Red Bull Racing hoped for some extra luck entering Bahrain after coming off the back of a hit-and-miss weekend for their drivers in Melbourne with penalties and set-up problems.

The Bahrain International Circuit hasn’t been too rewarding for the Milton Keynes team over the years. Their last podium was back in 2013 before the hybrid era and it’s a predominately power sensitive circuit. Given the known power deficit of its TAG Heuer badged Renault engines, the team would need to push the limits in order to gain a good handful of points and get back in the championship fight. Unfortunately their ambitions would not be realised.


Friday

FREE PRACTICE SESSION 1 FREE PRACTICE SESSION 2
Pos. Driver Time Laps Pos. Driver Time Laps
1. Daniel Ricciardo 1:31.060 14 5. Max Verstappen 1:30.745 32
20. Max Verstappen no time 2 6. Daniel Ricciardo 1:30.751 31
Daniel Ricciardo, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14 - 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix

Daniel Ricciardo started the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend strongly as the quickest driver in FP1, however the team’s weekend would steadily go downhill from there… (Aston Martin Red Bull Racing)

The opening afternoon session was odd for the Red Bull team. Max Verstappen was first out for the weekend, but after two laps his car stopped with an electrical issue just shy of the pit entry. The Dutchman, with the help of marshals, boldly decided to push the car back to base down the front straight in the searing hot desert conditions – a tough effort in four layers of Nomex fireproof clothing and overalls! Time would beat the mechanics as he failed to set a time in the first 90 minutes. Meanwhile on the other side of the garage, Daniel Ricciardo would post fourteen laps in the opening session to top the timesheets with a superb time of 1:31.060.

Come nightfall, the plan was obvious at Red Bull with both drivers completing similar programmes and setting near identical times. Practice 2 was the most crucial session of the weekend as track conditions would be similar to qualifying and the race, unlike the FP1 and FP3 sessions run in the afternoon sun. The team focused on a mix of qualifying runs and varying tyre life stints. Both drivers finished within six one-thousandths of each other with Verstappen and Ricciardo finishing fifth and sixth respectively.

Speaking at the end of the day, Verstappen assured that his breakdown in FP1 was not too concerning for his weekend: “We had a small issue this morning. These things happen so it doesn’t concern me looking ahead to the rest of the weekend.

“It was not ideal to miss so much track time, it meant that I spent the beginning of the second session searching for the balance of the car which took a while. For such a short time in the car I managed to find quite a good balance and the long run pace looked pretty positive. I was also happy with how the tyre degradation looked at the end of that session.

“Come race day it will depend a lot on strategy, you can follow at this track better than others so with the right planning and a bit of luck you can get a good result. I think Practice 2 is the most important as it’s the closest conditions to the race, the others are a bit warm.”

“Overall it wasn’t a bad day,” Ricciardo added. “Obviously, this morning was pretty strong but the evening session was not as good; we made some changes that didn’t work as well as we hoped. I don’t just want to go back to the Practice One car as I think we can still make it better. We can find a happy medium on the balance and the overall feeling is not too bad.”


Saturday

FREE PRACTICE SESSION 3 QUALIFYING
Pos. Driver Time Laps Pos. Driver Time Laps
2. Max Verstappen 1:30.393 8 5. Daniel Ricciardo 1:28.398 12
3. Daniel Ricciardo 1:30.452 8 15. Max Verstappen no time 4
Max Verstappen, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14 - 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix

Verstappen was an encouraging second-fastest in FP3, but would crash out of qualifying and start from 15th. (Aston Martin Red Bull Racing)

With what the drivers said at the end of Friday, Saturday was somewhat of a save for the team. Their pace looked good in the hot conditions of the afternoon FP3 session with both drivers finding the balance with their cars and finishing in the top three.

Their Q1 runs looked great for both cars as everyone assumed both RB14s would have no trouble making it all the way to Q3. Ricciardo sailed comfortably into Q3 posting a 1:28.398 on his final lap to qualify fifth behind both Ferrari and Mercedes drivers.

Unfortunately, Verstappen’s evening would come to a bitter end by crashing his car earlier in Q1. His initial time would get him into Q2 but without being able to participate any further he was consigned to a 15th-placed starting position.

An unexpected engine power surge was to blame. Verstappen clarified after qualifying that it was hard to anticipate, let alone control while doing a hot lap: “I was very surprised at what happened in Q1 so I wanted to try and understand the cause before commenting on it.

“What we can see in the data is a sudden power increase, just like an on/off switch. It looks like roughly 150bhp was suddenly switched on during the corner which of course is not easy to anticipate, this caught me out and meant I lost the rear and spun. The damage to the car was just the front left corner so we don’t have any major concerns for tomorrow.

“I was disappointed to crash not just because it ruined qualifying but also as the car is looking very quick here so has made the job tomorrow hard.”

“That was really close,” furthered Ricciardo who would start the race from fifth position. “Part of me is disappointed that we are so close but still at the tail of the lead pack in qualifying, but I don’t think I could really have done much better. Lewis [Hamilton] was still a couple of tenths ahead of me. There was maybe a tenth left on the table, but I think the Mercedes still had some extra pace.

