After a solid start to the year, our F1 scribe will be looking for a big payday at this Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.So from the skyscraper-laden skyline of Shanghai, we travel to the desert oasis of Bahrain for the next instalment of the 2017 F1 season. This is one of the more controversial races on the calendar, with anti-government protests and threats of petrol bombings seeing the 2011 edition called off. Things have calmed down slightly in the in the tiny Middle Eastern kingdom in recent times, so the drivers should feel a lot more comfortable here than they did in 2012 and 2013.
Bahrain Grand Prix | Sunday 16 April | Bahrain International Circuit | 15:30
While Australia delivered a decent enough spectacle, last week’s Chinese Grand Prix usurped it by miles with crashes, wheel-to-wheel racing – Daniel Ricciardo the phrase a bit too literally last time out – and our second different race winner of the year.
It was an action-packed Grand Prix from the moment the lights went out with a sprinkling of pre-race rain making the traditionally tricky course even harder to navigate.
It didn’t take much time for the Shanghai International Circuit to claim its first victim with Lance Stroll being forced to retire after he and Sergio Perez collided during the second lap. The crash would lead to the virtual safety car being deployed and a whole host of cars opting to pit in order to change to the dry tyres in a bid to undercut their opponents.
What seemed an intelligent move at the time, would ultimately backfire, however, with the early pitters, including Sebastian Vettel, suffering when Sauber new boy, Antonio Giovinazzi, lost control of his car on the final corner (lap 4) which forced the redeployment of the safety car and allowed the frontrunners to pit and change to a set of the dry compound tyres.
While Vettel managed to close the gap between himself and Hamilton near the back end of the race, the Brit had pretty much secured victory after that fateful incident on lap 4. Hamilton’s win and Vettel’s second place finish sees them level on points as we head to Bahrain.
The most impressive drive in China came from the final podium occupant, with young Max Verstappen bringing his car across the line in third despite occupying 16th-place on the grid. The display underlined Max’s credentials as one of the better wet weather drivers on the circuit.
It was actually a decent weekend for Red Bull as Daniel Ricciardo managed to claim fourth place. The Aussie also provided one of the moments of the fledgeling season when he went wheel-to-wheel with Vettel. Asked about the incident afterwards, the smiling Aussie quipped “I was honestly a bit bored, so I just thought let’s bang some wheels and get the crowd excited’. While we all know F1 drivers are a special breed, that comment illustrates just how fearless these blokes are.
While Vettel had a solid race day, teammate Kimi Raikkonen came under heavy fire from his employers who reckon the Finn looked rather disinterested in the race despite claiming fifth place. I suspect this early season criticism could be a ploy to force the former World Champion to cut his lucrative contract with the ‘Prancing Stag’ at the close of the season.
It was also a rather unhappy occasion for fellow Finn, Valtteri Bottas, with a spin, while the safety car was on track, seeing the Finn finish seventh. He was followed across the line by the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz.
China proved to be a rather decent weekend out for Force India with Sergio Perez (9th) and Esteban Ocho (10th) claiming points
To Win Outright
Lewis Hamilton 8/10 | Sebastian Vettel 37/20 | Valterri Bottas 37/20 | Kimi Raikkonen 8/1 | Max Verstappen 33/1 | Daniel Ricciardo 40/1 | Carlos Sainz 500/1 | Felipe Massa 500/1
The Bahrain International Circuit was designed by – you guessed it – F1’s favourite engineer, Hermann Tilke. The tiny Kingdom spared no expense when it came to constructing the complex with in excess of $150 million going into the original construction contracts.
While the actual complex is home to six different circuits, the one we’ll focus our attention on is the 5.412 kilometre long Grand Prix circuit. The track throws up fifteen different turns with three challenging hairpins set to really test the field. Like China, it’s not all about the turns as there are three long straights where drivers are able to really open up the taps.
We will finally get our first dry race weekend of the year with the local weather bureau predicting clear skies for the entirety of the race weekend. While the field will be greeted by ideal weather conditions, it must be remembered that we are in the desert and that sand on the track will be an issue.
It will also be interesting to see how the larger Pirelli tyres, which have performed so admirably this term, hold up in the exceedingly high temperatures that Bahrain produces. Speaking of the tyres, Pirelli has opted to issue the medium, soft and super-soft compounds a’ la 2016.
Last year’s race was won by the recently retired Nico Rosberg who was followed across the line by the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen. The final podium position was claimed by Lewis Hamilton while Sebastian Vettel failed to get to the starting line due to an engine issue.
Podium Finish: Max Verstappen – Yes 2/1
The Red Bull young gun managed to claim a podium finish in China and I’m backing him to claim another one this weekend. Max gave a decent account of himself out in Bahrain last season, finishing sixth in an underpowered Toro Rosso. He has a much quicker car this time around, and at 2/1 he’s certainly worth a punt.
Fastest Qualifier & To Win Outright: Lewis Hamilton 13/20 & 8/10
It would be foolhardy to bet against Hamilton at a track where he’s tasted success on numerous occasions. The Brit claimed pole at the track in 2015 and 2016 and has already secured back-to-back poles this term. He also claimed victory at the track in 2014 and 2015. My money is on Hamilton dominating the race weekend.