A procession from start to finish!
This was precisely how a discerning Formula 1 fan would describe Sunday’s season opener at Bahrain. FIA may have been working towards cutting costs and improving the show, but on track, things seem to work otherwise.
Aside from an engine incident that forced Sebastian Vettel to drop to fourth, allowing the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa to charge ahead to victory, it was largely uneventful.
Much like races in Monaco or San Marino that historically run with little overtaking occuring, this race was rather decided in the Saturday qualifier.
While Vettel bagged the pole, Massa and Alonso followed him. Lewis Hamilton started fourth, while his teammate and defending champion Jenson Button was down in eighth. Michael Schumacher seemed to repeat the feat of his 1991 debut in his return race by bagging P7 again. A great coincidence, but not the same result.
The race did feature changes to the Bahrain International Circuit. With the endurance version of the track being used, the twisty second stint sent lap times touching two minutes. Concordantly, the laps were reduced down down from 57 to 49.
The other more prominent change was the returnn of Michael Schumacher in Silver (and his DVAG cap is in silver too!). Ferrari fans, however, would likely have found it too confusing to find him on grid but not in a Ferrari.
As far as constructors go, he day belonged to Ferrari, who finished with double the points of second place McLaren. Red Bull was technically unlucky; it was Mark Webber’s oil smoke that caused panic in the first corner followed by Vettel’s faulty spark-plug that ruined his possible win. Button and Nico Rosberg drove well but lacked the pace to do better.
Indian fans had a bittersweet day on Sunday. While Indian racer Karun Chandhok started last and retired only after a lap, Force India had better luck. Vitantonio Luzzi braved a wing-adjustment failure and still came home ninth for two points. Sutil had a better grid position but lost out in a second corner contact with Kubica’s Renault. Still, his 1:59:393 on the last lap was the second best overall, demonstrating Force India ’s strength.
Apart from the hard racing, the events that captured the limelight at Bahrain were the 60th year celebrations (yes the series began six decades ago at Silverstone).
Yesteryear champions like Sir Jackie Stewart, Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nigel Mansell, Jody Scheckter, Damon Hill and Mika Hakkinen all drove around the track. Adding to Bahraini glamour, it was announced that there would be an F1 "Walk of Fame" soon at the circuit.
The championship is obviously wide open, but with a seven point premium for wins this year, Alonso has gained a great lead over Massa with 25:18. Hamilton follows third with 15 and Vettel has 12. Schumi has eight. Ferrari have jumpstarted their season with 43, the highest possible in a race. McLaren and Mercedes follow with 21 and 18.
Will Red Bull recover? Wait for the answers in the race down-under in two weeks time. But if things go the way it is now, expect to see slower processions of expensive cars running cautiously to preserve their fuel, tires, engines, gearboxes and what not. Well, Bernie, do you want F1 to be an endurance race or one where you race for victory?