Ferrari claimed their first 1-2 of the season at the Bahrain Grand Prix this afternoon, the race being dominated by Felipe Massa who responded to his critics by winning from second on the grid. Kimi Raikkonen completed the perfect result for Ferrari by finishing in second with pole sitter Robert Kubica getting third and his second podium in succession.
With a BMW on pole and the Ferraris and McLarens sandwiched behind, it was always going to be a great start and a recipe for collisions. And indeed it was an interesting start. Lewis Hamilton got bogged down and lost positions while Massa swept past Kubica to take the lead. From here on in it became a case of wondering if Massa could hold on to the lead without error, especially so when you consider the Brazilian’s start to the season in Australia and Malaysia.
Lap two brought some controversy with it as Hamilton, now following Fernando Alonso in the midfield ran in to the back of the Renault. Without knowing all the facts, it does appear from the footage shown that Alonso accelerated slower than normal out of the corner. Mark Blundell has suggested the Spaniard actually backed off, and it is possible for Alonso to have braked. If there was no good reason for Alonso to have done either then a penalty could be heading his way. But until we know all the facts, we can only say that the incident led to Alonso’s rear wing being slightly damaged and Hamilton was forced to pit for a new nose and front wing assembly.
By lap three Kimi Raikkonen had passed Robert Kubica and Massa had edged out a 3.6s lead. The lead of the race remained fairly static for the remainder of the afternoon and aside from fluctuating laptimes, the 1-2 was a straight-forward result for the Scuderia.
BMW couldn’t convert their pole position into victory, but I think the Swiss-German team were aware of that prior to the red lights going out. Kubica was running lighter than his main rivals and pitted on lap 17, four laps earlier than his team mate. Kubica ran a good race with all things considered, and the Pole has underlined the pace of BMW and where they are in comparison. While the squad may not be ready for a win on pace quite yet, it is clear that they are heading in the right direction and it will surely only be a matter of time before either one of their drivers is on the top step of the podium.
Nick Heidfeld spent his afternoon being in his team mate’s shadow, but the experienced German driver raced well and claimed fourth place. The eleven points earned from the drivers propel the squad into the lead of the constructors race, albeit one point ahead of Ferrari who are in turn just one point ahead of McLaren.
McLaren will be looking forward to the three week break no doubt, giving themselves time to re-group before the circus heads to Spain in late-April. Hamilton had a disastrous weekend, the clash with former team mate just being a small part of it. Later in the race Lewis was seen to be having difficulties with his MP4-23, struggling with controlling the rear of the car exiting corners. The final result for the former championship leader was thirteenth.
Heikki Kovalainen picked up the only points for McLaren in Bahrain, a fifth place finish being rewarded with four points. The Finnish driver kept his head down for most of the grand prix and came back strong towards the end. The methodical and calm approach to Kovalainen’s driving is paying off better than Hamilton’s charges. Lewis went off the track during the race while showing signs of what I can only describe as frustration at the moment.
Mark Webber and Jarno Trulli continue their run of improvement in the lower points. This is the second race in succession that both drivers have scored, Mark Webber repeating his seventh place in Malaysia in Bahrain. Trulli also drove well, but I must add that it wasn’t the performance I was expecting. The team had tested in Bahrain prior to the season start in March, and like Ferrari many thought they would run particularly well. Sixth place is certainly not bad for the team, but unfortunately Timo Glock just missed out on the points in ninth. A reasonable weekend for the Japanese team who have definitely improved over their 2007 form.
The rest of the field didn’t have particularly interesting races, the only other incident of note being Jenson Button’s retirement. The Briton had done well in qualifying, getting into Q3 and starting in ninth. However, lap 18 saw a coming together with David Coulthard. Button dived up the inside and broke perhaps a little too late. Coulthard squeezed the door but Button was already struggling to slow his Honda down. The pair collided. Coulthard was able to continue relatively unscathed, but the Jenson’s RA108 had to pit for a new nose. A few laps later the Briton pitted and vacated his car.
Bahrain saw only three retirements; Sebastian Vettel who had an incident at the start, Jenson Button and Nelson Piquet Jr who appeared to lose drive in his Renault.
While nothing has officially been mentioned yet about the Alonso/Hamilton accident, McLaren could lodge a complaint which would force the stewards to look at the data recorder from both cars. The information gained from this would make it clear to everyone exactly what, if anything, Alonso did. However, Alonso receiving a penalty will not help Hamilton in this race, and as Renault aren’t fighting for the championship or even taking points away in the races (on position), then the team may decide there is little point in pursuing this.
The race wasn’t all that exciting from my perspective, all the action coming in the first few laps. It was great to see BMW lead the race temporarily, with both drivers leading during the shake-up during the final round of stops. The three week gap will afford the teams time to sort out any problems on the cars and most are expected to be testing in Spain next week.