On the 29th of March 2019 the Formula 1 Circus moves to Bahrain for the second round of the Championship. The protagonists are always the same: Mercedes, back from a perfect weekend, free of smears and willing to repeat the results obtained in Australia; and Ferrari, looking for redemption, ready to show what it is capable of and to let people know that it is there to win.
The Maranello team is confident, the Sakhir circuit has certainly not deprived Ferrari of victories and celebrations in the past, on the contrary. In fact, Ferrari has won six times on this track, the last two of which are those of the German driver Sebastian Vettel, so the question that is easy to ask is: will Ferrari prove itself or will it present the same problems of the past weekend? Team principal Mattia Binotto analyzes the circuit and declares himself ready to take to the track to redeem himself:
"We expect to be able to see the effect of the corrections we have made. Compared to the Australian track, the Sakhir circuit has very different characteristics with traction and braking being important elements. I think that as a team we need to make sure we have understood and managed the areas of weakness that in Australia, for a whole series of factors, did not allow us to exploit the full potential of the car. We are aware that our opponents will once again be very strong. Having said that, we can't wait to get on track and confront them".
The German driver, who only finished fourth in Australia, knows he must not underestimate the situation now more than ever and that he must remain focused and avoid the slightest mistake:
''Every mistake is paid dearly. At the level of difficulty it can be configured as normal. Having said that, it's not always easy to get the right pace in practice because the track is dirty with sand and often there is a strong wind. So in many cases every lap is different from the previous one and this can make the difference, especially in qualifying. Here every mistake can cost you dearly in terms of time: for the same reason you have to be very cautious when overtaking, waiting for a small mistake from the driver in front to try to pass him. The ideal points to attack? At turn 1 and turn 14, after two long straights".
While Leclerc acknowledges his mistakes made in Australia, he doesn't lose heart and arrives in Bahrain confident in the team and ready to give his all:
"There is a lot of work to do but the mentality is the right one and we have to keep it throughout the year. I have confidence in the team, I don't think there is a structural problem, it's just a matter of optimizing things. We are all confident that we can do better. Bahrain is a rather technical track where we drivers often encounter extreme conditions. That's why it's interesting to try many different configurations during free practice to be prepared for any eventuality. It is a track where I like to drive a lot. I raced here in Formula 2 and I was very satisfied right away. Last season it was a bit tougher but I was only at the beginning of my Formula 1 career. This year I can't wait to get on track at Sakhir with Ferrari: I want to bring home a good result".
The same mentality can be found in the reigning World Champion, Lewis Hamilton. Despite the excellent results, the British driver does not let his guard down and expresses his opinion not only on Ferrari, convinced that it will be stronger, but also on Red Bull, third power in the championship:
"I assume that Ferrari has worked hard to try to understand what went wrong in Australia and I expect that both here and in the next race they will be stronger, also because they have always been fast on this track. Red Bull certainly has a much better power unit, they will be even closer to us this weekend and given their reliability they will be there to fight with us".
Finally, he again modestly states his amazement at the results of the first race weekend:
"I know some people thought we were hiding, but I'm honest when I say that we came into the first race believing that we would all be much closer and not thinking that we would be in front. For the information I had, we were behind the Ferraris. But we're understanding the car better and we're moving in the right direction".
His teammate and World Championship leader acknowledges the great job done by his team and after his excellent performance he is intent on wanting to repeat it:
"It's a good feeling even if it's only the first race, but I'm already focused on this weekend. We were all positively surprised by the performance of the car but Melbourne is a particular circuit and here and in China we will have a clearer picture of everyone's performance level. It was a nice surprise the pace we had, the feeling was much better than in winter testing and this means that a very good job has been done in a very short period of time. The one in Australia was probably my best race ever. The start was the key to take the lead, then I didn't make any mistakes and I kept everything under control. When you feel you're giving your best it's a good feeling and I want to relive it".
Max Verstappen, who shared the podium with the two Mercedes drivers, is confident and happy with the potential of his car:
"Melbourne confirmed the feelings we had during winter testing in Barcelona: our car is competitive and reliable. If anything, it was the outside observers who seemed surprised by our level of performance. On the other hand, we didn't even expect to see Mercedes at that level. Here in Bahrain we will know more about the behavior of our chassis, but the package seems to have come together well".
Certainly the head-to-head between the top Formula 1 teams is a topic of great interest in the paddock, but this weekend the spotlight is elsewhere. In fact, Bahrain is also the venue for the Formula 2 championship, a category that projects new talents into the perspective of entering the queen category, and it is precisely on the Formula 2 grid that we can recognize a great surname: Schumacher. Mick Schumacher, son of one of Maranello's and Formula 1's greatest champions, newly crowned F3 champion and new member of the FDA, makes his debut in the Formula 2 championship. But this is not the only news.
