the Aussie:
"We had a small problem in the morning. These things happen, so I’m not too worried. Losing so much time was not ideal, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in the second session trying to find the right balance. Tomorrow we have to fix the short runs to be competitive in the race on Sunday. I’ll improve the feeling with the car and I’ll put myself in the best position possible".
FP3, held on Saturday 7th April 2018, sees Raikkonen as the fastest man on track. The Finnish driver is the only one to set a record time of 1'29"868, ahead of the two Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, while Lewis Hamilton sets the fourth fastest time, followed by Sebastian Vettel. The German’s car suffers from two serious technical issues: during free practice the car loses a vane from the right sidepod, forcing Vettel to spend a lot of time in the garage; subsequently, an electrical problem forces Vettel to even end his session earlier.
Kimi Raikkonen’s positive streak continues during qualifying. In Q1 the two Alfa Romeo-Saubers of Ericsson and Leclerc are the first cars to hit the track, followed by Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso. The Monegasque sets the fastest time with a two-tenth gap on his more experienced teammate. In the following minutes, Haas drivers take the lead, first with Magnussen then with Grosjean. But then Kimi Raikkonen replicates his FP3 time, with a lap in 1'29"951. Sebastian Vettel sits again behind his teammate, just one tenth of a second away. Valtteri Bottas takes third place, followed by Lewis Hamilton, then overtaken by Max Verstappen. With five minutes to go Max Verstappen goes off track at turn 2, losing the car while accelerating as it happened to Ericsson in free practice.
Meanwhile, on Vettel’s Ferrari a new electronic control unit has been mounted, after the problems he had in FP3. Being the second of two available for the whole year, Ferrari is already at risk for a penalty. With five minutes still available the drivers up to seventh place hit the track for their last attempt. The eliminated drivers are Ericsson, Sirotkin, Leclerc, Stroll and Grosjean. The Frenchman is particularly unlucky because he sets the exact same time of Fernando Alonso but after the Spaniard, who then takes the last spot available for Q2 on the wire. Gasly is excellent ninth with Toro Rosso.
After a few minutes, Q2 starts, with all the cars hitting the track on Supersoft tyres, except Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes, which is fitted with Soft tyres. Ferrari gets on top straightaway, with Sebastian Vettel first with a time of 1'28"341, followed by Raikkonen 174 thousandths of a second behind. However, everybody is impressed by Lewis Hamilton’s lap on soft tyres, which puts him in second place only 0.117 seconds away from Vettel. Daniel Ricciardo is fourth, preceding Valtteri Bottas: both drivers have a gap of 0.6 seconds from Vettel. Gasly performs very well again, placing his Toro Rosso sixth ahead of Hulkenberg, Magnussen, Sainz and the two Force Indias. All drivers behind Bottas are at risk, so they go out again with three minutes to go for a last flying lap. Hartley (Toro Rosso), Perez (Force India), Alonso and Vandoorne (McLaren), and obviously Verstappen (who can’t participate in Q2 because of his crash in Q1) get eliminated. Hulkenberg, Magnussen, Sainz, Gasly and Ocon pass to Q3.
In Q3, Sainz is the first to set a time, with a lap of 1'30"641, but even more impressive is Pierre Gasly, who is 0.25 seconds faster than the Spaniard. But then it is time for the best drivers: Sebastian Vettel takes the lead with 1'28"196, despite running wide out of the last corner. However, Raikkonen confirms the trend of his weekend by overtaking Vettel with a 0.093 second advantage. The two Mercedes are right behind: Hamilton is third (0.119 seconds away) and Bottas is fourth (0.215 seconds away). Ricciardo, fifth and 0.3 seconds behind, precedes Gasly and Sainz, with Ocon, Hulkenberg, and Magnussen who are yet to set a time.
With three minutes and a half to go, the two Renaults go out together for their final attempt, followed by the other cars. Bottas cannot do better than placing himself 0.023 seconds behind Raikkonen. Hamilton does not improve as well as Raikkonen. Instead, it’s Sebastian Vettel who finds the perfect lap with a record time of 1'27"958 to claim the 51st pole position of his career, for a Ferrari front-row lockout with Raikkonen in second place. Second row for Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo. Lewis Hamilton, fourth, will start from ninth place because of the penalty for changing his gearbox. Third row for an incredible Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso), fifth, and Kevin Magnussen (Haas), sixth. Fourth row for Nico Hulkenberg (Renault) and Esteban Ocon (Force India). Fifth row for Lewis Hamilton and the other Renault of Carlos Sainz. Right after crossing the finish line, Sebastian Vettel is praised by his race engineer, who defines his performance as the lion’s lap. The German, on his part, praises the team.
