SHARE

If the Bahrain race was anything it was Mercedes AMG drawing a line in the sand, it was also a case study in teammate battles not just for the Mercedes Benz team at the front, but all the way through the field and possibly an indication of what we can look forward to for the rest of this already quite different F1 season.

While the complaining is still in full effect in regards to the new or rather no sound of the current Formula 1 formula, what no one can complain about at least for the third round in Bahrain is the actual racing, which is what it is supposed to be all about anyway, just in case anyone missed that memo. In last Sunday’s race there was plenty of what a true F1 fan yearns for, wheel to wheel passing. James Allen thought it was a corker:

“Bahrain under lights produced a fascinating race, not just between the Mercedes drivers, but among teammates at Williams and Force India, and between Red Bull and Ferrari’s too. There were DRS overtakes but many non-DRS overtakes too in a thrilling 57 laps,” he wrote.

I can’t remember the last time there was actual racing by so many of F1’s current constructors and as I have already said, between teammates, throughout the entire Grand Prix. Let’s break it down.

Mercedes Petronas AMG

Reliability aside there was never really a question as to which team was going to occupy the top step of the podium on Sunday. The only real question was whom from this team would be the one with the bigger smile come race end. After dominating all three practices over the weekend, Lewis Hamilton was then denied pole by the other guy in the silver arrow, Nico Rosberg, and for all intents and purposes we had a race on our hands.

When the red lights went out on Sunday, Hamilton immediately took the #1 spot off Rosberg and this is how it stayed for a large part of the race. Since they don’t have much competition from the rest of the constructors, the Mercedes W05s just had their own private race and had a good time doing it, leaving everyone else to battle it out for 3rd and lower. Since Hamilton and Rosberg were on different tire strategies, there was a thrilling showdown in the final laps enhanced by a safety car appearance.

If you have not had a chance to watch the race by now, stop reading this post and go right to your DVR. Pay close attention to the last 10 laps  because this is what racing is all about: an incredible display of true driving skill by two drivers, turn after turn, racing close and hard, but fair.

In moves that were reminiscent of Massa on Hamilton back in 2008 at, Hamilton set up the attack by Rosberg with the similar results. In the end it was Hamilton who came out on top. However, the real winners this past Sunday were the lucky fans that were watching and by extension, Formula One, which was at its best on this brightly lit desert night. Rosberg gave Hamilton a friendly tackle right after they both emerged from their cars in Parc Ferme and their after-race quotes sum it up quite well.

Hamilton:
Yeah, it was exciting. Nico drove fantastically well throughout the race; very fair and it was very, very hard to keep him behind, particularly at the end. I had built a gap, that was OK, but he was very fast on the option time so I was on the knife-edge the whole time and a real relief when I got across the line.

Rosberg:
I strongly dislike coming second to Lewis, that’s really not something I enjoy doing but on the other hand it was definitely the most exciting race I’ve ever done in my whole career. I hope we were able to give all of you fantastic racing in front of the TV. Today was a day for the sport. We put on a massive show as team Silver Arrows so I hope you had a lot of fun in front of the TV and I’ll be back next race to take the win.

This battle has only just started. I hope it continues throughout the season with each driver taking turns at a pole shootout on Saturday and well with in striking distance of each other for the win on Sunday’s.

Sahara Force India

I have been referring to this team as a midfielder for the last several years and that might need a re-evaluation. Force India showed promise in winter testing and has finally claimed a result to match. At the expense of world champions Red Bull and Williams, third place was well earned by Force India and surprise! It was not Nico Hulkenberg who was on the podium but instead Sergio Perez.

After two not-so-impressive outings, and in a race that saw both McLarens struggle for pace and retire, Perez must feel some vindication. Nothing can feel better than getting the best of the team who recently gave you marching orders.

Hulkenberg, on the other hand, who has been hogging the spotlight, driving very consistently and holding his own against the likes of Alonso and Ferrari in the first two races, must be slightly disappointed to watch the other guy in the garage claim the team’s first podium.

Will there be more to come from Force India this year? We need to wait and see. The real question for this team is what will their development program consist of throughout the season? This will determine if the results keep coming and Force India moves up the grid or if they stay with the moniker ‘midfielder’. Regardless of the team’s development rate both drivers need to drive at their absolute highest level. For Perez it is to get his reputation back as someone worthy of a top team again, for Hulkenberg it is to take that next step to a top team. This will be a good duel for the rest of the year.