In fact, the last time this surname was seen driving a Ferrari was back in 2006, in the Brazilian Grand Prix, and now, for the first time in thirteen years, the same excitement can be relived. Mick Schumacher will make his debut on a Ferrari on April 2nd 2019, right on the Sakhir circuit, and following that on Wednesday he will be busy with a session on the Alfa Romeo C38. However, this is not the first debut in Formula 1 for the young Schumacher: the German driver, in fact, had the great opportunity to drive the Benetton 1994 last August on the circuit of Spa. Being the son of a champion is certainly not easy, considering the weight that is already put on his shoulders. But Mick is not of this idea, and he is obviously honored to be able to carry on this great story: not only the one written by his father, but also that of Ferrari:
"The comparison with Dad doesn't weigh on me. It has never been a problem for me to be compared with my father, on the contrary, it's an honor if I'm compared with the best driver in the history of Formula 1. I just have to try to learn and improve. I can learn a lot from them (the FDA), they made me feel at home right away, but Ferrari has always been part of my life".
This is a big step for any driver's career and definitely not a day that will be forgotten very easily. Before his surname there is always a driver who is growing up and making his own experiences to prove he deserves to be where he is, he admits he owes a lot to his father and his mother and he is very excited about the idea of driving a Formula 1 Ferrari. Who knows maybe one day we'll be lucky enough to see this name on the grid again.
"I'm not scared of this, I'm ready and confident. My mom is happy and has always supported me, but I wouldn't be here without the inspiration given by my father. I'm the son of the best driver in Formula 1. It's part of me. I'm used to managing the attention on me, I'm my father's son and I'm happy to be. What he did made him the best ever in the history of Formula 1, I can only be very happy to have a father like that. I wouldn't be the person I am now without him. Together we laid the foundation for this adventure from our karting days. That's when I knew I wanted to do this as a job. It wasn't until two or three years ago that I saw Formula 1 up close and personal - it's better than I expected. It's helped me a lot along my journey. My Mom was overjoyed when she heard that I would be driving Ferrari, an opportunity that suddenly materialized. When I got the news I was elated. Entering Maranello for the first time gave me special emotions, you have to go there to understand. I prepared myself on the simulator and above all with physical training to withstand the heat. I started to discover Formula 1 two years ago. The cars are beautiful and fast and the dream of getting there is strong".
Nevertheless, Schumacher is undeterred and makes it clear right away that his priority is Formula 2 at the moment and that he is intent on giving his best with Prema. Before the race weekend begins, a meeting is being held on March 26th 2019, in London to define the new technical and sporting rules starting in 2021. These changes, which will come into effect when the current Concord Pact expires, must be ratified by June 30th 2019, although some teams seem to want to allow more time for the final choices. Article 18.2.2 of the Sporting Code, in fact, establishes that in the event of a substantial change in the technical design of the cars or in the balance of performance between the various single-seaters, the regulations can only come into force from the second year after June 30th. At the end of last season, the managing director of Liberty Media, Ross Brawn, said that the main problem was to prevent the larger teams from gaining an advantage from the early signing of the agreement on the new rules.
"We don't want teams with more resources to have an advantage over teams that don't have the same budget, but it's a difficult balance to strike because the longer we delay the publication of the new rules, the greater the advantage that teams with more money will have. The teams will have about a year to work on the design of the new single-seaters. Once they have created the single-seaters for 2020, they can concentrate on those for 2021".
In addition to the technical aspects, the main topics discussed at the meeting concerned the general management of the Championship and the containment of operating costs. Ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix, Pirelli is offering a choice of Hard (C1), Medium (C2) and Soft (C3) compound tyres, the three hardest planned for the season. Unlike in 2018, there are three zones in which drivers can activate the Drag Reduction System: the first zone on the pit straight, with the point for determining the gap between drivers set before turn 14; the second zone in the section between turns 3 and 4, with the detection point set before turn 1; the third zone is set between turns 10 and 11, with the point for determining the gap between drivers set before turn 9.
Following the criticism that some drivers had made in the previous Grand Prix for the poor visibility of the traffic lights at the start due to larger rear wings, the FIA decides to introduce, from this race, a new row of traffic lights positioned in the middle of the grid, as was done in 2009. Former Formula 1 driver Emanuele Pirro is appointed as assistant steward for the race. The Italian has performed this function on several occasions in the past, most recently at the 2018 Brazilian Grand Prix. The duties performed by Charlie Whiting, race director who died shortly before the Australian Grand Prix, are shared by the International Automobile Federation between Michael Masi, who had replaced Whiting entirely in the Melbourne race, who will be the race director and safety delegate, Christian Bryll, former logistics manager, who becomes the race start manager and Colin Haywood, race control systems manager, who will help Masi as deputy race director.
