2017 Bahrain Grand Prix – How is the season shaping up?

Ferrari are First.

Sebastian Vettel scores another big win in Bahrain. He has spent the last three years facing the constant question of whether he is a worthy 4-time World Champion. He is finally beginning to provide the kind of evidence we have been looking for.

The way the race unfolded in Bahrain confirmed the importance of the safety car in China. Ferrari went with the exact same tactics – pitting early and putting all the pressure on Mercedes. Vettel has been first to pit in each of the first 3 races, I believe he would have won all 3 had it not been for the safety car in China. It shows the confidence in this Ferrari team that they feel ready to take the initiative in races. Vettel was happy to sit behind Bottas during the opening laps and wait for the right time to pit. He knew he had the pace to gain the advantage once the first round of stops was completed.

Image: Morio CC BY-SA 3.0

Mercedes are Second.

Bottas was unfortunate. He deserved his pole position, but didn’t shine in the race as I’d hoped he would. The Finn did manage to hold the lead and keep Vettel behind him, but his ultimate race pace was disappointing. He clearly struggled with grip, the problems with his car in the later stages were unfortunate. Hamilton passed him twice on track though, that is not a good sign.

Hamilton showed strong pace towards the end of the race, but I don’t think his 1.5 second per lap advantage over Vettel was genuine. Seb was comfortable. At this point, there is no doubt that, in Vettel’s hands at least, the Ferrari is better than the Mercedes.

The spotlight is where it should be.

Formula 1 in 2017 is definitely providing entertainment. For the first time in so long, the most exciting and intriguing story is the battle at the front. The Hamilton-Rosberg rivalry was good to watch and full of drama, but it was incredibly one-dimensional. This season has proven to be far more enjoyable to watch. Having drivers from different teams challenging each other delivers so many more possibilities and eventualities. And so far, Ferrari’s attitude to race strategy has been sublime.

There are stories further down the order. Red Bull continue to struggle, I don’t recall seeing Ricciardo at all during the race. He spent half a lap ahead of Hamilton, and then he disappeared. A break failure for Verstappen that early in the race was also a cause for concern. At that stage of the race, I can only assume it was a problem with the ‘break-by-wire’ system, actual brake wear should not have been a problem that early on. Above all, the pace is simply not there for the 3rd placed team. It looks as though the Red Bull pair will have to wait another year for a Championship battle.

The midfield is totally open.

Force India have maintained their fantastic start to the year. Three double points finishes in a row gives them 4th in the Constructors standings. They remain ahead of a Williams team who will struggle to hold on if Lance Stroll continues to perform poorly. His team mate Felipe Massa has been in excellent form, two 6th places proving that the Brazilian still belongs at this level.

Renault are nearly there. Much, much stronger in qualifying, only to struggle on race day. A driver of Hulkenberg’s ability is helping the team, but Jolyon Palmer is doing his bit. The car is still not particularly quick, but getting both drivers to Q3 was a promising showing. Hulkenberg has got them on the board, now they need to work on scoring consistently with both drivers.

The attrition rate has been pretty high so far this season. Force India’s perfect record so far is proving to be a huge advantage for them as the majority of teams around them are having to work with only one car. Only Ferrari, Mercedes and Force India have 100% completion records at this point. If this kind of pattern continues, finishing as many races will become extremely important by the end of the season.

Will Fernando set a precedent?

The announcement that Fernando Alonso will compete in the Indy 500 came as a shock, but not a surprise. McLaren have been embarrassing, more so this year than either of the last two – perhaps they should have kept quiet like Ferrari, rather than predicting race wins. I don’t think anyone can blame Alonso for wanting to get himself out of that car at any possible opportunity. It wouldn’t surprise me if he ends up wanting to do more races over there once his experience at Indy is over.

Image: Morio CC BY-SA 3.0

The real story here though, is just how bad McLaren have been. Three retirements for Alonso, 1 DNF and 1 DNS for Vandoorne. The one finish the team have managed was a distant last place, 2 laps behind the leaders. I feel so sorry for Vandoorne. He has done everything he needed to do to make it to Formula 1, and now he is here, he finds himself sat in a car that barely deserves to be on the grid. They have filled the space that Manor left behind when they ran out of money, that says it all. If the situation at McLaren was different, Fernando would not be racing at Indy.

I don’t think we are about to see a queue of drivers following Alonso across the Atlantic. Formula 1 is the pinnacle, and no free-thinking driver would consider giving up their seat and allowing someone else a chance to sit in it. The difference for Alonso is that he can only gain from this situation.

Ready for Russia

The teams are busy testing for the next couple of days. Let’s see if anyone can make some progress before the next round in Sochi. Can Hamilton hit back at Vettel for the second time? Can Bottas and Raikkonen introduce themselves to the battle at the front? Will McLaren finish? I’m excited to find out.

(Morio CC BY-SA 3.0)

(Morio CC BY-SA 3.0)

Simon Ostler

I am currently training to become a Journalist. I write best when my subject is something I enjoy. I have spent time working with CAR Magazine and Parkers.

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