F1 – Bahrain GP – Race
Marhabaan, MiniFans! Saturday’s qualifying finally started to show us the real pace of the grid when it comes to fastest laps. Red Bull is still leading, Ferrari isn’t that far off and Aston Martin is seemingly announcing their candidacy to become the third team of the grid, in detriment of Mercedes. However, things can change spectacularly quick in F1 and we have been witnesses to this along the years, so let’s see how the story unfolds this time around.
The grid was plagued by used soft tyres, with just one exception of hards at the back and Leclerc’s shiny new softs. They helped him overtake Pérez for second right at the start, while Sainz maintained his fourth place after a small scuff with Pérez, who took the knives out to protect his now third position. A bit further back, Alonso couldn’t hold either Mercedes back and got overtaken, aided by a small touch from Stroll from the back.
Williams had managed a great start with both drivers, as Albon was just shy of the points and the rookie Sargeant was following Norris closely. The first stop came courtesy of Gasly in lap 10 for new hards, probably due to more degradation than expected, and was soon followd by Norris and Tsunoda, kicking off the boxes dance. Meanwhile, Alonso was closing in on Russell as the brit lost the DRS zone to Hamilton, making it harder to keep the Aston Martin behind. A few laps and a mountain of class by both drivers later, Alonso got past.
Even with his newer tyres, Leclerc got called in as Ferrari double stacked their stops, managing a great result. In a taste of the insane number of things that can go wrong in F1, Piastri was told to change the steering wheel after complaints about the gear box, and he got stuck in the pitlane as they tried to restart the car, which ended in the first DNF of the race. The biggest surprise during this first set of stops was a small mishap in Mercedes and Red Bull fitting softs on their cars, instead of the hard tyres everyone else was changing to.
In a parallel storyline, Alpine was having a bad day, as Ocon hadn’t lined up properly on the grid for the start and later served the 5-second penalty incorrectly, which earned him an extra 10-second penalty, relegating him even further back. If that wasn’t enough, he was caught speeding in the pitlane, punished with another 5 seconds.
Management of degradation soon became key in strategic thinking, as the fight between Red Bull and Ferrari, and the way Alonso was slowly but surely closing the gap to Hamilton were showing. Mercedes called Hamilton in to protect themselves from a possible Alonso undercut, which got a response from Sainz, who was trying to protect his own fourth place. Russell stopped too after Stroll did as well, but couldn’t avoid being overtaken by the Canadian, which helped Alonso to stay out a couple more laps until he also boxed, rejoining the race right behind Hamilton and with slightly fresher tyres.
Only a couple of laps were needed for the Aston Martin to find a way through in turn 10, after an earlier unsuccessful try. In a very unexpected change of events, Leclerc’s Ferrari gave up on him, forcing him to abandon and prompting a brief virtual safety car while they got the car out of the runoff area. The race was resumed quickly and Alonso, feeling the closeness to the podium, started to attack Sainz, who was having some pace problems and higher degradation than Alonso.
The last ten laps of the race became hell on earth for Sainz, the only remaining Ferrari on track, whose mentor and childhood idol had very easily gotten past him and had to fight tooth and nail to try and keep Hamilton behind during a handful of them, and eventually keeping his fourth place. At the front, Verstappen and Pérez finished their stroll by locking a new 1-2 for the team, but the attention was on Alonso, who had managed to step back on a podium once again.
A very clear cut 1-2 from Red Bull on Saturday appeared not too locked in on Sunday, as Ferrari started the race looking strong and ready to fight. However, the Italian team couldn’t keep up and seemed to be relegated to 3rd and 4th, at least until Leclerc’s car and Sainz’s tyres gave up on them, putting a red carpet down for Alonso. The Spaniard delivered a perfect race, save for getting overtaken at the start, and stole eyes away from the race winner, who barely made an appearance on screen, posing the question of whether Aston Martin will manage to become the third team of the season.