From this race, the Mission Winnow branding, which had been removed for the Australian Grand Prix to avoid the accusation of indirect advertising to a cigarette brand, returns on the Scuderia Ferrari cars. Thus begins the second race weekend of the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship. Friday opens with the first free practice and finally Ferrari seems to be back, or at least the performance is what was expected from the car that was seen at the winter tests. The Red Bull doesn't disappoint, setting very good times, but Ferrari steals the scene without any problem and takes first place with a very good time set by Vettel, 1'31"741, immediately followed by Leclerc, only in the first half hour. Despite Bottas' several attempts to keep the first position, the two Ferrari drivers are always able to counterattack and, with still thirty minutes to go, Leclerc sets the best time of the session placing himself first (1'30"354), followed by his teammate at only two tenths. Ferrari are also very strong in the race pace, always using soft tires, so that Vettel scores a good time of 1'35"100.
Mercedes is just behind with Bottas at a little less than a second and Hamilton, even at one second and two tenths; the two Red Bulls led by Verstappen, followed by the McLaren of Sainz with a new power unit, which replaces the one damaged during the race in Australia. A fantastic Nico Hulkenberg in eighth position, involved at the end of the session in an accident with the Italian driver of Alfa Romeo, but without causing any damage to the car. The top ten is completed by Kvyat and Raikkonen. In the afternoon the single-seaters go on track for the second practice and to conclude the first day of free practice. This Friday turns out to be a great day for Ferrari, which repeats the performance of the morning, once again placing the two cars in first and second position. The same results as in Australia are appearing, but with reversed teams, thus raising the hopes of Ferrari fans for Sunday's race.
In the first thirty minutes Bottas sets the best time of 1'30"124 on Medium tires, followed by Leclerc and Verstappen, but the time is soon taken away from him when the two Ferraris mount the Soft compounds. In fact Vettel runs fast and sets a fantastic time under 1'30"00, exactly 1'28"942, followed by Leclerc who sets a time of 1'29"083. Both Red Bulls start fast, setting good times in the first part of the session, but still lower than the Ferrari's ones. In the second part of the session, the two Ferrari drivers improve further and, despite a small mistake at the last corner, Sebastian Vettel sets the best time of the day, 1'28"846, with his teammate just 35 thousandths behind him. The Mercedes, fitted with Soft tyres, lower their times, but in any case they are only able to position themselves more than six tenths from the Ferrari. Surprisingly, behind the two Ferrari drivers and the Mercedes drivers, there is a fantastic Nico Hulkenberg, who is fifth, even surpassing the times of the Dutchman who is only sixth; to conclude the top ten we find the Haas drivers divided by Norris, and finally Kvyat.
setting excellent times: Leclerc with Soft tyres sets a time of 1'34"300, better than the one set by the Mercedes, which reveal a high degradation of the tires with these compounds; with Medium tires the Monegasque driver manages to improve further by six tenths, but this time it's the Silver Arrows who show a better performance. Friday ends with Ferrari completely dominating the other teams. Good results are also found in Haas powered by Ferrari, which places both cars in the top ten, while for Alfa Romeo the same cannot be said, as, due to some oil leaks, both cars were kept in the pits, not allowing both drivers to improve their time once back on track towards the end of the session. At the end of the session, Charles Leclerc seemed satisfied with the work done:
"It's a positive Friday: from a balancing point of view, I think we are better placed than in Australia, but it's good to keep our feet on the ground. I am sure that our rivals did not show their full potential, so tomorrow will not be an easy day. Overall I'm satisfied because we were able to do the whole day's program, even managing to do a few laps in qualifying configuration as FP3 is not representative here because of the high temperatures. In the car lap by lap I feel better, but tomorrow we have to put everything together".
While Sebastian Vettel preaches calmness:
"The car is still not the one I drove in the Barcelona tests, but today was certainly better than in Australia. For sure we have to push ahead tomorrow, in fact I'm not completely satisfied with the balance. Today was not an easy day, especially for the asphalt which was very slippery and made it difficult to fully exploit the tires. We had a different program from the others and that's why we have to improve again for tomorrow. I am convinced that there is more potential to pull out of the car ahead of qualifying".
It was a difficult day for everyone due to the high temperatures. In this regard, Lewis Hamilton comments:
"It's difficult for everyone to work on track; FP1 was incredibly hot, the track reached 50 degrees, so everyone struggled with the tires. The Ferraris were fast right from the start and got into the right rhythm straight away, so it's something completely different to what we saw in Melbourne. We had some issues with the balance of the car, but we brought some improvements for FP2. At the moment, it looks like the Ferraris are ahead, so we have to keep our heads down and keep working, analyze things in the evening and try to come back stronger tomorrow. It will be a tough fight, although I think we will be closer in qualifying".
The final free practice sessions take place on Saturday morning, while qualifying is scheduled in the afternoon, as is routine. Alfa Romeo immediately gets to work to make up for lost time, while Williams immediately has problems with the DRS on Russell's car. Ferrari goes on track at the beginning of the session with used Soft tyres, setting a first time of 1'31"617 with Vettel, while Mercedes waits halfway through the session to enter the track. Bottas, on new Soft tyres, sets the best time, 1'31"169, which is taken off shortly after by his team mate for only ninety-five thousandths. The Red Bull is the last one on the track, but Verstappen immediately proves to be very competitive and with new tires he is in first position with a time of 1'30"959. It's only twenty minutes to the end that the Ferraris are back on track, this time with new tyres, and they immediately set very good times, so that Leclerc is in first place with a 1'29"569, and Vettel is just a few thousandths behind him. The two Mercedes are well over a second away from the first position. As always, the last half hour is dedicated to the race pace simulation and Ferrari does not disappoint.