Red Bull Racing

There are two and only two points I would like to make about the current world champions right now. One, I am honestly impressed at the recovery this team has made. To describe the effort as massive would be an understatement. While the pace was not in doubt and Red Bull possibly are the best of the rest, I fully expected the RB10 to not make the checkered flag these first few races considering their mile count in winter testing. They have proven me wrong.

Secondly, how can you not be impressed with Daniel Ricciardo? He is most definitely holding his own against the four-time champion Sebastian Vettel. I don’t want to stir the pot (well maybe I do just a little) but wouldn’t it be something if Ricciardo got the best of his teammate on a regular basis throughout the season? It will be interesting to see how the politics in the team will play out and how Vettel responds to being out-raced and out-qualified by the kid from down under. I already feel a post in the making, ha-ha. I will be watching this battle very closely and examining the veneer of the shinny purple and blue to see if any cracks start to form.

Martini Williams Racing

Another team displaying their winter pace was Martini Williams Racing, just three races in and they have already collected twenty more points than they did for all of last year. That is to say, last years tally was nil.

How is this for a thought? If both cars for Ferrari and Williams finish in China similar to their Bahrain results, Williams will overtake the mighty Scuderia for fifth in the constructors championship. Who could have predicted that one?

Valtteri Bottas is up on points to teammate Felipe Massa but this is due to Massa’s retirement in the season opener in Australia. In the last two races Massa has finished in front of Bottas albeit by only one position. Massa would not yield to the team order to let Bottas through back in Malaysia with got all of F1 talking in a good way i might add and even compelled his employer they did not handle the situation in the more productive way. It would appear Massa has had enough of that particular team order and what emerged is a more determined racer. A fighter. Massa has set the tone and that tone is, I’m in charge of my own destiny now, period. I like it, and Williams will be the beneficiary of the new Massa. Look for some payback from Bottas in the coming races.

Ferrari

Well I am not going to get too involved in this one as far as the team or the car is concerned. I am saving that post for after China, and oh what a doozey it will be, as I expect the F-14T to be the same sad piece of misery as it was in Bahrain. I hope I am made to eat these words and would welcome egg on my face, but history tells me no yolk for me. I will however say a little about the most anticipated teammate pairing of the year.

So far no fire works, no petulant children, no drama, no politics, no complications from the two with the goofy fire and ice label given to the pairing last summer. However, one could instead ask, where has the fire gone in Maranello because your car is as cold as ice? If Alonso and Raikkonen have any complaints, it is not with the other driver, their concern is with the red thing on four wheels that both have to suffer with.

On the other hand, if Ferrari can’t compete for the world title this year at the very least each of these world champions can race each other for the title of number one within the team. I am keeping a running tally of the two drivers and here it is: in the nine practice sessions Alonso has been on top for six of them. In the qualifying department Alonso is also up, two to one.

In truth these stats really mean nothing; points are not awarded for anything other than what happens on Sunday. I might even go so far as to say that second through tenth on Sunday is less important than the points tally at any given point of the season. But for the sake of argument, Alonso has finished each race in front of Raikkonen and removing the opening race in Australia due to the damage Kevin Magnussen caused to Raikkonen’s car, Alonso has finished fourth to Raikkonen’s twelfth in Malaysia, and in Bahrain ninth to Raikkonen’s tenth. In the all important points department the advantage is also Alonso’s with twenty-six to Raikkonen’s seven. Enough said.

This will be a season-long battle and if it seems I have already decided Alonso will have it all his way, don’t misinterpret me, I am hopeful but under no illusion. Ferrari’s inter-team rivalry could go in any direction between their two championship drivers. I do predict Alonso be ahead at year’s end, but only by a handful of points.

Toro Rosso

The last two drivers to occupy any championship points this season are both from Toro Rosso. I generally don’t get too excited about newcomers. I was not an Alonso fan when he entered the sport via Minardi ten plus years ago. The exception was Lewis Hamilton, who was Alonso’s teammate as a rookie and I was already a die-hard fan of the Spaniard by then so keeping an eye on Hamilton was inevitable. And although Kevin Magnussen shone in his debut, it is the rookie Daniil Kyvat who has caught my eye and imagination in the new crop of drivers.

This is yet another inter-team battle we should all be very interested to watch as the season progresses. Jean-Eric Vergne was passed over for the seat next to Vettel but was retained by Toro Rosso. If Vergne does only one thing this season it must be to out-drive his less experienced teammate. We have seen the true reality of being an F1 driver in the past at this team. Sebastian Buemi, Jamie Alguersuari, Sebastian Bourdais, Scott Speed, Vintantonio Liuzzi, Christian Klien, just to name a few who did not meet expectations and were shown the door.

