10:05PM: Evening all. It’s finally here! After what feels like years of waiting, the Bahrain Grand Prix is just an hour away. Excited? I am.
A quick recap of qualifying yesterday: Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel went fastest, with the Ferrari pair of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso behind him. McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton qualified in fourth with the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg in fifth.
In some last-minute news, Ferrari has confirmed they are replacing the engines for both Massa and Alonso as a precaution. With track temperatures expected to hit the mid-40 degrees Celsius range, one imagines the F10 is marginal on cooling here. With this being the first engine change of the season, neither driver will be penalised – penalties only come into play if two engine changes occur for the same driver, or if a ninth engine is installed for the season.
Hispania Racing has also announced that both Bruno Senna and Karun Chandhok will be starting from the pitlane.
The OneHD pre-race broadcast is on, and we have a trio of hosts with motorcycle racer Darryl Beattie and sports car driver Cameron McLean joining regular host Greg Rust. Also filing the reports from the circuits is ex-ITV commentator James Allen, who has been recruited to replace Peter Windsor.
10:15PM: Coffee in hand, here are a few of my musings about today’s race and who I think will be in the running for a shot at victory. Vettel being on pole for Red Bull looks good odds, but will his tyres last the whole race as Bahrain’s track heats up and cooks the rubber? The team is also worried about Massa and Alonso looming over Vettel’s shoulder. Both Ferraris have changed their engines but that is unlikely to count either of them out. Massa has won two of the last three races here and the Brazilian will be out to prove he can match his new team-mate as he makes his comeback to F1 racing after his life-threatening crash at Hungary last year. Alonso is also a double winner in Bahrain and with Fernando being Fernando he’ll do whatever it takes to clinch his first win since 2008. We can’t count out the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg (who felt he could have taken pole), but I think Michael Schumacher, who starts seventh, might not yet have the pace to challenge. It’s going to be fascinating.
Tyre strategy is going to be critical in deciding many races’ outcomes this season. For this round, the frontrunners are all starting on the softer of the two available tyre compounds, both of which must be used during the race. Deciding when to make the switch to the alternative tyres will depend on several factors – how long they feel the harder tyres will last in longer stint, and therefore at what point is it viable to come in for a single stop; how well the soft tyre is wearing; and what their immediate rivals are doing. With the key to pace being down to driving on the better rubber, it could be a case of ‘he who stops first may finish first’. If someone you’re racing against comes in for fresh tyres, you basically have to follow him in within a lap or you’ll risk losing the battle. Stops could happen as early as lap 12, but an early safety car could shuffle things up even more.
10:59PM: The parade lap starts.
11:03PM: The cars finally grid up. Apparently Webber has overshot his grid position. Will he be given a penalty?
START: Clean start from Vettel, who leads into Turn 1. Alonso nips past Massa. SAmoke belching from Webber’s Red Bull and we have a couple of spinners, possibly on the oil trail.
Lap 1: Vettel has clear air at the end of the lap. Alonso is up to second, Massa third with Rosberg in fourth. Sutil is second last – he must have been one of the spinners. A shame for him, as he qualified well and was the first runner on the optimum (medium compound) tyre.
Lap 2: Vettel is waltzing clear and leads by over two seconds. Webber is seventh ahead of Button, it seems the Red Bull’s problem was not too serious. Chandhok out with a damaged front end – he didn’t even manage two racing laps.
Lap 3: Big problems for Williams driver Nick Hülkenberg as he spins in the infield section and takes out an orange corner post. The German recovers his FW32 and returns to the race. In the background, Lucas Di Grassi’s Virgin grinds to a halt. Replays show Kubica and Sutil spun at the start after making contact with each other, which is why they are down the running order. What have we said about Sutil and first-lap incidents?
Lap 4: Hülkenberg comes in for a pit stop to replace his flat-spotted tyres. Vettel is 2.3 seconds clear at the front.
Lap 5: Sutil is starting to move up the field now and is 18th. Hamilton is starting to close on Rosberg for fourth place.
Lap 6: For the first time, Alonso posts a lap quicker than Vettel and closes the gap to 2.1s seconds.
Lap 7: Vettel responds to Alonso’s last lap and extends the gap to 2.8 seconds. Interviews with Chandhok indicate he caught a bump on the circuit he was unaware of (courtesy of nearly zero mileage in his car), which threw him into the Armco. The poor guy really needed some mileage in the HRT.
Lap 8: It’s still Vettel, Alonso and Massa out front in a three horse race. Rosberg is fourth, 10.5 seconds back. Defending champion Jenson Button is languishing down in eighth.
