Stefano Domenicali, the Ferrari team principal, before leaving for Australia for the debut of the World Championship, had evoked 1982. Ferrari hadn't covered itself in glory in the few winter tests, and it was worried.
"But who knows, maybe we'll do like the national football team, we struggle in the elimination round, and then we go on, from victory to victory, until the final triumph".
A wish, rather than a hope, that the Grand Prix held in Malaysia, Alonso's unexpected feat in the rain at the end of a schizophrenic race, seemed to want to encourage. The Chinese disaster however, with Fernando Alonso ninth and Felipe Massa thirteenth, and what's worse for the third consecutive time out of the top ten, brought everyone back to earth. Of 1982 so far we can only speak for Nico Rosberg, whose surname will remain forever linked to the roll of honor of the Chinese Grand Prix. It will not be the father Keke, who in 1982 surprisingly won the World Championship with Williams, but the son Nico, who plunged into his own history, the first seal of his career, and into the legend of Mercedes, brought back to success after 57 years. The Ferrari season, however, remains a gigantic question mark. In a few hours, in fact, it will be a ring again, the circus moves amid a thousand controversies in fiery Bahrain, but none of the men dressed in red is under the illusion that anything can change, starting with Stefano Domenicali:
"I expect a leap in quality, dramatic improvements as quickly as possible, but I can't ask for them within a few days".
The car, moreover, is the same as in China, where it suffered in qualifying and, contrary to usual, didn't shine in the race either. A new defeat is feared, and it is also feared by Fernando Alonso, who even dampens hopes in view of the Spanish Grand Prix:
"Where, it's true, we'll have a new aerodynamic package, but it doesn't necessarily mean that everything will work right away. And then we have to make up for a second, it's not an easy task and I don't think the others are watching".
Seen like this, one would predict a definitive surrender in a very short time, the end credits to another bankruptcy season. This is because in winter the designers and technicians were unable to fill the aerodynamic gaps with the strongest teams. That area was the main problem in 2011 and seems to be the same this year. In addition, it was discovered that this car does not have great top speed on the straight, to the point of making Fernando Alonso blurt out:
"I overtake in impossible curves, and then they pass me right after with ridiculous ease".
The turnaround on exhausts certainly weighed on competitiveness. Ferrari had bet on a new project, but put it aside a few days before the start, presenting the old version in Melbourne. At Mugello, Ferrari will try again with the new exhausts. If the experiment does not work, there is a risk that there will never be a way out of the ordeal. With the aggravating circumstance that while Fernando Alonso often manages to save face, Felipe Massa continues to be a problem with his anonymous performances. He had already made history last year for an entire championship without a podium. Twenty games without a point would be a creepy statistic, unbearable. Hardly beatable worse. Something is certainly happening at Ferrari. We have gone from the most total closure to the admission of one's mistakes to a cascade of mea culpa that is incredible. After Massa and Alonso, now it's the turn of Team Principal Stefano Domenicali.
"We knew we'd have problems in Shanghai and Sakhir. Of course, we're sorry, however, that we weren't able to pick up the points we could possibly have in China. I think we had the potential to be able to put Fernando in at least the top five and Felipe in the points, but both were practically always in traffic and were never able, especially the Spaniard, to lap consistently with a clear track ahead. So the lack of top speed forced Fernando to look for overtaking at other points on the track and to take risks".
Tuesday 17 April 2012 Stefano Domenicali returns to Maranello together with Technical Director Pat Fry, and is already preparing strategies for the next race, but the fans should not be under any illusions:
"In Bahrain we will have to try to limit the damage more effectively than we did in China, above all trying to make the most of the tires, both in qualifying and in the race".
So no attacking match, but a defensive match, with an eye to the tires and their performance, which is increasingly important. In Sakhir, the compounds that Pirelli will make available to the teams will be the same used in Melbourne and Shanghai (Soft and Medium) and whoever makes the best use of them will be able to get the win.
"Understanding how much and how you can get out of the tires. Is the key factor at the start of the season, it can make the difference and we need to improve our ability to analyze and forecast".
In reality, as usual, it's a question of the car, because even the good Fernando Alonso can do nothing without a single-seater up to par. And the concept is obviously very clear to Ferrari:
"The real game in recent weeks is being played in Maranello. Where everyone is pushing hard to try and find every possible hundredth of a second of performance, in every area. We will see some new developments at Mugello but we will take until the last available day before the Spanish Grand Prix to introduce the latest updates. I am sure that our opponents are also doing the same: it is therefore a question of showing that we can be better than them, by doing a better job".
And Fernando Alonso also goes in defense:
"Another difficult weekend awaits us in Sakhir and it couldn't be otherwise, we'll have to limit the damage. The championship is wide open and there are many teams that can aspire to victory but it's clear that we have to take a leap forward in terms of competitiveness if I want to aspire to fight for the final success. And we'll have to do it as soon as possible". The Asturian is realistic: "I have faith in the team and I know that everyone in Maranello is working hard to achieve this goal. We will try to do our best and I hope to be able to race a little less in traffic than last Sunday".
