This extraordinary 2012 season just gets more interesting. Sebastian Vettel today became the fourth different race-winner and championship leader in as many races after claiming victory over Kimi Räikkönen in the Bahrain Grand Prix. In an outstanding day for the Lotus F1 team, Romain Grosjean secured his maiden F1 podium with third place.
We all agree that the build-up to today’s race has been overshadowed by a host of controversies relating to whether the event should have even gone ahead in the first place. In all honesty, the event should not have gone ahead, and we’ve stated that point repeatedly in recent months.
However, what little we could celebrate this weekend was another excellent race this year in what is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable and closely-fought championships in many years.
Before we get on to discussing the race in more detail, let’s just look at a couple of very interesting statistics. So far:
we’ve had four different drivers and constructors win the opening four races of the season: the former last happened in 2003, while the latter last occurred in 1983;
We’ve had four different drivers lead the championship standings, which has only ever happened once previously in 2008;
Renault-engined cars claimed the top-four positions in the race, and the last time that happened was at the 1997 Luxembourg Grand Prix;
The last time two cars called ‘Lotuses’ (or is it ‘Lotii’?) were on the podium was the 1979 Spanish Grand Prix;
Romain Grosjean’s podium was the first for a French driver Jean Alesi’s third at the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix.
There was a little bit of breaking news before the race got underway, with the FIA stewards confirming that Michael Schumacher would take a five-place grid penalty after his Mercedes team opted to change his gearbox. Given the German’s disastrous qualifying result on Saturday – lining up 17th after a DRS failure in the first phase of qualifying – it was a sensible decision that perhaps yielded dividends: he would claim the final point with a tenth-placed finish after steadily working his way up through the order over the race’s 57-lap distance.
Crowd figures were again appalling, with the front straight’s main grandstand seemingly the only one to be occupied by spectators of any reasonable quantity. Despite claims from local authorities that the event had been completely sold out, one could assume that many fans
had been arrested stayed away from the track amid the current security fears, or that the officials had ‘cooked the books’ as part of the government’s continued propaganda assault over the entire weekend.
At the start, pole-sitter Vettel converted P1 into the lead at the first corner, while Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber retained their qualifying positions to slot in behind the German. A fast-starting Romain Grosjean scrambled into fourth place with a great getaway off the line, while team-mate Räikkönen gained four places from his starting position to run seventh. Felipe Massa also made a great start and ran well inside the top-ten, showing plenty of fight that we’d not seen to-date in 2012 in what was a spirited drive to his first points of the season with a ninth-placed result.
A few runners slipped backwards off the line. Jenson Button lost two places and fell to sixth, while Daniel Ricciardo (who’d qualified a career-best sixth place) had his front wing tagged and tumbled down the order before pitting for repairs. He finished a lap adrift in fifteenth place. Heikki Kovalainen was another to suffer first-lap dramas which undid his excellent qualifying effort, with the Finn’s Caterham suffering a rear puncture on the opening lap.
Up at the front, Vettel’s lead continued, while the two Lotus entries of Grosjean and Räikkönen were rapid in the opening laps. Grosjean quickly worked his way past Webber and Hamilton to claim second place. Räikkönen also worked his way up the order, taking advantage of his extra sets of fresh tyres – on account of his limited qualifying running.
The first round of pit stops saw McLaren’s weekend turn to disaster, with the team’s pit stop dramas striking yet again. This time, it was Lewis Hamilton who fell victim – not once, but twice – to a cross-threaded wheel nut, which cost him over seventeen seconds across two pit stops.
The issue saw him feed back into a chasing pack of cars that comprised a two-stopping Paul di Resta (who finished a brilliant sixth), as well as the two Ferraris and Nico Rosberg.
As we’d predicted for this weekend’s hotter conditions, the Mercedes was struggling to manage its tyres and Rosberg was completely lacking the outright pace we’d seen just a week ago in China when he’d won at a canter. Faced with faster cars behind him, the German earned himself separate call-ups to the FIA stewards after the race with wild and dangerous blocking moves on Hamilton and Alonso along the straight between Turns 3 and 4.
Rosberg lunged to the right of the circuit to defend his position against Hamilton on Lap 11, forcing Hamilton off the circuit to complete his pass. He tried the same move on Alonso later in the race – again forcing the Spaniard off the circuit – much to Alonso’s fury over the radio.
It took until over six hours after the race had been finished for the FIA Stewards to sensationally rule that Rosberg would escape sanction for either incident. The officials ruled that because Rosberg had moved in a “constant and continuous straight-line manner” in both cases, that he was not in the wrong. One hates to image what the consequences could have been had the inside track wall been positioned closer to the edge of the track.
