As far as Formula 1 races go, they don’t get much better than that.
Heading into this weekend the talk across the paddock was that Mercedes’ dominance had us headed for another year of ho-hum processional races. We’d know the world champion by July, and the other teams would be left to fight over scraps. In response we got one of the best races in a very long time that saw fantastic wheel-to-wheel action up-and-down the field. So, let’s not waste any more time and get to recapping the 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix.
It’s always hard to ascertain exactly where a driver rests in the F1 pantheon. There’s so many variables that affect a driver’s success, from the quality of car (and its reliability), to team-mate dynamics, to the employment of fuel and tyre strategy, and even the quality of grid girl picked up the night before. So oftentimes what stands out on a F1 resume are those performances where you do something that is just so utterly exceptional that it’s obvious your ability is all that matters. Lewis Hamilton just had one of those performances.
That’s because absolutely no one would have faulted the Brit if, after a safety car period that ended with 10 laps to go saw him on tyres that were both marginally slower and took longer to warm up had simply been overtaken by his team-mate Nico Rosberg, who had been faster throughout the weekend and was on the faster option tyre. Instead, Hamilton clung on to first in a masterclass of defensive driving. He didn’t have the advantage of a Monaco track that made passing nigh-impossible, like Senna against Mansell in 1992, he simply had to drive on the limit of his ability, and give no quarter to any attempted pass. It cannot be understated how brilliant a drive this was. It was a heist of the highest order, and you owe it to yourself to watch it.
The Return of Sergio P
Sergio Perez’s F1 career has been an interesting ride to say the least. A graduate of the Ferrari driver academy, he had long been posited as a possible heir to the Scuderia throne, and in 2011 was given a drive at Sauber as a means to prepare him for that ascension. However, his star rocketed faster than anyone predicted when he shone in the gloom of a wet 2012 Malaysian GP that saw him take second out of nowhere. Several more impressive performances that year saw him jump ship to McLaren in the wake of Hamilton’s departure, and it appeared the Mexican was ready to contend on a regular basis for years to come. Instead, a dismal year for his new team saw his multi-year contract nullified in favour of Dane Kevin Magnussen, finding a drive at Force India, it seemed Perez was back at square one.
So for Perez to find himself back on the podium in Bahrain is both a testament to his resiliency and his skill as a driver. The talent we all saw in 2012 in still very much there, and it’s fair to suggest that ex-McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh’s decision to axe him and keep the similarly under-performing Jenson Button may have been a factor in his own ouster in January. Maybe it’s a bit of wishful thinking, but if we could just get both Force India drivers to trade up to a Ferrari in a few years time, well that would be gravy.
Kimi Räikkönen is by all accounts a simple man. Give him some good drink, hot women and a fast car and the man is happy (although a dearth of radio messages can help too). However, his team’s start to the season has been anything but simple, and you can bet he is none too pleased. The myriad changes to the 2014 regulations were supposed to help Ferrari close the gap at the top, instead, they find themselves as far away as ever in the Finn’s first season back in red.
The harsh truth is, the Ferraris looked as toothless as a geriatric hooker aboard a pirate ship. Both cars spent the majority of the race watching the Williams’s and Force India’s pass them by, as their poor straight-line speed was put on display by the Sakhir circuit. Certainly not every track will be as harsh on the F14 T as this one was, but they don’t seem headed in a direction where they can challenge for race wins regardless, and at 34, time is running out for Kimi to mount another championship challenge. It certainly seems this year is already a lost cause.
Despite New Team, Maldonado still the Old Maldonado
For as much as F1 needs its heroes – those that capture the imagination with their skill behind the wheel, it also needs if not villains, comic foils too. Enter Pastor Maldonado.
Now there’s no denying the Venezuelan has some serious skill – he’s one of eight drivers on the 2014 grid to have previously won a race – but such skill is often masked by such magnificent feats of incompetence as we were treated to on Sunday. After exiting the pits on lap 41 Maldonado decided to find out exactly how strong his new tyres were and careen straight into the wheels of Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber at turn 1, sending the Mexican for a trip through the air. Maybe Maldonado is just a Star Fox 64 fan and this was his way of sharing his passion with Gutierrez, but the more likely explanation is that he suffered another one of his patented brain-farts. Hey, as long as no one’s getting hurt, I say let the man crash! Finishing races can be so overrated.
Next up: China, in two weeks. Can anyone close the gap to Mercedes?