F1 – Bahrain GP – Race
Marhabaan, MiniFans! It’s race day for the first time in the season and, as such, it’s the first time we’ll see many of the changes in this new year. Three brand new rookies, a champion coming back to the team that gave him his glory, a Red Bull seat occupied by a driver that didn’t sprout from the academy and a myriad of seat changes means that we might get surprised by the outcome of races and the championship alike.
As it is usual, events that could impact the race happened even before the cars were on track. Pérez’s Red Bull was in need of a change of battery and CE, while Vettel, who had been called to the stewards this morning despite having been cleared last night, got handed three penalty points and a drop of five positions on the grid for ignoring yellow flags during qualifying. The first start was aborted due to Perez’s car shutting completely off and remaining on the side of the track. He managed to turn it on during the second warm up lap and lined up at the end of the pit lane, waiting for the rest of the grid to occupy their places.
The start seemed to be clean even if crowded, but the race was soon slowed down to the speed of the safety car due to Mazepin crashing out after spinning once again during his first weekend in F1. Some places were exchanged, most notably Leclerc overtaking Bottas before the safety car was deployed. The restart was quick once they reached the finish line, but the racing wouldn’t last long. Gasly touched Ricciardo’s rear tyre and his own front wing broke away, earning him a visit to boxes. Verstappen was reporting problems as Schumacher spun, but managed not to crash and went back to the race. A brief touch of Virtual Safety Car later, drivers were allowed to fight once again. Pérez was making his way up the timing tower while a thrilling battle between Norris and Leclerc took place, with the British driver coming out on top.
The first proper pitstop was Alonso’s doing, trying his hand at an undercut and prompting the first wave of them. Alpine’s plan worked out, as he managed to overtake Stroll and Ricciardo. Up front, only Hamilton pitted for hards and his bet paid off beautifully, as even without pitting, Red Bull had lost their first place. When Verstappen’s stop finally came around, Red Bull gave him another brand-new set of medium tyres and he was slowly chipping away at Hamilton’s advantage. The most fun, however, was in the pack, where Vettel, Sainz and Alonso kept overtaking each other while Pérez caught up to them and eventually overtook them.
Once Verstappen was close, Mercedes called Hamilton in for a second ser of hard tyres despite their driver’s protest, citing the danger of an undercut. Their quick stop didn’t translate into Bottas’, who had to endure a stubborn front left and a mechanic who wasn’t paying too much attention and dropped his car too early. The second retirement came by courtesy of Alonso, who was informed they had to retire the car due to problems with the rear brakes. After a previous remark on the use of the exterior of the track in turn 4 over the radio by Red Bull, Hamilton was told he couldn’t use them anymore, eliciting a complaint by the current world champion and a more than likely smirk in the Red Bull garage.
It would be after Verstappen’s last stop for new hard tyres that the race took on its last exciting moments. A prediction of ten laps until he caught up to Hamilton, whose tyres were much older than his own, situated the fight for the win in the last five laps, but Verstappen’s pace brought that battle even closer. The Dutch driver ate away at the gap slowly but steadily, weaving around lapped cars, while Ocon and Vettel collided at the end of the main straight. With four laps to go, Verstappen made his move and overtook Hamilton, but his happiness was short lived, as Hamilton was soon back in front of him and Verstappen didn’t seem as if he could regain that first place after being told to let the British driver through.
The fight was much closer than expected, but not in the way that had been predicted. The battle in the pit stops gave Hamilton an advantage mid-race, but Verstappen’s end-of-race game was stronger and benefitted from fresher tyres. However, Red Bull’s complaint about the limits in turn 4 came back to bite them, as it was the corner where Verstappen overtook Hamilton while using the exterior of the track. The first race started off just as the last season ended, with Mercedes on top and Verstappen breathing down his neck, although it does seem as if the distance is closer and the racing will be more exciting than ever.