The British McLaren driver is astonishing, Lando Norris, who with an excellent time is positioned just behind the Ferraris, surpassed shortly after by Hulkenberg, once again author of good performances, and Grosjean. The Mercedes come back on track only two minutes before the end of the session with new tyres, but this is not enough to interrupt the Ferrari dominance: Bottas goes to position himself third, then overtaken by Hamilton, who remains however behind the two Ferraris by a good eight tenths. Once again, during this weekend, we find Ferrari at the top of the standings. Now all eyes are on the qualifying: will Ferrari be able to get the first pole of the season or will Mercedes steal the show? The first drivers to enter Q1 are the two Williams, followed by the rookie of Toro Rosso, Alex Albon. His is the first time to be set, while Russel is only more than one second behind him, and Kubica does not set any time as he immediately returns to the pits.
The other cars start to come out at the end of the session: Norris is the first to start his lap, and without many problems he takes the first position at the expense of Albon with a time of 1'30"406. Not bad considering that towards the end of the session Grosjean's Haas suddenly blocks his way, resulting in an investigation against the Frenchman. The British driver keeps the position also on Kvyat, who temporarily marks the second best time. This ranking doesn't last long: Bottas is first with a time of 1'29"498 and behind him we find his teammate, but it's the young Ferrari driver, Charles Leclerc, who re-establishes the order and steals the best time to the Finn with a time of 1'28"495.
Now the other drivers start setting their first times: Sainz is in front of Hamilton with a time better than two tenths, Hulkenberg takes the position of Norris, Vettel follows his teammate, Grosjean is behind Sainz, Ricciardo (who has a new chassis, as the one used in Australia was damaged at the start) sets a time better than Hulkenberg, while Kvyat drops to eleventh position preceded by Stroll, followed by Giovinazzi. Finally the Red Bulls launch for their lap and, with Magnussen taking fifth and Kubica improving his time, the first driver to drop down the rankings and enter the elimination zone is young George Russel. Perez takes Albon's position, while Kimi Raikkonen moves up to eighth, behind Hamilton. Gasly marks his first time and only reaches tenth position, unlike Verstappen who earns sixth.
At this point of the standings we find the two Ferraris occupying the first positions, with a time that allows them to finish Q1 comfortably, followed by Bottas, Sainz, Magnussen, Verstappen, Grosjean, Hamilton, Raikkonen and the two Renaults divided by Gasly, Norris, Stroll and Kvyat, while in the elimination zone there are Giovinazzi, Perez, Albon and the two Williams drivers.
Before the cars return to the pits to prepare for the final stint, Albon improves his time, bringing Ricciardo behind him and putting his teammate at risk of elimination. Three minutes before the end of Q1 Hamilton improves his time behind Vettel, and the same goes for Kvyat who moves up to ninth position putting Lando Norris at risk, who however, with a fantastic lap, takes the fourth position. Red Bull decides not to let Verstappen go out for another attempt (a strategy that in Australia was not effective for his French partner), while Gasly once again drops into the elimination zone after Giovinazzi climbs to twelfth position.
A few moments later Albon sets a good time and earns sixth place, while in the rear Stroll does not improve enough and remains at risk of elimination. Not much time passes before Hulkenberg takes away his chance to save himself by climbing to fourteenth position and putting his teammate Ricciardo on the edge of elimination. Hulkenberg's only chance of making it through Q1 is if no one below him improves, but this is not the case and, with Gasly climbing to thirteenth and Ricciardo to eleventh, the German driver finds himself incredibly out of Q2 after a weekend that has seen him consistently in the top ten. So Giovinazzi, Hulkenberg, Stroll, Russel and Kubica are excluded from Q2.
The single-seaters take to the track for Q2 ten minutes before its start. The first to set a qualifying time is Bottas, 1'28"830, followed by Magnussen, Grosjean, Raikkonen and Kvyat. Improving the Finnish driver's time is his teammate Lewis Hamilton, two tenths faster. The two McLarens set excellent times, placing themselves in fourth and fifth position with Lando Norris ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr., while Albon and Perez follow Kvyat.
At the moment Leclerc launches himself for his fast lap and, as we have been used to seeing during this weekend, he takes the first place with a time of 1'28"046, thus ending his Q2, while his teammate, due to a blockage, is only sixth behind Max Verstappen. A few seconds from the end of the session we find Ricciardo in the elimination zone, the Red Bull driver Pierre Gasly, the two Toro Rosso drivers and finally Sergio Perez. Three minutes left to improve their position and save themselves. Hamilton does not exit having set a good time, same for Bottas and Leclerc, while Vettel tries a second time.