Lap 9: Massa posts the quickest lap so far, a 2:02.494 – amazing to think it’s about 8 seconds off yesterday’s qualifying pace with the fuel tanks of fuel on board today!
Lap 10: Pedro de la Rosa puts in a move on Sauber team-mate Kamui Kobayashi for 12th into the first corner. Despite showing good pace in pre-season testing, the Swiss cars have been nowhere this weekend – one suspects they were showboating in Spain to secure some last-minute sponsorship.
Lap 11: Fastest lap goes to Vettel – a 2:02.318. The gap to Alonso is 3.5 seconds.
Lap 12: Senna makes his first F1 pitstop with the HRT crew at the ready. Kubica also pits.
Lap 13: Petrov makes his first stop, but never rejoins the circuit. The mechanics are examining the suspension on the front right corner of the car…
Lap 14: Vettel is extending his lead to Alonso, and one suspects the Ferrari rear tyres are starting to go off.
Lap 15: Hamilton and Schumacher both pit. Kubica, now on fresh tyres, sets the fastest race lap with a 2:01.397. Further back, Timo Glock’s Virgin Cosworth makes a nice move on Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus.
Lap 16: Alonso pits with a quick Ferrari service and rejoins. Rosberg and Button also make their stops, but Rosberg is held in the pit box as Button entered the pit lane, which is enough to allow the German to emerge behind Hamilton when he rejoins. Kobayashi retires.
Lap 18: Timo Glock was seen cruising slowly and retires. Vettel makes his pit stop in response to Alonso’s change of tyres.
Lap 19: Hamilton passes Barrichello, with the Brazilian yet to make his first pit stop. Senna retires his HRT with a smoky engine.
Lap 20: After the frontrunners have all stopped, Vettel still leads from Alonso and Massa. Hamilton is now fourth, followed by Rosberg, Schumacher, Button and Webber.
Lap 25: Vettel is 2.8 seconds clear of Alonso. Massa is third, Hamilton fourth while Schumacher in sixth and is catching Mercedes team-mate Rosberg.
Lap 27: Vettel’s lead is now 2.2 seconds.
Lap 28: De la Rosa retires in the pit lane. Jaime Alguersuari in the Toro Rosso now sets the quickest lap with a 1:59.964!
Lap 29: Alonso lowers the fastest lap benchmark by nearly 0.1s and closes the gap to Vettel to just 1.5 seconds.
Lap 30: The gap is now 1.1 seconds between first and second. This is getting interesting…
Lap 31: Alonso can’t follow in the hot air wake behind Vettel’s Red Bull and drops his pace to give himself some fresh, cooler air.
Lap 33: Martin Brundle picks up that Vettel’s RB6 is sounding sick as it heads down the main straight; Alonso closes rapidly.
Lap 34: Alonso passes Vettel into the final corner to take the lead; Massa blasts past the stricken RB6 along the main straight. There’s speculation it’s a cracked exhaust.
Lap 37: Alonso sets the fastest time of 1:58.879. Massa is 5.7 seconds behind him with Vettel in third, although Hamilton is closing.
Lap 38: Hamilton takes Vettel at Turn One. Rosberg is fifth, Schumacher sixth – but the Mercedes GP habe some ground to make up in order to catch Vettel.
Lap 40: Hamilton is reporting vibrations at the front of his car. It could be a flat spot on a tyre…
Lap 41: Webber is right up with Button but cannot find a way through with Jenson’s McLaren seemingly miles quicker on the straight, no doubt assisted by that ‘F-vent’.
Lap 45: We’re told Jarno Trulli’s Lotus is suffering a hydraulic problem, and is running some 20 seconds off the pace. Until this point, he had been heading his team-mate Kovalainen. The Lotuses are the only rookie teams’ cars still going – and what’s more impressive is that they’ve been lapping only 3 seconds or so off the pace of the front runners. Impressive.
Lap 46: Rosberg is steadily hunting down the stricken Vettel, but he may not have enough laps left to do the job.
Lap 47: Vettel’s margin to Rosberg is just 1.3 seconds. Schumacher might be a little too far back to catch and pass his compatriot.
Lap 48: Buemi’s Toro Rosso pulls over at the side of the circuit and the Swiss driver retires. Somehow, Vettel is managing to maintain his gap to Rosberg. Alonso’s lead to Massa is over 14 seconds.
ALONSO WINS! He becomes just the third Ferrari driver (after Fangio, Mansell and Raikkonen) to win on his first appearance for the Prancing Horse. Team-mate Felipe Massa is second, McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton third. Vettel kept fourth place ahead of Rosberg, Schumacher, Button, Webber, Liuzzi and Barrichello.
[Images via GP Update]