While the president of Ferrari, Luca Montezemolo, on the start of the Formula 1 World Championship, says:
"I expected a better job during the winter and I'm stimulating everyone a lot: I'm not happy, but we're just the beginning. Ferrari, in the last fifteen years, has won more than anyone. McLaren hasn't won a World Championship since 1999, us since 2008: in this championship three races have been won by three different drivers and one of them is from Ferrari".
Felipe Massa believes it. Or, in view of the next challenge, he plays the part of the confident. At least confident of scoring points after three races. The Brazilian Ferrari driver expresses optimism that Fernando Alonso does not have.
"The Sakhir circuit is one of my favourites and it is no coincidence that I have won there twice and finished second once again. Of my eleven victories, eight have been obtained divided between three circuits: three in Istanbul, two in Interlagos and just as many in the Bahrain Grand Prix. They are very different circuits so it is impossible to say that there is a real technical reason behind this statistic. However, let's say that, if only for superstitious reasons, I would have been sorry that this race had been cancelled: already this year there is no longer the Turkish Grand Prix. I arrived in Bahrain this morning after an overnight journey from Shanghai. Raffaela and Felipinho with me, it's always a joy to have them around. From Friday we get back on track and honestly, I can't wait".
Then he continues:
"On Sunday in Shanghai I was finally able to do a 'normal' race, the first of this year without any particular problems. The weekend improved: in difficulty with the balance of the car in all three free practice sessions, the situation suddenly improved in qualifying, to such an extent that the gap from Fernando was rather small. In the race the car was even better but too often I found myself in traffic and we weren't able to make the most of the strategy. Too bad, because it would have been nice to finally cancel that nasty zero in the ranking. Well, my goal this weekend is just that: to finish the race in the top ten. If we continue the positive trend started in Shanghai then we will be able to do it. It's true that the characteristics of the track on paper don't seem to be very favorable to the F2012 but it will be important to try to make the most of the tyres, the real key to being competitive, here and on any other track. I have to say that I've always enjoyed coming here, even when we had long private practice sessions".
The Brazilian closes by speaking of the feared hostile climate of a high-risk land.
"The people have always been very hospitable and cordial and, as I had already said in Shanghai in recent days, I hope that the Grand Prix will be an occasion for unity, as it should be for any sporting event. From what I could see today, the situation is calm: on the way from the airport to the hotel everything was like two years ago and even on the circuit, as our guys told me on the phone, things are going on as usual on the Wednesday of a non-European race. If the decision has been made to keep the race on the calendar, it means that all the conditions exist and , from what we've seen so far, there's no reason to say otherwise".
The troubled political situation in Bahrain threatens the Grand Prix, which had already been skipped in 2011. Damon Hill, former Formula 1 World Champion and former president of the British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC) invites the FIA to reconsider the opportunity to race in Sakhir. Already during the weekend of the 2011 Japanese Grand Prix, many teams had expressed doubts about the opportunity to return to racing in Bahrain, and the Bahrain Center for Human Rights asked them to boycott the race. In February the opposition political group The February 14 Youth Coalition wrote to Bernie Ecclestone threatening action against the holding of the race. However, on Wednesday 28 March 2012, the patron of the circus confirmed the holding of the race, even if, after the continuation of the protests, he admitted that he did not have the power to force the teams to compete in the Grand Prix. The FIA, for its part, in its first draft calendar for 2012, had set the race for November, precisely in the hope of peace in the country. Only in the definitive version of the calendar was the Grand Prix moved to April 22nd 2012. On Friday April 13th 2012 the FIA made official the dispute of the Grand Prix on the scheduled date.
"The FIA is the governing body of motorsport and Formula 1. As a result, it sets the dates of the calendars according to the proposals of the commercial rights holders in agreement with the national authorities on all safety issues. The FIA ensures that any event forming part of an FIA championship is organized in accordance with the FIA Statute and the Sporting and Technical rules and that the safety of the public, staff, drivers and teams is ensured throughout each event. The FIA needs to make rational decisions based on the information provided to us by the Bahraini authorities and the commercial rights holder. In addition we were invited to check the situation in Bahrain. President Jean Todt led a delegation to the Kingdom of Bahrain in November to meet with a large number of decision-makers, including Shia representatives of parliament, the chairman of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, ambassadors from European Union countries, the prince, the interior minister and many members of local business. All expressed their wish to review the race in 2012 and the FIA has been in contact with these key figures ever since. Out of the limelight the FIA has received constant news from most of the senior officials in Bahrain and other independent experts. The 2012 calendar submitted by the commercial rights holder was ratified by the World Motorsport Council in September 2011. Since then there have been no requests from the F1 Commission or the commercial rights holder to the World Council to postpone or cancel the Bahrain GP. Based on the current information held by the FIA at this stage, the safety measures in place for the holding of the Bahrain GP are satisfactory. Furthermore, the FIA confirms that the 2012 Bahrain GP will take place as scheduled".