Grosjean improves and goes up to seventh, while his teammate remains fourth, climbing then to fifth as the Ferrari driver takes second. Perez improves but still remains out of the top ten and the same circumstance involves Alex Albon, who rises from last position to twelfth, qualifying not only ahead of his teammate for a second time, but also ahead of Gasly, who still fails to reach Q3. First of the eliminated is Ricciardo with Renault, followed by Albon, Gasly, Perez and finally Kvyat, while once again we find Charles Leclerc in first position.
Q3 starts with the best time set by Lando Norris, immediately beaten by Romain Grosjean, who then moves up to third position behind Sainz and Magnussen. But a few moments later Hamilton takes the first position away from his teammate and wins the provisional pole position with a time of 1'28"190. Leclerc does not disappoint and takes the pole from the British driver, going under the wall of 1'28", equaling the track record set by Vettel the year before, with a time of 1'27"958.
Three minutes to the end of Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying, the drivers are back on track: the only ones still without a time are Vettel and Verstappen, with the former forced to make a single attempt due to a mistake made in Q2. Norris improves and moves up to sixth, then climbs to seventh behind Grosjean and Sainz. Vettel launches himself for his lap, managing to place himself only second behind his teammate, so the spectators' eyes are all on Leclerc and the two Mercedes, waiting to find out who will secure the pole position.
But Bottas does not improve, and so does Hamilton. Pole position already belongs to the young Monegasque driver, but that doesn't stop him: Charles Leclerc crosses the finish line winning his first pole position of his career and setting the new circuit record with a time of 1'27"866, thus becoming the second youngest driver to score a pole position in Formula 1, as well as the youngest Ferrari driver to have achieved this goal.
Ferrari confirms once again its dominance on this circuit, coloring the front row red. In first position will start the young pupil of Ferrari, after some fantastic performances that have accompanied him throughout the weekend:
"I feel a flood of emotions thanks to this first pole, but I'm trying to keep calm as much as possible, because the points are awarded in the race tomorrow, not on Saturday. I'm still enjoying the moment. We've had a great week so far, and a great day today, but we have to aim to have the best race possible tomorrow. I'm happy with my lap in Q3. It was a matter of putting all the pieces together, and I seem to have done that, increasing my feeling with the car lap by lap. I was disappointed after qualifying in Melbourne, but today I'm very happy. Tomorrow, before the race, we will talk with the team to set the best possible strategy that will allow us to get the best result. The start will be the key of the race; the track is dirty and it is easy to make the tires skid".
The driver also receives compliments from his teammate, who, despite some mistakes made during qualifying, admits that he would not have reached him anyway:
"Today we were able to fight, getting back to where we wanted to be. It is important to do well tomorrow in the race, but for today we can definitely be very happy, as we are in a much better position than two weeks ago. Today he talks about Ferrari and Charles, who did a great job, deserving to be on pole. He is a good boy, or rather a good man, because once you get pole in Formula 1 you become a man! It's a great result and I'm happy for him. Chapeau! Our single lap pace has been very good all weekend, and we managed to confirm it in qualifying. I'm much happier today and it's good to see that we're back on track".
Ferrari's Team Principal also says he is satisfied with the performance, particularly after the results in Australia:
"The only important thing is that they don't clash with each other. Charles and Sebastian were incredible, we are happy. We knew it would be difficult. The Mercedes are very close, but the result mattered more for us after Australia. We are happy for the way the team reacted, it's the best result. We gave a strong signal, tomorrow will be very tough and we'll see how it goes. Reliability will count but the season is still very long. Let's think about tomorrow and then about the next races".
In the second row, more than three tenths from the first position, starts the Mercedes. Despite the results obtained, Hamilton does not give up and launches a challenge to Ferrari:
"I really enjoyed these qualifying sessions and am happy with the progress made over the weekend. I want to congratulate Charles, who did a great job and deserved pole. They had a great pace since the beginning of this weekend; we tried to reduce the gap, but they made a big difference to us especially on the straight. As for the car, today it behaved well on a circuit on which, for various reasons, we have never been completely at ease. Anyway we managed to qualify well and we hope to continue tomorrow. It will be a tough race, both from a physical and a tire point of view. Last year we had a good pace, and I hope we can repeat that this year. A close battle? I love a situation like that, it's how it should always be".
Starting from the second row, alongside the Brit, his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, who comments on qualifying stating:
"Fourth position doesn't satisfy me much, but it's not a disaster either. I'm just a few hundredths behind Lewis and I think the Ferrari was faster today. I honestly think that the pole was out of reach for us. Our opponents have shown a lot of pace this weekend, but it doesn't surprise me at all. It's clear that they have fixed the problems that had plagued them in Melbourne. We improved session after session, but they stayed ahead. What counts, however, is the race. Our pace in free practice was very good, and also as tire management we were there. I think it will be a very exciting race".
