F1 – Bahrain GP – Race
Marhabaan, MiniFans! The first race of the season is upon us and it seemingly isn’t starting the way the 2021 season ended. We still have Verstappen in the top 2, but Mercedes has dropped back, exchanging places with Ferrari.
For the first time in a long while, the qualifying tyre rule was dropped, so everyone in the top 10 chose soft tyres, alongside the whole grid, with the sole exception of McLaren, whose drivers chose mediums. The start saw the top three managing to keep their places, while Pérez lost two places to Hamilton and Magnussen, who climbed up to fifth in his Haas in one of the cleanest starts we have seen in a long time, except for an incident between Ocon and Schumacher which ended in a five-second penalty for the Frenchman. Meanwhile, McLaren experienced the polar opposite of the American team, dropping to 17th and 20th on their yellow rimmed tyres.
Porpoising was clearly seen on many cars while Leclerc and Verstappen slowly increased their gap to Sainz and Hamilton. Magnussen started losing places, both due to a flat spot that he put on his tyre and the lack of race simulations he’s been able to run in his very short preseason. Cars seemed to be able to follow each other closely, but it still wasn’t clear whether overtaking has become easier.
With the renewed Race Direction, decisions seemed to come out faster, in part thanks to the increased assistance that it will get from this season onwards. Pérez eventually made his way back in front of the Mercedes cars, but Verstappen had dropped a bit from behind Leclerc, complaining a bit about his car on radio.
The first stop of the season went to Hamilton who stopped for hard tyres, showing problems in the first corner with his cold tyres and telling his team he had no grip. Alonso and Schumacher were more conservative, opting for mediums. A couple laps later, Verstappen and Sainz stopped for softs, raising eyebrows at their choice. Their teammates did the same one lap later, but only Leclerc made the same tyre choice.
Just as he left the pitlane, Verstappen was on his tail, but Leclerc managed to stay in front for a lap, when Verstappen overtook him at the end of the straight. However, Leclerc didn’t back down and regained his position. The battle went on for a while, with Verstappen even blocking his tyre at one point until he settled in second, as did the rest of the field once they had boxed.
Hamilton came back into the pits barely halfway through the race to get rid of hard tyres that were seemingly not working properly for him. The direct comparison to the mediums he got didn’t escape Ferrari, who were quick to relay the information to Leclerc. It also reached the Red Bull pit wall, and Verstappen was called in to change his tyres too, after seeing how well they were starting to work for Hamilton. Leclerc followed suit, prompting an angry Verstappen on radio who soon took the fastest lap.
The first incident with a lapped car of the year went to Albon and Sainz, when the Williams almost collided into the Ferrari in turn 1. The race kept on being mostly quiet and calm, until Red Bull decided to pit Verstappen in lap 44 for softs. This prompted Ferrari to pit Sainz too, as Verstappen complained that something was stuck in his steering wheel. However, things don’t always go to plan in this sport.
Gasly’s AlphaTauri had caught on fire, making the Frenchman escape from it and Race Direction decided on a Virtual Safety Car before they deployed the real Safety Car so that Gasly’s car could be retrieved safely by the marshals. Despite the cars being mostly settled behind the Safety Car, a light informing them not to touch the car prevented the retrieval of the AlphaTauri for a while. The race was finally restarted with seven laps to go.
Leclerc managed to get away from Verstappen as his teammate tried to overtake the Red Bull without much luck, but Sainz is anything but a lazy driver, so he started preparing for a possible late attack to try and take advantage the steering and other problems reported by Verstappen. Surprising everyone, the Dutchman was forced to retire his car with only three laps to go after losing a lot of power. His teammate also complained about lack of power, but barely managed to stay in front of Hamilton, who was smelling blood and ready to try and snatch a podium that seemed unreachable on Saturday. It was one more Red Bull induced problem, with Pérez spinning in turn 1, what made Hamilton step onto third place, while Ferrari managed a 1-2 they haven’t experienced in a long time.
Yesterday’s qualifying left Leclerc on pole and Sainz in third, making many dream with a double Ferrari podium, something unthinkable until the pace shown in testing was proven this weekend. The first proper big battle for a win was between Leclerc and Verstappen, but the latter didn’t see the checkered flag, same as his teammate, due to problems in his power unit. Leclerc leaves Bahrain as the championship leader, while Sainz accompanied him in the second step of the podium, showing what Ferrari has been working towards. Hamilton somehow ended in third, despite all the problems that Mercedes has had, but Red Bull’s reliability helped him achieve a podium position. Red Bull leaves with zero points in their hands, when everyone expected at least Verstappen on the podium, but the season is long and the energy drinks team is known for not backing down.