This choice led the opposition group Al-Wefaq to call protests in the airport area when the teams arrived. For this reason, a final decision on the race will be taken by Thursday 19 April 2012. However, on Thursday 19 April 2012 the leader of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights affirms that there are no dangers for the Circus staff, even if the protest is conducted against the decision to run the Grand Prix. However, Force India personnel are involved in a road accident due to the throwing of a Molotov cocktail. On Friday 20 April 2012, during the first practice session on Friday, Lewis Hamilton sets the best time, ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Paul di Resta. The first driver to set a valid time is Nico Hülkenberg, twenty minutes into the session. Kimi Räikkönen and Sebastian Vettel then moved into the top positions, later overtaken by Lewis Hamilton. Paul di Resta sets the third fastest time in the final minutes of the session, on Soft tyres. Force India will not take part in the second practice session on Friday for logistical reasons. The carrying out of the GP2 tests, held between the two Formula 1 sessions, allows the track to be cleaned of sand, so much so that the teams decide to mount Soft tires immediately. After the first twenty minutes Jenson Button sets the best time. Subsequently, this limit is improved by Mark Webber. Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel and Nico Rosberg also subsequently lead the timesheets. At the end of the session, Nico Rosberg set the best time, ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. Forced smiles, drawn faces, anguish. The race will be held at all costs, because the king of Bahrain wants it this way:
"The cancellation of the Grand Prix would have made the extremists stronger".
Says his son, Crown Prince Salman Al Khalifa, seconded by Bernie Ecclestone, Formula 1's commercial rights kingpin, and Jean Todt, the president of the FIA. Thus began the Bahrain Grand Prix, with the first two free practice sessions taking place in a surreal atmosphere. The fastest was Nico Rosberg in the Mercedes, he set a considerable gap to the two Red Bull Racings (second Webber and third Vettel), he left the Ferraris by a sidereal distance, eighth Fernando Alonso at 1.6 seconds, twelfth Felipe Massa at two abundant seconds, but of this Friday lived at the Sakhir racetrack, fifty kilometers from the buzzing capital Manama, certainly not the German's excellent time will remain impressed, but rather the strange climate that surrounded him. It is tested in an armored racetrack with deserted stands.
It is difficult to stifle fear, despite the strict security measures, the militarized zone, the strict controls at the entrances, with careful inspection of the bottom of the cars, opening of all the bags and passage of each person, from the fan to the member of the various teams, through a metal detector, in an access gate that is more reminiscent of an airport than the antechamber of a sporting event. Throughout the day inside the paddock the watchword is tranquillity, flaunted by everyone, starting with the riders, but there were some exceptions to the rule. Force India, still in shock after the Molotov cocktail that hit one of its vans on Wednesday evening, involving - fortunately without consequences - four mechanics, fielded the two cars in the first session, but then deserted the second. For logistical and security reasons, the need to finish the job quickly and leave the circuit in mid-afternoon, to prevent his men from returning to the hotel in the capital in the dark. A striking gesture, which greatly annoyed Bernie Ecclestone:
"I don't know why they decided to do this, an escort was offered for the return journey and they didn't want it. It's the only team that has similar problems, maybe Bahrain has nothing to do with it, maybe there are other reasons".
Difficult to understand which ones, certainly for Ecclestone this place is more than quiet, given that he accused journalists of exasperation:
"If there was an earthquake, you would have something to write about and you would be even happier".
He reiterates the crown prince:
"It is a serene country, where Formula 1 has never been a target and has nothing to fear. This event allows us to celebrate our nation and the newfound normalcy".
An attempt that instead, outside of Bahrain, someone wants to oppose at all costs. This is the case of Anonymous who with a hacker attack blacked out the official F1 website for a couple of hours, inviting them to boycott the race, to protest against the violation of civil and political rights in Bahrain. On Saturday 21 April 2012, during the third and final practice session, Nico Rosberg set the fastest lap again, ahead of the two Red Bull Racing drivers, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. Nico Rosberg sets the best time in the final minutes of the session, using Medium tyres. Force India also takes part in the session. At the end of the session Pastor Maldonado was forced to replace the gearbox, thus losing five positions on the grid. Subsequently, in Q1 Sergio Pérez sets the fastest time, ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Mark Webber. In addition to the HRT and Marussia drivers, Vitalij Petrov of Caterham, Jean-Éric Vergne of Toro Rosso and Michael Schumacher are eliminated. The German is penalized by a DRS problem in his last attempt. At the end of the session Vergne does not go to the commissioners for weigh-in operations. However, the driver was not sanctioned as the Scuderia Toro Rosso technicians pushed his car to the marshals' station. In the second part of qualifying, Pastor Maldonado didn't score times due to a problem with Kers. The best time went to Lewis Hamilton, while Kimi Räikkönen, Kamui Kobayashi, Nico Hülkenberg, the Brazilians Felipe Massa and Bruno Senna were eliminated, together with Heikki Kovalainen. Kimi Räikkönen forgoes making another attempt on the Softs to save a set of tires for the race. In the decisive phase Sebastian Vettel won pole position only at the last attempt, ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber; Fernando Alonso and Paul di Resta do not score valid times. At the end of practice Michael Schumacher was forced to replace the gearbox, thus being relegated five places on the grid. It's not the ideal environment to celebrate, there isn't the right climate, but Sebastian Vettel, in the middle of the Bahrain desert, still finds his smile and the pole position he hasn't conquered since November 26, 2011.