On the third row are Max Verstappen and Kevin Magnussen. Once again an excellent performance by the Ferrari-powered US team, which brings both drivers into the top ten; in fact Grosjean is just behind the seventh position occupied by Carlos Sainz Jr. The Dutch Red Bull driver comments:
"We suffered a lot with the balance of the single-seater this weekend, especially when switching to softs. In qualifying I had a lot of oversteer and the car was sliding even with little power, making it difficult to understand what to do and how to approach the corners. My only attempt in Q3 was an all-or-nothing one, and I don't think I made any mistakes. Obviously I'm not happy to have qualified behind Ferrari and Mercedes but, at the same time, I can say I'm almost satisfied with 5th place, since after Q1 and Q2 it seemed that we couldn't even fight for such a position. Tomorrow promises to be an interesting race and I think we can have a solid race pace. So far this weekend, the long runs, especially with the medium tyres, have gone well".
To conclude, among the top ten qualifiers respectively Kimi Raikkonen, Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo. Despite the excellent performance by Renault once again these do not materialize and the team not only does not get one of the top ten positions, but Hulkenberg is well seventeenth. Following Albon, Gasly, Perez, Kvyat, Giovinazzi, Hulkenberg, Stroll and the two Williams once again at the bottom of the grid. Expectations for the race are high: finally Ferrari shows itself competitive and with the potential to win the race. Now we just have to wait for the engines to start.
On Sunday, March 31st 2019, the traffic lights at the Sakhir circuit go off, starting the second race of the championship. With a great start Vettel manages to overtake his teammate, while the latter in difficulty loses the position on Bottas, who has now gained two positions. Leclerc also has to defend himself from Hamilton's attacks, but manages to maintain his position despite a contact between the two in turn 8.
A turbulent start also in the back of the field, as in turn 2 a contact between Grosjean and Stroll forces the two drivers to return to the pits to repair their cars, while Hulkenberg is the author of a great start that sees him gain six positions. Because of this contact, Grosjean will be forced to retire at the beginning of the sixteenth lap. During the second lap, the Monegasque driver recovers the second position passing Bottas, author of a mistake in turn 1 that brings him to battle with his teammate, being finally overtaken in turn 6.
On lap 3 Max Verstappen is the author of a mistake in turn 10, which allows Carlos Sainz Jr. to get closer. On the next lap, with the help of the DRS, Sainz tries to overtake in turn 4, but Verstappen resists and there is a contact between the two. The Dutchman continues without damages, while the Spaniard suffers a puncture of the right front tire, and is pulled out of the group, forced to the pit stop. He will rejoin the track only twentieth.
In the meantime Leclerc's pursuit continues with several fast laps and in a short time, after disobeying the orders from his engineers asking him to keep his positions, he manages to take the lead over Sebastian Vettel during the sixth lap, at turn 1, thus starting to create a gap on his rivals; Vettel tries to regain the first position at turn 4, taking advantage of the DRS, but without success.
At the same time Magnussen loses several positions: after being overtaken by Ricciardo, who goes up to sixth position, the Danish driver is passed by Raikkonen, Hulkenberg and Perez. And finally, after a fight with the young Norris, he is overtaken also by the latter. At the ninth lap the first stops begin: the first ones to come back are Raikkonen (who switches to Medium), Gasly and Albon (who stay on Soft tires), followed at the tenth lap by Magnussen and Norris. Bottas makes his tire change on lap 12, rejoining fifth ahead of Max Verstappen who had entered a lap earlier, on Medium tires.
During the same lap also Hulkenberg stops, while Kvyat is involved in a contact with Giovinazzi, who hits the left rear wheel and sends the Russian driver into a spin. Towards the end of the twelfth lap Max Verstappen not only wins the fastest lap, but also manages to overtake Valtteri Bottas.
Now it's Charles Leclerc's turn, who is called back to the pits on lap 13 to fit Medium tyres, and then returns to the track in third place; the same strategy is applied by Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton, who tries to undercut Sebastian Vettel on Soft tires. The move is successful: also thanks to a driving error of the German, committed before the stop, Hamilton manages to pass the Ferrari driver.
In the lead of the race there is now the Australian Ricciardo, who is easily overtaken by Leclerc: his descent continues, as he has not made his stop yet and he loses position on Hamilton, Vettel, Bottas and Verstappen, shortly before overtaken by the Finnish driver. As mentioned, on lap sixteen Grosjean ends his race, forced to retire due to the damages he suffered during the contact at the beginning of the race, while a five second penalty is given to Kvyat for exceeding the speed limit in the pit lane.
On lap 21, Hülkenberg passes Kimi Räikkönen for seventh place. On the next lap Vettel, taking advantage of Hamilton's poor tire grip, passes the World Champion for second place. On lap 25 Räikkönen gives up another position, to Lando Norris, while Ricciardo returns to the pits to change tires. On lap 32 Verstappen pits for a second stop, replacing his worn tires with a Medium compound, immediately recovering positions once back on track.
On lap 34 Hamilton pitted on Medium tires, while Vettel stopped a lap later to finish third ahead of his rival. In the meantime Leclerc has managed to create a gap of a good twenty-four seconds on Valtteri Bottas, thus ensuring a safe pit stop, which sees him enter the track still in first place with a two second margin on the Finnish driver.
