In Bahrain, the see-saw tipped back in favour of Ferrari. We had a new pole sitter and there was some action in the midfield. Let’s get to it.
The biggest pre-race story was the fact that Bottas (Mercedes) took the pole for the first time. After so much talk of him being the clear #2 driver at Mercedes, it must have been a relief for him to beat Lewis Hamilton. Lewis screwed up on his hot lap when he tried to open the DRS slot prematurely, but a win is a win and Bottas was in the number one spot, followed by Hamilton and then Vettel.
When the lights went out, everyone got out to a relatively even start. Vettel was able to squeeze past Hamilton into P2 in the first corner by virtue of the fact that Vettel was on the “clean” side of the track and able to brake later into the turn. Young Max Verstappen also impressed by jumping up several slots into P4 and was all over Hamilton’s gearbox for the opening laps.
Vettel stayed close to Bottas and then pitted first, going for the undercut. The undercut was going to work and it was looking good for Ferrari until a Safety Car came out. Immediately Bottas and Hamilton stacked up to pit together and it looked like Ferrari’s strategy would be undone by an untimely safety car for the second race in a row. Bottas and Hamilton, however, could not take advantage. For one thing, they were already close to the pit lane entrance when the SC came out, so they did not get much time on the track to catch the cars ahead. Second, the Mercedes pit crew struggled with the tyre gun and they both had slow stops.
Vettel stayed in P1 and cruised to the win. It was not without some drama, however. Bottas was asked at least once to move over to let Hamilton through, which he did. Team orders this early in the season is fairly unexpected and may be a sign that Mercedes expects Bottas to be Hamilton’s lapdog. But once Hamilton was through, he did chase down Vettel fairly well. Hamilton had to serve a 5 second penalty for holding up Ricciardo on the pit road entrance and then when Hamilton did get close, Vettel seemed to speed up, but we definitely got some drama.
Meanwhile, further back, Lance Stroll was tboned by a very aggressive Sainz and yet again failed to complete a race in his F1 career. McLaren only managed to start one of its two cars and yet again failed to cross the finish line. That’s 1 finish out of 6 tries, for those counting. Massa acquitted himself well and the midfield battle looks very tight.
Vettel leads the WDC standings over Hamilton, while Mercedes leads Ferrari in the Constructors standings thanks to a string of disappointing races from Kimi Raikkonen.