The two-times World Champion tears everyone up and comes out of that (technical and identity) crisis that had somewhat unnerved him in these first races of 2012. Now it's easy to imagine his first victory of the season:
"Because if you leave in the middle of traffic, you risk ending up badly, instead when you're in front of everyone, you can manage and I'll do everything to not waste the opportunity".
It was announced in crisis and instead Red Bull Racing found itself in the fourth round, just in time to start the run-up to the two McLarens, mocked by both Lewis Hamilton, second, and Jenson Button, fourth at 0.289 seconds. The German Red Bull Racing driver comments:
"We did what we expected, we worked so hard on the car, we fought a lot to get to the best solution and we found it. The last weekend in China was intense and here our guys didn't sleep for days. Excellent result for the team, the car reacted very well, already from Q2 I saw that we could do a great lap, I'm happy to have beaten Lewis for pole".
While Lewis Hamilton, who will start from second position, says:
"We can fight with Red Bull but it will be very tough. We had good races here, I think this year we have a better chance of fighting with Red Bull. We've made progress. I'm happy with the car's performance and with the team's performance. I'm trying to exploit all the potential: I wasn't able to get pole but starting from the front row still gives you wonderful sensations".
Particular attention should also be paid to an additional pitfall:
"I don't remember so much wind on the track except in Barcelona. It's not easy to manage the situation".
In the middle of the two disappointed, but always favourites for race pace, Mark Webber slipped, back gregarious but still able with third place to aim for the top step of the podium.
"We worked very well. We have an excellent position, we are satisfied to be up front. We are also a little surprised to be honest, we are very competitive on a track that requires a lot of strength and strategy and we are aware that we can play our cards tomorrow".
The number two from Red Bull is not giving up, nor does Nico Rosberg, who won in China with Mercedes, intend to do so, even if he amazed everyone with his tactics: worried about the great wear of the rear tires (the deterioration due to the scorching temperature seems to be a key factor in the economy of the Grand Prix), he decided to save a set of Soft tyres. So he threw away the possible pole position. As Fernando Alonso observes, with the right irony:
"Facts will tell if he's a jerk or a genius".
Instead, Spanish is simply normal. His Ferrari doesn't work for him, to get into the top ten he used all the good tires but collected a miserable ninth place. In the race he will try to come back. They saved him a set of soft tires. Result: ranking worsened.
"Today as today we're worth a place between eighth and twelfth, so ninth on the grid reflects our current value. Honestly, given the characteristics of this track, which are decidedly unfavourable to those of our current single-seater, the weekend so far hasn't gone all that bad".
This is how Fernando Alonso comments on the day of qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
"To have the chance to get to Q3 we had to use all three sets of Softs available and so we didn't have any left in the final part of the session. Setting the time on used tires would have made no sense and would have forced us to start with a set of tires already several laps old. Now we have the freedom to choose between the Mediums and the Softs for the start of a race that promises to be very tough, especially for the tyres".
For the race, the Spaniard doesn't say too much:
"So far on Sunday we've always gone a little faster than on Saturday: let's hope that's the same here in Bahrain. Tomorrow we'll have to try to manage the tires in the best possible way, making the most of the fact that we have three sets of new Mediums available. The start will also be important, because it would be useful to be able to gain a few positions straight away, given that overtaking is certainly not easy for us. The goal? To finish in the points, around sixth or seventh position. I know, it's not exciting, but it's what our today's potential".
Then teammate Felipe Massa spoke up, once again eliminated in the second heat of qualifying.
"I decided to save a set of tires thinking about the race and this certainly made me lose some positions".
Another uphill race is looming for the Brazilian from Ferrari.
"Overtaking will never be easy for us. So let's see if we can make a good strategy or a good start. In short, anything that could be important for tomorrow's race. It's true that the track improved as the minutes went by, but I'm not able to say if using two sets of softs in Q2 I would have managed to get into Q3: it would have been very difficult and we decided to sacrifice something today to give preference to tomorrow's race, given that new tires are very important here: they can make the difference on a track and with weather conditions which predict a high degradation".