"I think it’s a surprise for us, since in Australia, on the qualifying lap, we were quite far behind. Here the track is different, but it’s important to constantly improve the setting of the car and especially the confidence with it. I’m happy we’ve taken the right direction, but we have to replicate tomorrow. The race will be long, but this is a good result for sure. Building a car able to lock up the front row in qualifying it’s very positive for us. We had some problems this morning, but we were able to overcome them. The car is answering well, so I’m very happy. Tomorrow, however, it will be a different story. A long race awaits, with the life of the tyres being a concern more or less for everyone. I’ve been fast and this helps, but we’ll see what happens when the lights go out. For now, I’m very happy, for the team too".
If Sebastian Vettel can be satisfied with his performance, the same cannot be said for Kimi Raikkonen, who has been faster than his teammate during the whole weekend, but is beaten when it really matters, in qualifying:
"I lost the pole in the last attempt, since we couldn’t improve. This situation has been far from perfect, because I found too much traffic in the last attempt. But I couldn’t do too much about it. I was hoping for a better result for today too and I’m disappointed with what happened. In the end, however, the position is still good, even though it’s not the one I wished for. Tomorrow is another day, the car should be competitive. We’ll see what we can do".
Valtteri Bottas, who starts from the third spot on the grid, talks about his qualifying:
"The lap felt good, since I was able to improve in Q3. However, the guys with the red car were too fast today, so we have to settle for what we achieved and look ahead for tomorrow. I think it will be a very close race, with the Red Bulls that can be dangerous, coming from behind. In fact, I think that we should keep an eye on Verstappen. He’s behind us, but I think he’ll put on a great show. Coming back to us, the fact that we improved in the crucial phase of qualifying is important, because that means we will be able to fight for pole in the next races".
Even the world champion admits Ferrari’s supremacy in Bahrain:
"Ferrari have simply been faster the whole weekend. On our part, it wasn’t all a matter of setup. By contrast, the car’s been great. I think it will be difficult to reach the first five positions, even though that’s our goal. I will try to get the highest number of points from my starting position. The penalty doesn’t help, if possible, it will make things harder. There’s a longer DRS zone here, but it’s very difficult to get close to the cars in front. We’ll see what we can get".
Max Verstappen cannot be happy, and at the end of qualifying claims:
"I wasn’t pushing to the maximum, also because in Q1 you don’t search the limit, it would be stupid. I didn’t really understand what happened but, taking a look at the data, there has been a 150-horsepower power increase on that corner. When all of a sudden you get all that power in the rear, you can easily spin, and I went off the track. However, the pace should be quite good, and I hope I can get rid of the cars ahead quite rapidly. Maybe recover as fast as I can to the fifth position at least. The car should be good, but it would take a bit of luck with a Safety Car or something similar to fight for the podium. The race is long anyway, and a lot of things can happen".
Pole number 51 for Sebastian Vettel, who puts a Ferrari on pole in Bahrain again eleven years after Felipe Massa in 2007. Nothing better to celebrate the 200th Grand Prix of his career. The German’s position is enviable, even though in Bahrain starting from pole does not mean certain victory: in fact, statistically speaking, only in five out of fourteen editions the poleman has won the race (the last being Lewis Hamilton in 2015), but it is also true that no one has ever won from beyond the second row. Vettel knows he will have to be careful at turn 1, where cars brake from 324 km/h down to 82 km/h for just 2.26 seconds in sixty-one metres. The Bahrain Grand Prix, run at night, is hectic from the start: Bottas succeeds in overtaking Raikkonen taking second place, while Hamilton remains stuck in the middle of the pack. Magnussen and Hülkenberg are caught in an exciting fight, while Pérez loses control of his car after a contact with a Toro Rosso.
While Sebastain Vettel tries to extend his gap on Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton keeps struggling and on the second lap finds himself battling with Max Verstappen. Both drivers do not hold back and at the exit of turn 1 they make contact. Verstappen is unlucky and suffers a puncture at the rear left tyre. The Dutchman has to do a whole lap before entering the pits. While Verstappen is completing his three-wheeled lap, he goes past his teammate Daniel Ricciardo, who is forced to retire due to an electrical problem.
Definitely a race to forget for the Austrian team, with Verstappen retiring right after the pit stop. On lap 5, while he is trying to recover, Hamilton performs an incredible triple overtake on Alonso, Ocon and Hulkenberg, while they are battling with each other, taking sixth place. At the end of lap 11, after getting past Magnussen and Gasly, the defending world champion goes up to fourth place.