In the end, Rosberg kept his fifth-placed position, securing the place with a late-race pass on di Resta. Alonso would finish right behind seventh, chased hard by Hamilton, who was no doubt left to rue his pit stop dramas.
Team-mate Button had a worse time of it, struggling all weekend with the handling of his McLaren and retiring late in the race with an exhaust problem.
Up at the front, Vettel was steadily being chased down by Grosjean and Räikkönen. The Finn found himself stuck behind Grosjean after their first round of pit stops, and it took some laps before he was able to find his way through, with the Lotus team management refusing the implement team orders in Räikkönen’s favour.
He eventually got by on Lap 23 and started his chase on Vettel, and he’d managed to reduce the gap to less than a second before the final round of pit stops. Given one realistic opportunity to claim the lead, Räikkönen found his path into Turn 1 blocked by a savvy Vettel, who moved to the inside line to defend his lead.
The gap between the two blew out again after the final pit stops, but Räikkönen again closed the gap down to Vettel, ultimately running out of laps to attempt another challenge for the win.
After crossing the line, a joyous Vettel parked his Red Bull at the pit exit – clearly running on fumes – and sprinted down the pit lane to celebrate with his team, in scenes reminiscent of Jenson Button’s win at Monaco in 2009.
It would be remiss not to end this review with some discussion about the Australian broadcast of the Grand Prix. While those of you overseas who may not be familiar with the developments can learn more about it at this link, I will quickly offer a few more observations having actually made the
foolish effort to give their new broadcasting schedule a go.
Firstly, it started well after its scheduled 9:30pm advertised starting time, with Network Ten unable to get its scheduling commitments working and there being no legitimate reason whatsoever to delay the broadcast. What little pre-race build-up was given to us included two commercial breaks and was hopelessly dumbed down, with the network clearly giving a directive to its producers to appeal to the more casual viewer.
The standard-definition feed was terrible. I’d forgotten how bad it was after a few wonderful years of higher-definition coverage, and the Twitter world was up in arms very quickly. We averaged an ad break every 8 laps, which was simply unacceptable.
When you factor this with the so-called ‘live’ broadcast being delayed for viewers in South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia (by up to two hours), this is a change that will not earn the network any points at all and which will ultimately cost it viewers in the long run.
We will have more to say on this in our upcoming appearance on The Qualifying Lap radio show on Monday at 2pm AEST (GMT +10) on Edge Radio Hobart, which you can stream live worldwide at www.edgeradio.org.au – we’ll also upload the podcast as soon as it becomes available!
2012 Bahrain Formula 1 Grand Prix – Final Classification (57 laps):
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||57||1:35:10.990|
|2.||Kimi Räikkönen||Lotus F1 Renault E20||57||+ 3.333|
|3.||Romain Grosjean||Lotus F1 Renault E20||57||+ 10.194|
|4.||Mark Webber||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||57||+ 38.788|
|5.||Nico Rosberg||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||57||+ 55.460|
|6.||Paul di Resta||Force India Mercedes VJM05||57||+ 57.543|
|7.||Fernando Alonso||Scuderia Ferrari F2012||57||+ 57.803|
|8.||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||57||+ 58.984|
|9.||Felipe Massa||Scuderia Ferrari F2012||57||+ 1:04.999|
|10.||Michael Schumacher||Mercedes AMG F1 W03||57||+ 1:11.490|
|11.||Sergio Pérez||Sauber Ferrari C31||57||+ 1:12.702|
|12.||Nico Hülkenberg||Force India Mercedes VJM05||57||+ 1:16.539|
|13.||Kamui Kobayashi||Sauber Ferrari C31||57||+ 1:30.334|
|14.||Jean-Éric Vergne||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7||57||+ 1:33.723|
|15.||Daniel Ricciardo||Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari STR7||56||1 lap behind|
|16.||Vitaly Petrov||Caterham Renault CT01||56||1 lap behind|
|17.||Heikki Kovalainen||Caterham Renault CT01||56||1 lap behind|
|18.||Jenson Button||McLaren Mercedes MP4-27||55||Exhaust|
|19.||Timo Glock||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01||55||2 laps behind|
|20.||Pedro de la Rosa||HRTF1 Cosworth F112||55||2 laps behind|
|21.||Narain Karthikeyan||HRTF1 Cosworth F112||55||2 laps behind|
|22.||Bruno Senna||Williams Renault FW34||54||Brakes|
|DNF.||Pastor Maldonado||Williams Renault FW34||25||Puncture|
|DNF.||Charles Pic||Marussia Racing Cosworth MR01||24||Engine|
|Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull Racing Renault RB8||41||1:36.379|