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali summarizes qualifying in Bahrain as follows:
"Honestly, this result is in line with the expectations of the day before. Of course, these are not positions that can make us happy, quite the opposite: we ourselves are the first to be disappointed but today our potential is this and we must try to get the most out of it. In view of a race in which tire degradation will be a decisive factor, we have defined a program aimed at safeguarding as many new trains as possible, while at the same time trying to get as far forward as possible on the grid. We will only find out tomorrow afternoon if and how much this choice will pay off. The goal of this Grand Prix is to limit the damage, which means bringing both cars into the points. I expect a very tough race, for the cars, for the drivers and for the teams: those who don't make mistakes will already have a good chance of getting a good result".
The showgirls from England, with their shimmering sequinned dresses and intricate hairstyles of fake ostrich feathers, look like unreal creatures in the oppressive desert heat. But they, despite the violent bites of the sun on their pale complexion, continue to smile at the clicks of dozens of mobile phones. Because in the bubble of the Grand Prix wanted at all costs, there is no room for annoying thoughts and tragic news, such as the one that, on the day of qualifying, arrives from Manama, only about thirty kilometres away, where the body of a demonstrator killed on Friday evening in an anti-regime demonstration, was found on the roof of a farmhouse on Saturday morning. It is difficult to find a logical thread that links the spectacle of the revived Bahrain Grand Prix and the drama that takes place every day, at nightfall, on the streets and in the Shiite villages that surround Manama like a crown of thorns. It is the same popular revolt that exploded in February 2011: the Shiite majority against the Sunni minority, the people of the excluded and condemned in opposition against the absolute power of the al Khalifa royal family. But the reasons of safety, opportunity and coherence that led to the cancellation of the Grand Prix in 2011 are no longer valid this year. The interests at stake are too great. Of course, nothing unexpected can happen on the Sakhir racetrack, among the stands selling memorabilia of the various teams, restaurants, supermarkets and a stage of various art whose loudspeakers defy the excruciating roar of the engines in terms of loudness. Army helicopters watch over the circuit and the crowds of visitors, among which the Saudis stand out. A web of checkpoints scrutinizes and filters anyone approaching the area of the racetrack. External reality seems alien, distant and unreachable from the gigantic paddock where the men and women of Formula 1 roam, protagonists and supporting actors in a global competition that is repeated at fixed intervals for eight months of the year. So it shouldn't be surprising if Sebastian Vettel, author of the best time in official practice, admits with some embarrassment during the press conference following qualifying that he knows nothing of the death of the Manama protester and of the frame of which, tragically, he is a part.
Nor can Fernando Alonso say much more than simply describing himself as a man of sport, saddened, of course, by the loss of a human life, but unaware, like his other colleagues, of the reasons and details of that death. While the patron of the Circus, Bernie Ecclestone, ends up falling into a so-to-speak revealing gaffe when, mistaking the protester killed for Abdulhadi al Khawaja, the human rights activist, on hunger strike for 73 days, declares that death was what he wanted. Except, then, to admit the qui pro quo. But it's not just about the cynical law of the show, or the indifference of a world apart. The fact is that the Bahraini regime, after having wanted the return of Formula 1 at all costs, not only for the large revenues (500.000.000 dollars) that the Grand Prix guarantees, but also to send a political signal of a newfound normality, despite the long revolt, the regime, we said, has done everything to isolate the race and the circuit from the rest of the country. Just take the road that leads from Manama to Sakhir. Police cars, on average every kilometre. Anti-riot armoured cars near the Shiite neighbourhoods bordered by the main artery, with the agents in black uniforms who, weapons in hand, observe the houses with their backs to the traffic. But all this did not stop the demonstrators. Who, after having confusedly tried to boycott the Grand Prix, have decided to take advantage of the massive presence of the media following the race, to relaunch a protest that has long since fallen out of the list of main headlines. A forgotten revolt. And so every day the Shiite neighbourhoods are set on fire. As happened on Friday in Budaja (thousands of people in the square with a long night queue of clashes between security forces and demonstrators) and as happened more or less in the same hours in Bilad al Qadim. In this suburb, 12 kilometres from Manama, Salah Abbas Habib was born and died on Friday night. The 36-year-old demonstrator was killed, according to opposition sources, after being savagely beaten by the police. This time the mystery has been added to the violence. Because the victim's body was found inexplicably abandoned on the roof of a cottage on Saturday morning. It was another blaze. Clashes and accidents throughout the afternoon. And it will continue like this even after the Formula 1 circus has decamped. But maybe no one will notice.