On lap 20 Bottas stops for Medium tyres (aiming at a one-stop strategy), reacting to Vettel’s previous pit stop on lap 18, mounting Soft tyres. Hamilton is now forced to carry out an unusual role for him: the wingman. The British driver tries to slow Vettel down, compromising his strategy in order to favour his teammate. But he gets overtaken on lap 26, with Vettel retaking the lead of the race.
On lap 36, the Ferrari garage almost witnesses a tragedy. During Kimi Raikkonen’s second pit stop, there is a problem with the nut of the left rear tyre, which therefore is not unscrewed, but, despite this, the driver receives the green light anyway, running over the mechanic who is changing the tyre (who at that moment is in front of it, trying to warn the team about the problem).
Team principal Maurizio Arrivabene leaves the pit wall and, after checking his mechanic’s health conditions, tries to calm down his team, while Raikkonen, who is forced to retire because the rules do not allow to leave the pits with different tyres on the same car, approaches his team. Fortunately, the mechanic, Francesco Cigarini (who is in charge of Vettel’s car’s electronics) suffers only a fracture of tibia and fibula. Cigarini will be taken immediately to medical centre and subsequently undergo a surgery at a hospital in Manama.
Sebastian Vettel keeps leading the race, followed by Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton who, in the meantime, has recovered up to third place. On lap 42 Hülkenberg overtakes Ericsson for sixth place. Two laps later it’s Fernando Alonso’s turn. In front, Bottas begins a progressive comeback towards first place and also Lewis Hamilton tries to close the gap to his teammate, without much success, while the Finnish driver tries to attack Sebastian Vettel for the lead.
The situation becomes hard for the Ferrari driver, now forced to change strategy because he cannot stop a second time in order to avoid being overtaken by both Mercedes drivers. Therefore, Vettel is forced to manage with great difficulties his Soft tyres for 39 long laps, managing to hold off Valtteri Bottas, who even gets in his DRS zone. In the last few laps Bottas succeed in reducing his gap from the Ferrari driver under a second but, despite an overtaking attempt at the beginning of the last lap, he cannot get past him.
So, Sebastian Vettel wins the 49th race of his career and Ferrari goes back to winning the first two races of the season. Pierre Gasly is fourth with his Honda-powered Toro Rosso, clinching the best result for the Japanese manufacturer in the hybrid era. The other drivers in the points are Kevin Magnussen, Nico Hülkenberg, Fernando Alonso, Stoffel Vandoorne, Marcus Ericsson (claiming Sauber’s first points in the season) and Esteban Ocon. In an outburst of joy, Vettel screams:
"These tyres were done! They were done! For the last ten laps! Grazie ragazzi! Mamma mia! Ma mamma mia! Grazie. Grazie davvero".
This is the second win of the season for Sebastian Vettel, who emulates Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button, who all won their 200th Grand Prix.
"I think I talked to the radio with ten laps to go saying that everything was under control. But I lied, I confess, because it wasn’t. When they told me about Valtteri’s pace, I thought I couldn’t make it. I tried to do my best, but with that pace I was sure he was going to catch me. I tried to do my best, both Mercedes were very fast at the end of the second stint, and also at the end of the first. We changed our initial strategy, trying to make the tyres last as long as we could. In the end, they lasted just enough. At the end of the straight Valtteri had a look on the inside, but luckily for me the race was almost finished and I won. Going out of the pits I knew I would have that margin, but I didn’t know their strategy. It was the best tactics, who kept us under pressure. At that point, we had nothing to lose and we tried to stay out and win. We could have finished third, but I’m very happy. In these situations, victory tastes even better. A great feeling to win both races. I’m sorry for the mechanic involved in the pit stop accident, I hope it’s nothing serious".
The other two steps of the podium are occupied by the two Mercedes drivers. It is a bitter second place for Valtteri Bottas, who threw away his chance of winning by not being able to overtake Vettel.
"It was a very close battle and in the end it’s a shame that I couldn’t win it. When it goes like this, you think about every lap and every corner, trying to figure out whether you could’ve done something better. But I had a good race, I didn’t make mistakes and I gave all I had to give. Only in the last three laps I started to have problems with the tyres and, once close to Sebastian, everything became very difficult. It’s going to be an interesting season, we still have some work to do, especially in conditions like these here in Bahrain. There are positive sides, but we have to learn from this weekend".
Lewis Hamilton is not in the same mood, as he remarkably limited the damage, recovering from ninth to third position. The British driver comments the outcome of his race:
"Congratulations to Sebastian and Valtteri who have done an exceptional job this weekend. However, I’m happy too, because I started ninth and, so, third place is not bad at all. I did some pretty good damage control. There have been some frustrating moments during the race, because at the garage they couldn’t hear me very well. It was hard when I had to try and catch Sebastian, who was 25 seconds ahead, because I didn’t know what to do, whether to push or manage the tyres for the end. I would’ve preferred not to have that gearbox problem, but I’m very happy with my pace. I had a good start, but I wasn’t able to capitalize it. I lost the race in the initial laps, Ferrari showed a better pace in this first two races. We have to do a better job. Shanghai has always been good hunting territory for me".
