Qualifying in Bahrain had suggested something different. Valtteri Bottas got pole position, his first ever. The Red Bulls looked closer to the mix than before too. But the Bahrain race fell into the already-familiar pattern for the fledgling 2017 F1 campaign. That of Sebastian Vettel versus Lewis Hamilton.
And for the second time in three rounds it was the insurgent Seb and Ferrari that beat the haughty Lewis and Mercedes to the race win.
Continuing The Themes
Indeed the Bahrain race pattern was so familiar that it contained many parallels of the season’s previous two races. Just like in Australia Vettel was second from the off (having been braver on the brakes into the first turn than Lewis) and looked the fastest thing out there, apparently content to sit on the gearbox of the leading Merc (this time belonging to Bottas). Just like in China’s round two Seb pitted first in an attempt to vault into the lead, which looked a masterstroke. But again just like in China the safety car then came out for an accident further back and it looked with that Merc’s day would be saved.
But this time when everyone pitted under the caution Seb was able to reclaim his lead. And in the same stroke Lewis made his day even harder. Minded of losing time queuing for pit service behind his team mate, he backed into the following Daniel Ricciardo to attempt to retain his place. In F1 everyone is in the dirty pool, but some things are fair dirty pool and others are unfair dirty pool. All would have been minded to ‘back up’ in Lewis’s situation, Lewis just took the thing too far, and wasn’t in the least subtle. His penalty of five seconds thus became inevitable.
Seb Strokes It Home
Whatever it all placed the race in Seb’s hand, and in that way of his he didn’t let it from his grasp. The whole race indeed was a strategic battle, judged on the watch rather than wheel-to-wheel, but it was no less captivating for that. Eventually we ended up with Lewis on an alternative strategy seeking to chase down Seb for the win in the final throes. He had 19 seconds to make up in 15 laps, and for a time he made a game of it. But the challenge tapered off, as these things often seem to. Seb won by six seconds, and now he and his Ferrari team lead their respective championships all alone.
And to return to the original theme, we’re in for the long haul with Seb vs. Lewis. Bahrain rather reconfirmed that their respective team mates are not on their level. Not yet anyway. Bottas finished third 14 seconds off Lewis (even with the latter’s penalty); Kimi Raikkonen finished fourth 22 seconds off Seb.
And which way Seb versus Lewis will go is anyone’s guess. The Mercedes has the advantage in qualifying. In the race it’s harder to tell, but Ferrari – in stark contrast to 2016 – may be making the sharper strategy calls. It appears to be making fewer errors too. Whatever, it’ll be worth watching. As Merc’s Niki Lauda promised afterwards on that very prospect: “yeah, yeah, don’t worry”.