Sunday 22 April 2012, at the start of the Bahrain Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel maintains the first position, followed by Lewis Hamilton, then Mark Webber, Romain Grosjean and Fernando Alonso, author of an excellent start. Daniel Ricciardo starts badly from the third row, losing about ten positions during the first lap. While Sebastian Vettel stretches, it is the Lotuses that entertain the public, confirming the excellent pace shown during the tests. On lap four, Romain Grosjean overtook Mark Webber, while Kimi Räikkönen overtook Felipe Massa, to whom he had had to give up the position a couple of laps earlier. During the seventh lap, the French Lotus driver also passed Lewis Hamilton, thus conquering the second position. The recovery of Kimi Räikkönen continued, passing Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso between the fifth and ninth laps. Meanwhile, during the eighth lap, the first pit stops to change tires began, with Jenson Button, Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg. The latter thus conquers a position from Felipe Massa, while a small delay in the tire change of Lewis Hamilton allows Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso to recover one position. Back on track Lewis Hamilton is also behind Jenson Button, and is forced to battle with Nico Rosberg who closes him vigorously, forcing the British to take the car over the edge of the track, however overtaking the German. During lap 12 Kimi Räikkönen passed Mark Webber, while Jenson Button passed Fernando Alonso. Sebastian Vettel, meanwhile, during lap 13 recovers the first position, which he had had to give to Paul di Resta. With the Scotsman returning to the pits one lap later, the first series of pit stops was completed, and the standings saw Sebastian Vettel leading the race, followed by Romain Grosjean, Kimi Räikkönen, Mark Webber, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton who just passed Fernando Alonso, Nico Rosberg and Felipe Massa. During lap 22, the second round of tire changes begins. Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg return to the pits to mount Medium tyres, as does Felipe Massa who, however, mounts Soft tyres. On lap 24 Kimi Räikkönen was second, after passing his teammate, Romain Grosjean.
Coming out of the pit stop, Fernando Alonso is behind Nico Rosberg, with the Spaniard attempting to counter-overtake but is closed in by a tough defensive manoeuvrer from the German. The Spaniard radioed for the imposition of a penalty for the Mercedes driver. Lewis Hamilton's pit stop was penalized again by a delay, which caused the Briton to lose three positions, slipping behind Felipe Massa. The group is still led by Sebastian Vettel, followed by Kimi Räikkönen and Romain Grosjean, then Paul di Resta, who again hasn't changed tyres, Mark Webber, Jenson Button, Kamui Kobayashi (he also hasn't changed tyres yet), Nico Rosberg, Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton. On lap 29, Mark Webber overtook Paul di Resta, while a couple of laps later Kamui Kobayashi made a tire change, causing those following him to drop one position. Kimi Räikkönen crowned a stupendous comeback by putting Sebastian Vettel under pressure, even attempting to overtake on a couple of occasions but without success. Thus began the third series of tire changes: during lap 37 it was the turn of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who mounted the Medium tyres. Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso also pit, with the Ferrari driver on the Medium tyres, as do the Englishman and Felipe Massa. During lap 41 it was up to Sebastian Vettel to stop, as well as Kimi Räikkönen. Both choose the Medium tyres. Thanks to the tire changes, Nico Rosberg passed Jenson Button while Lewis Hamilton took ninth place, at the expense of Felipe Massa. Sebastian Vettel's pace becomes faster than that of his pursuers, who are no longer able to get close. Behind the German are still the two Lotus drivers, then Mark Webber, Paul di Resta (who made his second stop on lap 34), Nico Rosberg, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. In the final laps, Nico Rosberg passed Paul di Resta, while Jenson Button was forced to stop again due to a puncture. Back on track, the Englishman retires after one lap. Sebastian Vettel wins the Bahrain Grand Prix, followed by Kimi Räikkönen and Romain Grosjean, who takes his first career podium. Mark Webber is fourth, followed by Nico Rosberg, Paul di Resta, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa and Michael Schumacher.
"To beat the Lotuses I had to squeeze my Red Bull. It was a tough race. It was crucial to get a good start so I got rid of the group and that was a big plus for me. From a strategy point of view everything worked perfectly. I can only thank my team who did a great job. In any case, I had to push hard to beat the Lotuses".
In every race there is a twist, four races, four different winners, from four different teams and in the evening, symbol of a Formula 1 without a master, the driver who leaves the circuit leading the World Championship is always different. Ferrari also entered this upheaval, triumphant in Malaysia with Fernando Alonso. But the Maranello team found no room for glory in Sakhir. He almost cheered, for limiting the damage. Observing the sudden fall of the McLarens, who remain favourites, but for now they don't dominate, neither with Lewis Hamilton (eighth, with the torment of three wicked pit stops, and ousted from the world throne passed into the hands of Sebastian Vettel), nor with Jenson Button, who even retired due to a broken exhaust, a flat tire, a vibrating car. Witnessing the rebirth of Red Bull Racing, which didn't start well with Sebastian Vettel, while Mark Webber (another incredible coincidence) continues to collect fourth places, and the surprising rise of Lotus-Renault, second with Kimi Raikkonen and third with Romain Grosjean, a team that is now scary, but which until now was looked at with the indifference one gives to a follower. It is a Formula 1 without a master and it has not happened in such an accentuated way since 1983, four drivers and four teams in the first four races: more curious, due to the teams, than the four drivers of 2003, with David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen in McLaren, as well as Giancarlo Fisichella and Michael Schumacher. A Formula 1 that people probably like, with lots of overtaking, countless pit stops, pure adrenaline for those watching (not at the racetrack, the stands were desolately deserted) in front of the TV, but which doesn't fascinate Michael Schumacher, who finished tenth. His is a harsh attack:
"This is no longer F1, it's a championship of tyres, not of cars. You don't think about performance or speed, but only about conserving the tyres. And whoever does it better, wins in the end".