By his own words, Franz Tost has no time for drivers that cannot produce the results that he deems reasonable despite the car’s actual competitiveness. So far in my mind Daniil has done the better job. Vergne is on notice.

Lotus

If I am not mistaken it would appear that both Lotus drivers actually finished a race, that is how bad it has become for the team from Enstone. This is yet another team that has a new driver line-up. Unfortunately we have yet to see any real competitiveness from either driver due to the late start, lack of resources the Lotus squad brings to bear and a car that will not let the drivers race properly. Therefore any real head-to-head analysis between Roman Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado is greatly lacking. I will say this about the two drivers; both have a proclivity to crash other cars out. Grosjean appears to have moved past this phase of his career, Maldonado has not.

The team has targeted Europe as the real beginning of the season for their black and gold liveried cars. This is all fine and good, but at this stage of the game it will be catch-up all season long and I doubt Lotus will ever really be in the mix for anything but the last few points-paying positions. The inter-team battle for these two drivers will have to wait until next year, sadly for us.

Sauber, Marussia, Caterham

A few words about the back of the grid. All three of these teams are suffering from reliability, as feared pre-season. Many pundits and experts pointed out a large percentage of the grid would have trouble finishing in race conditions.

I wrote a post debunking this prediction of mass car retirement and for the most part it has not happened as the experts opined. In the same post I was also careful to note there would be engine and engine related issues throughout the first leg of the season for all the teams until they collected enough data on and racing laps with the new formula.

This is exactly what we are seeing with the top teams such as Red Bull and Ferrari and Mercedes (you’ll recall Mercedes also had an engine issue in the season opener). It might be a case that in this introductory year of the V-6 turbo Sauber, Marussia and Caterham will have to spend a considerable part of the season refining their cars to suit the new PU’s and regulation changes, which means we should be prepared to see much of the same from these three teams throughout the year, occasional positive results but more likely retirements or finishing far behind the leaders.

McLaren

I would normally reserve the honor of the last entry for Lotus since they are the ones completely out of sorts but for this review I have decided to proceed in the order of the finishing results of the Bahrain Grand Prix, and thus we will now address McLaren.

With such an impressive season opening race one has to wonder what has happened over at Woking? Second and third in Australian, sixth and ninth in Malaysia and now seventh and a retirement in Bahrain. It would appear Ron Denis has some more “cracking of the whip” to do to get his ship righted.

The performance issue aside this is another team in which we have a rookie and veteran driver pairing and let’s look at the results so far. Jenson Button has taken twenty-three points from three races and young Kevin Magnussen has twenty to his credit. As far as qualifying is concerned Magnussen is up two to one and it should be noted Magnussen has the team’s best finishing position, a second in Australia after three outings.

I am predicting this season will be a turning point for Jenson Button and unfortunately I don’t mean that in a good way. I like Button, I think he is a class act, and I know he can be brilliantly fast when the conditions suit him, but the problem in F1 is rarely are the conditions properly suited to a driver, so most have to make do with what is on offer, meaning the car you get on Saturday is what you get. I think Button’s shine is starting to dull. He is a world champion and since the breakout year of his championship he has produced some stellar drives, but as of late his driving has been lackluster.

Last year I was of the opinion that Sergio Perez out-raced the world champion on many occasions. This year I expect it to be more of the same. Button fans will not like what I’m about to say, but I think Magnussen will become the number one driver at McLaren and now it is just a matter of time before Button is replaced by either another rookie or more than likely, someone like Alonso or Raikkonen who might be available if Ferrari cannot find a fix this or next year for their troubled racer.

By that time the McLaren chassis and Honda PU should be working quite well together and it could be perfect timing for either of these drivers or someone like Sebastian Vettel to have a real chance at another world title. Raikkonen would love to have another, Alonso desperately wants to enter into the elite group of three: Senna, Stewart, Prost, Lauda and Vettel has his eyes set on Schumacher’s seven.

While most everyone is fixated on the sounds of F1 or lack thereof, saving fuel, faulty sensors, and braking by the wire, or just plain old reliability, what I am more interested in is how all these drivers will handle the match-up of their more, less, or equally experienced teammate.

We are three races into a nineteen race season and I can already see the faint beginnings of a pattern, Lewis over Nico, Daniel ahead of Sebastian, Fernando ever so slowly pulling away from Kimi. The Championship aside, every driver’s reputation and career depends on finishing in front of their teammate, week in and week out.