The following laps see the protagonists Hamilton and Vettel, who fight for the second position. The hopes for a Ferrari one-two in the desert become more and more alive. On lap 38, Vettel, after having passed Bottas, who then immediately entered the pits, was attacked again by Hamilton. The reigning World Champion, this time, manages to get the better of the German, who at the moment of overtaking, goes into a spin.
Shortly afterwards the front wing of Vettel's car gives way, forcing him to a new stop. He re-enters in ninth position. As the German leaves the pits, the two Renault drivers, Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hülkenberg, touch, with the Australian damaging the wing slightly. Vettel passes Norris and Ricciardo shortly after. The Australian also has to give way to Norris and Kimi Räikkönen.
For Sebastian a race of reconstruction now begins, trying to regain as many positions as possible. As the German leaves the pits, the two Renault drivers, Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hülkenberg, touch at Turn 1, with the Australian damaging the wing slightly. Vettel passes Norris and Ricciardo shortly after. The Australian also has to give way to Norris and Kimi Räikkönen. The fate of the race seems already sealed: this victory would mark Leclerc's first win in his Formula 1 career, and after a weekend of total domination it would be well deserved, if it were not for the fact that during the 45th lap he opens the radio channel and confesses to having an engine problem, which will then be confirmed by the telemetry and the engineers.
The young Monegasque is easily overtaken by Hamilton during the forty-eighth lap, and six laps later also by Bottas. Going slowly Leclerc risks not even getting on the lowest step of the podium, after all his efforts. In the meantime Vettel has moved up to fifth position, after passing Norris and Hülkenberg. On lap 55 the two Renault cars of Ricciardo and Hülkenberg retire almost simultaneously, and in the same place: the first one for power loss and the second one for engine failure. The race direction sends the safety car on the track which, in fact, neutralizes the race.
Leclerc concludes the race under the safety car, climbing on the podium for the first time, although not as the winner. In spite of the great misfortune and disappointment, this is the first podium in his career for the Monegasque driver, who over the weekend won the first pole of the season, the fastest lap time (1'22"41) and certainly great admiration from the fans. Crossing the finish line first, with a bit of luck, is the five-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton, followed by Valtteri Bottas. In fourth position follows Verstappen, who precedes Vettel, Norris, Raikkonen, Gasly, Albon, Perez, Giovinazzi, Kvyat, Magnussen, Stroll and the two Williams of Russell and Kubica.
Once again the Mercedes team ends the weekend with a one-two, although this time unexpected. The victory seemed destined to the young Leclerc, and there are no doubts that in the paddock people think the same way. The race winner himself says so, however congratulating his team for the great job, after consoling the Monegasque driver:
"It was a very hard race, in which I gave everything. We were very, very lucky to get this one-two, as Ferrari had overpowered us throughout the weekend. Ultimately, your goal is to fight and overtake someone because they are faster; situations like today's can seem strange and you don't believe the luck you had. I've experienced episodes like that in my career, but Charles has done a great job and has a bright future ahead of him. So far there have only been two races, the first in which we were very fast and definitely ahead, the second where Ferrari was very strong. It's hard to predict what will happen in the next weekends, but I think there will be a very hard fight between us and them. Our task is to understand what happened here and see the areas where we can improve. As we saw today, reliability is also key. Let's take the points gained here in Bahrain and look ahead to the next round, in China".
Luck was definitely on Mercedes' side once again, as ranking leader Valtteri Bottas also says:
"It was not an easy race. The car was very difficult to drive and the conditions were definitely complicated, with the wind making driving unpredictable. I made a good start, managing to get into second position; but on the next lap the wind pushed me to make a mistake in turn 1, losing my position again, then coming back to fourth after a battle with Lewis. After that it was a relatively lonely race for me, not facing anyone. The Ferraris were really strong in the race, as in the whole weekend; but luck was on our side today, and I see it almost as a compensation, after all the bad luck of last year. On the other hand, our car proved to be very reliable and in the end we managed to win. Charles had a difficult Sunday, but he did a great job all weekend and I'm sure his time will come. We leave Bahrain with a lot of points, but also with a lot of work to do for the Chinese round".
Team principal Toto Wolff is of the same mind:
"We had great luck. Today the god of racing looked down on us, we were lucky. The strategy worked well, Hamilton put pressure on Vettel but the truth is that Leclerc was the fastest today. But that's how racing is. They go very fast in the straights and that's something we have to understand. Among the drivers also in the team orders we have to be careful, because one weekend can go well for one and the next for another. For the fans it is nice to see four drivers who can win the world championship".
The Mercedes-Ferrari fight once again saw the former triumph. While in the first race weekend the Ferrari was not up to the comparison, this time it was a reliability problem that betrayed it and unfortunately a mistake made by the German driver. Mattia Binotto is aware of the great missed opportunity, but he also dwells on the improvements brought by Australia:
"Today is a missed double. These things can happen, but we have to say that we lacked reliability and we have to work on this. There are many positive things, from the performance to the reaction we had after Australia. Leclerc wanted to do well and it was obvious. I'm sorry for him, but we learn from this as well. As for Vettel, we need to talk and understand what happened to him".