In Sakhir the feat was achieved by Sebastian Vettel, who struggled a lot to contain the aggressive Lotus, suddenly competitive after three races. Kimi Raikkonen, on the first podium of his second career, is even disappointed at the end of the race:
"Because I should have won and I wasted a great opportunity. With a mistake I allowed Massa to overtake me. I lost precious time behind his Ferrari and those seconds cost me the race. At the start I took a certain advantage, I detached the others. However, the Lotuses proved to be very fast and this made everything more difficult. Raikkonen, in particular, always seemed to have new tires after every pit stop. He got really close, but I managed to keep him behind me. I had to push to the end and managed to hold on. Our strategy worked, the many hours of work done on the single-seater gave the hoped-for results. Maybe I could even win. I made a mistake at the start and lost a position. At the start I made a mistake and was passed by a Ferrari. I had to catch up with a series of overtaking moves, which weren't complicated anyway. Maybe I could have won, but we managed to get two cars on the podium".
On the other hand, the face of Romain Grosjean, his teammate, is radiant, who had never seen a podium up close, and is now chasing a victory.
"The machine has taken a huge step forward, now you can dream. It's fantastic, I'm really happy and proud of the result. We knew we had a good car - he added - the team is working hard and I'm happy with what we did. I had already scored my first points in the world championship, my first podium arrived today and now I can aim for victory".
Nico Rosberg, winner in China, struggled like the others this time. He was the only one not to be fooled by the pit stop short of Paul di Resta in sixth for the Force India, but he nearly knocked out both Fernando Alonso in seventh and Lewis Hamilton in eighth.
Until Sunday evening he remains under investigation. Then comes the mercy of the commissioners and fifth place is safe. Before rejoicing for once again limiting the damage, Ferrari mourned the death of one of its men, a young 32-year-old mechanic, Matteo Vignali, who lost his battle in Maranello due to a heart attack, while on the track Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa were trying to make a race of great technical suffering decent. Vignali, a rising young man in the foreign exchange department, leaves behind a wife and a son. Stefano Domenicali, the team principal and friend of all, is destroyed. He doesn't want to talk to him.
"Because everything takes a back seat in the face of this tragedy".
Ferrari is tested by this news that arrived shortly before the race. He puts sadness on the cover and wants to underline it. But then there's also a classification, a seventh place by Fernando Alonso who could have become sixth (if the judges hadn't pardoned Nico Rosberg in the evening, guilty of throwing him onto the gravel with a decidedly risky manoeuvre), a performance certainly not in line with winter expectations, but which allows the Spaniard to once again limit the damage. Fernando Alonso first makes it clear what he thinks of Nico Rosberg's behavior:
"If there had been a wall at that point, we would have seen several crushed cars. I risked, Hamilton risked. Rosberg is good, but this time his maneuvers seemed to me to be at the limit of the regulation, perhaps beyond".
Comment that must be added to what he shouted hot on the radio:
"Does he know that space must be given?"
This is the rhetorical question, after the escape from the gravel and the narrow escape. He was convinced of being able to forfeit two more points, but he is still satisfied:
"The standings are short, the McLarens didn't win, Vettel won, the two Renault drivers took so many points. The balance is huge, it seems like the others are waiting for us, but now it's our turn to move. Our rivals have a good foundation, we're actually starting from scratch. I hope that between the Mugello tests and the next race in Barcelona my car can make a big step forward. If they had told us that we would finish in front of the McLarens, we would not have believed them. We are ten points from the top of the World Championship, it's a treasure. All in all, it went better than expected. We have collected some points here as well. Now in Barcelona we have to start doing better, we have to be in charge. The Lotuses had a fantastic race, but in Spain we will have other rivals".
It doesn't say we are coming. Because he has no certainties, only hopes. However, he admits that the balance after four races, at least in terms of points, is more than flattering:
"When we started in Melbourne, we never expected a similar ranking when returning to Europe".
A gift that the Maranello team must now exploit with the expected developments.