Hamilton also gives his opinion on the contact with Verstappen:
"That contact was unnecessary. It was a stupid move from his part because he didn’t finish the race. It was frustrating because I too could have retired and there wasn’t a lot I could do to avoid him".
While Verstappen thinks Hamilton still had space on his left to avoid the collision. However, the contact was classified just as a racing incident.
"Due to the collision with Lewis we had much more damage than a simple puncture. The car was good, it seemed an exciting race. From the apex of the corner I was ahead of Lewis, but then I felt a hit from behind and I noticed the puncture, and from then I knew my race was over. There was enough room for both, and now seeing that there won’t be penalties is quite awful, because this contact took me out of the race. With reversed roles, there would have been further investigation".
An undoubtedly extraordinary performance by Pierre Gasly with his Honda-powered Toro Rosso, clinching the best result of the hybrid era for the Japanese manufacturer. The other drivers who finish in the points are Magnussen, Hülkenberg, the two McLarens of Alonso and Vandoorne, Ericsson (bringing home the first points of the season for Sauber) and Ocon. The Frenchman driving for Toro Rosso talks about his race:
"I can’t believe it, what an incredible day. This is my second race with Toro Rosso and Honda and I came in fourth, it was fantastic, I’m so happy. Thanks to the team, because the car is amazing. I gave everything I had after Raikkonen’s retirement. The start was fantastic, I got past Ricciardo at turn 1 and, after being overtaken by Magnussen, I was able to take back the position, push and save the tyres".
At the end of the race an understandably disappointed Daniel Ricciardo talks about what happened to his car:
"At turn 8 I lost power, everything went off and I couldn’t do much else. I think it was an electrical problem, we still don’t know for sure. We are all disappointed, because we were really convinced we had a great car for the race. It’s frustrating, abandoning the race so early is one of the worst feelings. You wait all day fort those two hours and after two minutes everything’s over. This sport can break your heart, sometimes it’s brutal".
At the end of the Grand Prix, besides the penalties handed during the race, Brendon Hartley and Sergio Pérez’s Superlicenses are reduced by four and two points respectively. Furthermore, Scuderia Ferrari is fined for 50.000 euros because of the unsafe release during the pit stop. It seems that the nut of the left rear tyre couldn’t be unscrewed, not allowing the tyre to come off properly. That is the second accident of this type for Ferrari this weekend in Bahrain: on Friday they had received a 5000-dollar fine for another unsafe release involving Raikkonen, who had to park his car after the front right tyre had not been properly fitted. In addition to the fine, Maranello’s engineers will have to answer FIA’s questions on what happened: therefore, an investigation is opened by the FIA technical stewards. Meanwhile, Raikkonen talks about the incident he was involved in:
"I don’t know what happened, and I don’t know how the mechanic is. What happened is very sad. I’m sorry for him and I hope he gets well soon. It’s always bad when someone gets hurt. To what concerns the events, all I know is I set off when I saw the green light. I couldn’t possibly imagine there was a problem with the left rear tyre. Then I saw that someone got hurt and the team told me to stop immediately".
Also, Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne analyses the weekend, but first sends his wishes to Francesco Cigarini:
"First of all, I would like to wish our mechanic a speedy recovery so he can be back on track soon. It was a consistent weekend who saw us on top from the start in free practice. The race was difficult, Sebastian drove like a real champion and I’m sorry for Kimi who surely had the chance to step on the podium. This Grand Prix confirms that Scuderia Ferrari has an excellent car, a solid team and two drivers at the top of their shape, but also shows how close and strong our adversaries are".
On Monday morning, Francesco Cigarini himself posts a photo on Instagram to reassure everyone on his conditions:
"The surgery went well. I would like to thank all the people who asked about me and were worried about me. Just a big thank you. Hugs".
In response to that, Raikkonen, always on Instagram, writes:
"Get well soon, my friend".
The Bahrain Grand Prix was nearly marked by a tragedy, which reminds fans and outsiders of all the risks that drivers and professionals face during Formula 1 races. Talking about the sporting aspect, Sebastian Vettel leaves the Arabian night with 50 points, with a perfect score of two victories in two races, and a 17-point advantage on his direct rival, defending world champion Lewis Hamilton, who, together with his whole team, is certainly not resigned. Next stop China: will Mercedes be able to finally claim the first win of the season?