Charles evidently disappointed accepts his fate, and congratulates the Mercedes pair:
"It happens, it's part of Motorsport. Unfortunately, today was not our day, but I am confident that the team has done a fantastic job to make up for the lack of pace we had in Australia. I don't know what to say, I'm extremely disappointed, as is the whole team, but it can happen over the course of a season. We made the most of the situation, we got lucky in a very unfortunate situation, with the final safety. Otherwise we would have finished even further back and we would have had problems with fuel. It's very hard to swallow, but I thank the team for the fantastic car they gave me, and I'm sure we will come back even stronger. I didn't get a good start, but we were strong throughout the race. It's a shame we only finished third, but that's part of racing. It's my first podium, but I don't look so much at the result, but at what I can improve. Third place was not what we deserved. Congratulations to Lewis and Valtteri".
Vettel is not to be outdone, disappointed with his performance, and after consoling Charles Leclerc in turn he makes a mea culpa:
"It was not the race we wanted. We started first and second and we didn't finish in the same positions. I started very well, but already halfway through the first lap I realized that the car was very difficult to drive. Charles struggled less than me, as he passed me with ease. At the pit stop we lost the second position, but we regained it soon after. The second stint with the medium tyres went better overall, although the pace was not what we should have had. In the fight with Lewis I made a mistake in turn 4, one of the most difficult on the track; I suddenly lost the car and spun. I ended up with tires so damaged that I had a lot of vibrations, which eventually led to the collapse of the front wing. Charles? Today was his race, he was really unlucky. I'm very sorry both for him and for the team".
On the other hand, in the midfield Norris and Raikkonen are the architects of a very good race, respectively in sixth and seventh position; not bad also for the Thai rookie, who closes the race in ninth place. A disaster instead for Renault, that once again does not materialize its results. The weekend in the Bahrain desert ends with Bottas still leading the drivers' standings, as well as Mercedes, while Ferrari still has to work to understand the problems that have occurred, hoping to solve everything for the Chinese Grand Prix, hoping to put an end to this series of defeats. For now, Binotto says that the engine will be sent to the factory for checks, but will still be used during the third round of the championship:
"It will take some time for analysis on the engine, we send it to the factory, we know that it is a problem limited to one element, in this case a cylinder, and that it will be easily solved. We are not going to change the way we use the power unit. So next week in China we will definitely use it on Friday to evaluate its behavior, its functionality and its performance. What is certain is that we will not change the way we use the engine. When a failure happens like in Bahrain you try to change the maps and the settings to see if there is any improvement. But in the race it wasn't like that and so we just had to manage. I think it was a brave decision to continue racing in those conditions and in the end it was the right one as we grabbed an important third place".
Before moving to China, the Circus does not immediately greet the Bahrain desert, but stops in Sakhir ahead of the two days of testing scheduled for Tuesday, April 2nd and Wednesday, April 3rd 2019. Great expectations in these tests are reserved for young Mick Schumacher, who will test on Tuesday aboard the SF90 of Vettel and Leclerc and on Wednesday on the Alfa Romeo. On the first day of testing Mick sets the second best time after completing fifty-six laps, stopping just six tenths behind Verstappen. The return of this great name on board of a Maranello car makes great stir, so much to make pass in second floor the return of Alonso on the McLaren. His mother Corinna also came out to support her son, not only to witness the first race weekend of the Formula 2 championship (in which Mick finished eighth and sixth, respectively in race 1 and race 2), but also his debut on the Ferrari. With his first day of testing concluded, Mick can't help but be excited:
"Max is much more experienced than me, so I know I did a good job. I stayed focused on my work. I felt at one with the car, I wanted to enjoy every moment, every curve. The most impressive thing? The braking: you feel like you've gone to the limit but you discover that you can go further, every lap you move further ahead and you see that you still have a margin. The single-seater is incredible, it's hard to describe the emotion of feeling the power and speed, it's crazy. Still, I felt comfortable. More joy or respect? Respect: if you don't have it, it can be dangerous. Yet, the SF90 is quite easy to drive".
During the second day, the best time goes to the latest Formula 2 champion, George Russell, a great British talent as well as a member of Mercedes' junior program. In Hamilton's car he takes the first position, beating the time set by Perez by sixty-six thousandths. While Schumacher is sixth on board the Alfa Romeo. In the meantime, both Alex Albon and Dan Ticktum, who is also a member of the Red Bull program, test aboard the Red Bull and are respectively in seventh and ninth place in the timesheets. With the conclusion of these two days, Formula 1 starts again in view of the next stage: the Chinese Grand Prix, scheduled for April 14th 2019. We expect a week of waiting before seeing the single-seaters whizzing around the Shanghai circuit again, and all we can do is wait and hope for a breakthrough.