Felipe Massa, finally more than decent and with the first two points in his pocket, explains how:
"The others won't stand still, we will have to grow much more than them. It takes a huge step forward, otherwise everything remains as before. It's tough, but I'm convinced we can do it".
Yesterday the Brazilian had to change his mind about the strategy. On Saturday he didn't seem too convinced:
"And instead saving a set of tires worked".
For long stretches he was faster than Fernando Alonso, a pity about the time lost in the pits:
"Only in this way could Rosberg surpass me".
Then Lewis Hamilton also mocked him:
"But in that case I was forced to stop one lap after Alonso".
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali explains the momentum of the Maranello team:
"It is clear that we cannot be happy with this start to the season but, after the winter tests, we knew that the first four races would be very tough. We managed to limit the damage, especially in the World Drivers' Championship, where Fernando Alonso is in fifth place just ten lengths off the pace. However, it is equally clear that we now have to make a change of gear, starting from the next race. Our technicians are well aware of this and are working day and night to give our drivers a much more competitive car than the one we saw on the track in the first four races".
After the fantastic success of Fernando Alonso in Sepang, in China and in Bahrain, the Spaniard had to limit the damage:
"In both races, Fernando gave his all and managed to bring out the potential of the car. The team worked well: honestly, if we had been told at the start to Melbourne that the European season would have started with one of our drivers in this position in the standings, I would have had a hard time believing it. Felipe also reacted positively to the initial difficulties and I'm sure that the fact that he managed to erase the zero in the points box will give him confidence for the next races. Now we have some important days ahead, in which the primary objective will be to push the development of the car to the max. car. Next week there are three days of testing at Mugello but it's not certain that all the updates planned for Barcelona will be seen on that occasion. We have to try to exploit every minute available to increase the performance of the F2012".
However, the project is wide-ranging:
"We are intensifying the process of changing the working method in all areas of activity and, at the same time, we are strengthening ourselves in the areas where we are most lacking, such as aerodynamics. It is a long-term project that President Montezemolo is following personally and it is fundamental for the future of the Scuderia: Formula 1 has changed so much in recent years and we have not always remained on the train of change. On this front too, we must change gears. This championship opened under the banner of great balance: the statistics show that it was nine years since there hadn't had four different winners in the first races, but it hadn't even happened in twenty-nine seasons that four different cars had not achieved success.The tires seem to be the most important factor: understanding their behaviour to define race strategy but also in qualifying as we saw last weekend in Bahrain, getting the right moment for the pit-stop, knowing how to make the most of them on the timed lap based on the evolution of track conditions are all crucial elements to be able to compete for the top positions. I expect that in Barcelona many will bring significant innovations to the track: we will have to be better than the others".
From defence to attack. The first objective, minimal but important, was achieved, Ferrari managed to limit the damage: realizing a few days before the start that it was behind its rivals, it feared a lot these first four races. And instead, Fernando Alonso finds himself just ten points behind Sebastian Vettel.
"In a position I never imagined. It went well, but now we mustn't waste this stroke of luck".
By achieving the second, decidedly more important objective, the one hoped for by everyone, starting with Stefano Domenicali himself and Fernando Alonso, a leap in quality, the step forward:
"Better than the competition, otherwise nothing changes".
This is the comment of the Spaniard, who can allow Ferrari to fight for victory in the race and for the conquest of the World Championship. A change of gear and attitude. A new Ferrari, because the current one is unable to fight for the World Championship. However, the one that will present some novelties from 1 to 3 May 2012 in the Mugello tests and a rich innovative package that will be ready on Sunday 13 May 2012, on the occasion of the Spanish Grand Prix, must be. In Maranello they have been working on improvements for weeks. The growth is mainly concentrated on aerodynamics. The contents of this technical assault which aims to close the gap with Red Bull Racing, McLaren, Mercedes and Lotus are secret, what will be tested in Tuscany and then brought to Spain is not revealed, but it will certainly concern the suspensions (new attachments for the rears, but also changes to the fronts), the wings and perhaps the bottom of the car. The exhaust system remains a question mark. In the first winter tests, Ferrari had thrown itself on a revolutionary solution, with a downward blow, which should have given away precious tenths of a second, but which instead presented the contraindication of overheating the tires. In March, after two calculations, it was decided to go back to the old style, but now the idea could be revived, probably essential for the leap in quality. In any case, this is not certain and it is not certain that, in Maranello's secret, yet another solution has not been devised, a middle ground that improves the performance of the car and better protects the tyres, a fundamental element in the results for this start of the season. Whatever the choice, one thing is certain, Stefano Domenicali also said, in Barcelona we will understand. If the gap were to remain unchanged, there is the risk of another disappointing season. All this while on Tuesday 24 April 2012 the entire Ferrari will be in Sestola for the funeral of Matteo Vignali, who passed away on Sunday. And waiting to measure the intensity of the cheering at Mugello on Monday, Passion Day, with the racetrack open to the public and the possibility of meeting Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.