The podium of the 2013 Bahrain Grand Prix was an exact copy of the previous year’s one; and as much action there might have been on the track in the formation of that podium, and as much uncertainty there might have been preceding the race itself, the winner did not surprise anyone. Vettel has done it again.
The weekend in Bahrain can serve as a proof that you can’t trust what drivers say. Firstly, Hamilton was saying that Mercedes had to step up their game after unimpressive times in practice sessions; his team-mate Rosberg then went on to claim the pole on Saturday, with Hamilton lapping the fourth fastest time, disadvantaged for the race, however, by a gearbox-change penalty that sent him to ninth place on the starting grid. Then, Kimi Raikkonen made it clear he was not disillusioned by his driver potential, claiming that his Lotus was well far off the pace of the front-runners. His words seemed to ring more true when after qualifying him and his team-mate, Romain Grosjean, were left to start the race virtually from the middle of the grid, ninth and 11th respectively. And yet, Iceman’s consistency and the Frenchman’s natural fighting instinct prevailed and they repeated their last year’s performance that finally made the 2012 pundits consider Lotus as a title contender.
And of course, there was Vettel, who had conceded Rosberg’s qualifying time was “unbeatable” and out of his Red Bull reach… Well, look at how much difference a day makes: after a clean start the three-time champion only needed four laps to overtake Rosberg and leave him together with the whole lot far behind, extending his lead at some points during the race to more than half a minute. After his third relaxed pit-stop he emerged over eight seconds ahead of Raikkonen to eventually finish with a +9.25sec advantage.
“I surely did not expect that,” the German was surprised by the ease with which he claimed his second win of the season – after which he added: “I think we could have had a strong race even if I had not been in the lead immediately. But I preferred it that way for sure.”
There was no pay-back time for Mark Webber, as the other Red Bull started the race from seventh despite clocking the fourth fastest qualifying time, having been handed a three-place grid penalty for his contact with Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne in China a week earlier. The Aussie stuck to the front of the Sunday circus defending his fifth place from Hamilton up to the closing stages of the race – to eventually finish right where he started, in seventh.
But there were two other team-mates who were well at each other throughout the afternoon; the McLaren’s boys kept close to each other, reclaiming each other’s position – and attracting general attention. The battling looked ferocious, with a few contact situations and side-by-side corner struggle, with Button racing off the track on the dirt at one point. Although the 2009 champion hinted a hazard from his team-mate Perez on the team radio, a note of amusement sounded in his voice; so much so, that he branded the race “a lot of fun”, despite a disappointing 10th place finish – and despite slamming down Perez for being too aggressive. In the meantime, “Checo” experienced his McLaren breakthrough:
“That was an incredible race – really enjoyable… I guess I was a little aggressive on track today; banging wheels with Jenson was perhaps a little too risky, a little too hard, but the team never came on the radio to tell us to stop racing.” All in all, it did look like the Mexican had better pace over the course of the afternoon – which probably contributed to his sixth place finish. And that’s the guy who expressed concerns over his car during the Bahrain practice sessions.
As McLaren is finally seing a light in the tunnel, so is Force India who have already proved to be the team to watch in 2013. It must have been a bitter disappointment to lose a very realistic chance of a maiden podium for Paul di Resta, who clung to third before giving in to Grosjean for the last six laps of the race – not to mention that this would have been the team’s second ever podium after Giancarlo Fisichella’s second-place finish in Spa 2009. On the other hand, it surely is a positive result, confirming the potential for greatness of the Silverstone outfit. “We will get on the podium one day, hopefully soon, but for now we can be very happy with the points we’ve scored today,” announced di Resta after the race.
Among all these old and new signs of greatness, Fernando Alonso was the one who didn’t deliver, although not of fault of his own. “The data seen from Friday’s long runs means we can be optimistic about a race,” he had claimed all upbeat after securing a third-place start in qualifying. Eventually he finished the race in eight – an achievement in its own right, considering his five pit-stops – two more than the average – and an early rear-wing failure, which meant he had no use of DRS at any point that afternoon.
“We were very, unlucky,” the Ferrari driver told AUTOSPORT, ” But it will come for the others and in that moment we will take our opportunity.”
Wonder what Hamilton would say to that, considering the loss of front-grid position in Bahrain due to a gearbox failure caused by sharp debris on track during final practice…
The 2013 Bahrain Grand Prix was a pure display of Red Bull domination with the lead player of the last three seasons once again taking the centre stage of the F1 circus. Last year’s win on the Sakhir circuit was Vettel’s one-off breakthrough in the draught of wins of the first half of the season – we will have to wait a few weeks to find out whether the European stage of the season this year will be the German’s opportunity to make amends for that oversight.