“It’s almost frustrating to be so close but actually it’s encouraging that the top five cars are within about four-tenths.”


Sunday

FORMULA 1 2018 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (57 LAPS)
Driver Team / Entry Laps Result
DNF. Max Verstappen Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14 3 Differential
DNF. Daniel Ricciardo Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14 1 Electrical
Max Verstappen battles Lewis Hamilton - 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix

Max Verstappen tried to overtake Lewis Hamilton at the start of Lap 2. The pair would make contact at Turn 1, with Verstappen suffering a puncture and retiring from the race shortly afterwards. (Aston Martin Red Bull Racing)

Ricciardo had a chance to secure a great result on Sunday night after being promoted to fourth on the grid due to Lewis Hamilton’s five-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox. Down in 15th, Max had work to do, but it wouldn’t be unfamiliar territory for the Dutchman who went from sixteenth to third in China and from the same grid slot to third (which became fourth after a penalty) in Austin.

As the lights went out, Ricciardo had an average start from the dirty side of the grid and was overtaken by Pierre Gasly in the Toro Rosso Honda at the first corner. He would get the place back at Turn 3 and work hard to stay put with the Ferrari and Mercedes duo. However, similar to Max’s troubles on Friday afternoon, an electrical issue would hobble the Australian, forcing him to pull off to the side of the track on Lap 2. It was his fourth DNF from the last six Grands Prix.

Verstappen’s race, likewise, wouldn’t last too long after clashing with Hamilton into the first corner on the second lap. The wheel-to-wheel contact would cause the Dutchman to have a left rear puncture and he had to limp almost a full lap back to the pits. Fortunately for him, the Virtual Safety Car would be deployed for Ricciardo’s stricken car, allowing Verstappen not to lose as much time under full green flag conditions. He would finally make it back to the pit lane only to pull over with a differential issue after the VSC ended on Lap 4.

Both drivers admitted after the race that their cars felt competitive for a good result. Verstappen justified that there were no issues gaining a tow with Daniel arguing that his tyre strategy had the potential for a strong result.

“Due to the hit with Lewis we sustained some more severe damage than just the puncture,” Verstappen said after his retirement. “We haven’t had a chance to look at the car yet, but we suspect the differential.

“From the start, I was enjoying the feel of the car and finding the gaps and it was shaping up to be an exciting race. I had a good tow on the straight, the last corner was really good so it allowed me to stay close to Lewis.

“We got a bit squeezed but from the middle to the end of the corner I was ahead, I then felt a nudge from behind and could feel the puncture and therefore knew the race was likely over.

“In my opinion, there was plenty of room for the both of us to go around that corner and to say ‘no action taken’ is a bit harsh as I am now out of the race due to that contact on my left rear. If it was the other way around I’m sure he would want it looked into.”

Daniel Ricciardo, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14 - 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix

Ricciardo reflects on a ‘brutal’ retirement.

“Coming into Turn 8 I lost all power,” added a disappointed Ricciardo. “Everything switched off without warning and I couldn’t do anything. I guess it’s an electrical engine issue, maybe battery related but I don’t know exactly yet. Obviously, everyone in the team is so disappointed as we genuinely felt like we had a good car today.

“The weekend was going pretty good for us and I really believe our race car was even better. I know I only did one lap, but I could already see Kimi sliding on the rear tyres. I really felt like we were going to be in with a good chance which makes it even more frustrating.

“Being out so early in a race is just the worst feeling; especially when it’s a night race and you are up all day waiting for those two hours and after two minutes it’s over. I get really fired up for Sundays so now I’ve got two hours of adrenaline stored up inside me and I don’t know what to do with it. This sport can rip your heart out, it’s brutal sometimes.”

“A brutally harsh race for us today,” team principal Christian Horner summarised. “Both cars retiring within two laps is extremely disappointing particularly when we had a race car today that was capable of challenging Ferrari and Mercedes. Thankfully the next race is only one week away.”

It was the first double-DNF for the team since the Korean Grand Prix in 2010, before the current turbo-hybrid era and before the team had even won any of its four World Championship titles with Sebastian Vettel. The race was also significant as it was arguably the race where Mark Webber lost his World Championship hopes with his crash.

The team will forget this race with a quick move onto Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix this weekend. How badly will this damage the team’s fight in the Constructors’ Championship? We don’t know yet. It’s rare to see a strong team, especially one from the ‘big three’ this season have a weekend without scoring any championship points. The last time this occurred was in Singapore last year with Ferrari, and given what happened then, they lost the Constructors’ Championship to Mercedes with six races to go. It’s only race two of twenty-one; McLaren is third in the championship ahead of Red Bull with Fernando Alonso in fourth overall. We have an exciting battle ahead.

Images via Aston Martin Red Bull Racing

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Luke McCullough

Journalist at MotorsportM8
Melbourne based and Australian Grand Prix enthusiast with over 10+ years of attendance.

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