Who will blink first? Who has what it takes at the end of the day to be called the team’s number one? Because there are no ties, and no second chances, in Formula 1.

Get ready for the rest of the season. It should be a good one.

  • Good post. I already said before the season that every one of the team battles seems to be very interesting and particularly Bahrain showed how true that was. Seldom have we seen teams across the board this evenly matched.

    Let me add a couple of thoughts:

    Mercedes:
    This duel will be very interesting to watch as it most likely will decide the world champion. I expect it to change constantly depending on track preferences and setup work. Overall, I agree with most pundits that Lewis probably has a tiny edge, but a lot can happen and Nico may well drive his perfect season while Lewis may relapse into his old self and throw it away. I certainly expect it to be close.

    Ferrari:
    So far Alonso has controlled Kimi, but I expect that to change. Kimi has had troubles finding into the team, working out the break-by-wire setup and has driven an cracked chassis in Bahrain. Once all that is ironed out, I expect Kimi to evenly match Alonso, possibly beating him more often than being beat.

    Force India:
    Perez had a genuinely good race and beat Hülkenberg fair and square. I still rate Hülkenberg more highly, but it was good of Perez to show his teammate that he is to be reckoned with.

    Williams:
    This one is also very interesting. Personally, I think Massa has generally been underrated, yet Massa himself seems to constantly overrate his own abilities. In terms of raw speed, Bottas seems to be slightly ahead but his lack of experience does show at times. Here the politics will be interesting as well. The problem is that I don’t see Massa as a particularly good mentor, something Bottas could profit from.

    McLaren:
    I agree 100% with your assessment. Magnussen is fast, Button on his way out. I expect him to drive in WEC by 2015 ;)

    Red Bull:
    Here, I think it’s too early to draw any conclusions. Ricciardo seems to be able to keep Vettel honest, but we really haven’t seen the real Vettel yet. Of the three races so far, only in Malaysia did he have a problem free car and he has done as much as could be expected with it. Though I’m really looking forward to see how this will play out. I expect Vettel to be ahead, but I also expect Ricciardo to be much closer on Vettel’s tail than Webber was for the last three seasons.

    • Brody

      Tom you feel, and as you said, ” Lewis may relapse into his old self, and throw it away.” The only year which I can see that Lewis threw away a possible championship win was 2010, because of mistakes that he had made while attempting to pass Massa at Monza, and Webber at Singapore, reulting in crashes which ended his championship run. I wonder which other years that Hamilton had a competitive car, and threw his chances away?

  • jiji the cat

    very good article, thank you.

    1. i expected an implosion at Ferrrari this year, but with a dog of a car, i think they are all focused on fixing that, and Fernimi’s ego’s probably wont get the better of them. I do expect the implosion to probably happen at Merc.

    2. re: McLarens performance. Their best result was Melbourne, a very bumpy track. Do you think it was the weather or the rear suspension they have come up with that helped them there? I wonder this, as both Bahrain and Sepang have smooth surfaces, as does China. Just wondering if the McLaren will be at its best over the bumps.

    3. With Massa i feel that he has finally got his mojo back. I think he lost it with his accident the other year, and finally found it again with Williams. He and Bottas are very evenly matched, this could also be the team were an implosion occurs.

    4. Force India had a great result, i am genuinly happy for them. I think Nico is faster, but expect a little fire from Perez.

    5. I am a little biased here as i am an aussie, and gee its great to finally have an Australian on the grid that is delivering. Ricciardo is genuinely exciting to watch. Red Bull are slowly clawing back, and i hope they dont start reining Ricciardo in.

    As for the rest, well lets wait and see.

    • 2. Guessing here, but I think Mclaren’s Melbourne relative good performance in Melbourne was more about the first race in a new Formula track composition/layout or car performance.

      Some of the teams were simply getting up and running in Melbourne, much less refining their ERS/ICE software. Mclaren’s comparatively trouble-free testing mileage allowed it more time focusing on setup.

      As the others have gotten a handle on their cars, Mclaren’s relative high-speed grip deficit and lower Vmax vs other Mercedes powered cars is becoming apparent. We’ll see what happens when they get back to Europe and the development race begins. I’m personally curious whether those funky kinked “mushroom” wishbones stay/change, as they’ve been testing w/o them.

      I agree, however, the car’s suspension looks much more supple this year; whilst not likely a major source of Mclaren’s Melbourne success, a little more jounce isn’t bad for horrible surfaces.