In the locked-down, sterile heat of Bahrain and watched in the stands by apparently absolutely no one, Formula 1 came alive this weekend. Sebastian Vettel might have sailed away to a largely un-televised second win of 2013, but behind him it all properly kicked off, didn’t it? There will be some interesting interviews after this one.
It was never fair to lay the blame at Pirelli’s door for races like last week’s (they are just following the orders handed down from obergruppenführer Ecclestone) and massive credit to them for dropping the soft option from this weekend’s menu. Can you imagine how that capricious compound would have dealt with track temps of 38C? The mediums were exploding as it was.
Mind you, it was exploding everywhere today, from an astonishing first three or four laps where Vettel took absolutely no prisoners to ensure Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes (which every one knew would head backwards down the grid from the moment the lights went out) was between him and Fernando Alonso as the cars headed into the DRS window. As things turned out, he need not have taken so many risks (but thanks anyhow Seb, we enjoyed that). Alonso’s DRS popped open for good necessitating extra trips to the pits and an absence of what he needed to make up the position. Eighth at the flag for the Ferarri was astonishing really, but the gap to champion from his most likely rival already looks ominous.
So with no Alonso to challenge, the Lotuses of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean filled the podium, just as they did last year. Raikkonen on a two-stop strategy had a mostly uneventful race save one small incident with Sergio Perez’ McLaren; Grosjean on a three-stopper however was battling all the way. Really battling. Really all the way. And you know what, whether he was at the centre of his own battle or caught in someone else’s, he kept out of trouble.
Indeed if there was a theme to today’s race it was of wayward reputations redeemed, no? Until this afternoon, Grosjean hasn’t looked the fast-but-edgy racer he was last year. It seemed like he’d spend too long this winter convincing himself to take it steady, too steady. But not today. The boy is quality.
His third place came at the expense of Paul di Resta whose star really had appeared to be fading. DIR ended last year in the shadow of one German, Nico Hulkenberg and started this year in the shadow of another, new team mate Adrian Sutil. But di Resta has just been on the telly here and he looked more smiley that he’s ever done, so clearly he’s not taken the failure of his two-stop strategy too badly. Fourth place equals his best finish and he did lead the race. So it’s good he’s looking to the positive, as he can be a rather dour young man.
Finally Sergio Perez. This time last year and indeed for most of last summer he was the man-of-the-moment, so the Mexican’s three very ordinary drives for McLaren this year have been a bit of a disappointment. Well he was full of, er, beans this afternoon banging wheels with everyone in his way to sixth just behind Lewis Hamilton.
‘Everyone’ included Jenson Button who was heard asking the team to tell Perez to “calm down” and also something else, but we’re not sure we heard that right (what did you hear?). Button eventually dragged his McLaren home in tenth but we bet his easy charm will be challenged this evening; a poor car and a feisty, possibly faster team mate… ?
(Update! Button’s just been on the Sky with words for Perez: “Too aggressive. You don’t expect your team mate to be banging wheels with you at 300kph.”)
Mark Webber (seventh), and Nico Rosberg (ninth after starting first and making four trips to the pit) were the other top ten finishers we haven’t mentioned.
So off to Europe we go and we take with us the knowledge that while Ferrari have given Fernando Alonso a better car with which to challenge Sebastian Vettel, it seems Red Bull have given Vettel a better one still with which to defend his title. And don’t forget, with those big rule changes coming up on 2014, we’re expecting less development from now on than we saw last year.