There were a lot of talking points from the Bahrain Grand Prix on and off the track. Lets take a look at the on track stuff first because it’s what we see when cars are moving around that should makes the headlines.
Too many people overreacted that it was “impossible to overtake” with the current cars after the first race of the season. The race last Sunday proved that it isn’t too bad and you can overtake. We saw some amazing battles throughout the midfield with not just overtakes, as well as a brilliant use of being late on the brakes, criss-crossing (undercutting) your rival in the corners and trying to get every bit of slipstream possible to make on overtake stick as we saw with Lewis Hamilton when he went 3 wide into turn 1 as he overtook 3 cars in a matter of seconds. Some really good driving and racecraft was on show at the Sakhir circuit, hence the relatively high driver ratings I gave.
That said, the Sakhir circuit is arguably the easier circuit to overtake on so if we saw very little overtaking then I would be seriously worried. It’s still hard but as Dan Marr said on Monday Motorsport “it is what it is”. The drivers will just have to deal with it and work around the dirty air. They can still overtake but F1 has been about being the “pinnacle of motorsport” and using the very highest technology and engineering that is in today’s world. China should see a lot of overtaking as well and the season should be similar to last year in terms of overtaking.
Ferrari’s Francesco Cigarini suffered a horrible double leg fracture as Ferrari suffered a horrible pitstop which resulted in a 50,000 Euro fine but more importantly, a nightmare for a member of the pit crew. The light turned green for Kimi Raikkonen which signalled him to leave the pitlane but the rear left tyre hadn’t even been changed yet. The old soft tyre was still on the car. The mechanic Francesco Cigarini was standing in front of the tyre in the correct position to help change it but as soon as Riakkonen took off, Cigarini got run over.
There were horrible images, which I wouldn’t like to see again, as you could see Cigarini’s leg break. He’s now had surgery and has remained positive saying this on social media.
“I have to thank all the people worried for me.
“Nothing else, just a big thanks. Hugs!”
I’ve always thought that the pit crew should have priority in safety over the drivers. This was a freak incident but with Haas and Ferrari both making their cars leave without a wheel, twice, is not a laughing matter. It’s highly dangerous and incidents like Cigarini’s cannot happen. Both Haas and Ferrari use the same pit equipment and the technology used is risky but can save time. Red Bull use equipment that’s not as fast but much safer so wheels will go on properly.
Personally, I think that F1 should follow Indycar’s and Formula 2’s pitstop procedures which is basically, one man or woman on one wheel. It means that the person doing the tyre change will never be in front of the tyre and incidents like last Sunday’s are much less likely to be repeated. It also adds much more pressure onto the person changing the tyre so they have more emphasis on the race. It’s a team sport after all.
People will say that this will take the thrill out of the pitstop phase but I don’t agree. Does a 2-3 second pitstop put you on the edge of your seat? Watching one person change a tyre in less than 8 seconds is just as impressive to me. For this season though, the FIA need to look closely at the Ferrari pit equipment and why that light turned green.
Kimi Raikkonen did nothing wrong and just did his job which was to go when the light turned. From a championship perspective, it’s cost him dearly and any thoughts of a number 1 and number 2 driver status may be put into place at Ferrari. With Vettel taking 2 out of 2 wins, Ferrari will surely put their eggs into his basket.
It’s a shame for Raikkonen because he’s looking much better in this Ferrari car and has arguably been better than Vettel this year. He was faster in Melbourne and traffic in qualifying in Bahrain possibly cost him a pole position. The Finn must beat Vettel this weekend to stop any team orders being put in place before we’ve even got to the European rounds.
Last Friday, Liberty Media introduced their ideas for 2021:
- cheaper, simpler, louder engines, while remaining road-relevant and hybrid, but making F1 more attractive for new entrants
- a cost cap that “maintains Formula 1 position as the pinnacle of motorsport with state-of-the-art technology” and aiming to ensure “how you spend the money must be more decisive and important than how much money you spend”
- a “more balanced” revenue distribution “based on meritocracy of the current performance” while “recognising historical franchise and value”
- “more race-able” cars “to increase overtaking opportunities” which “maintain performance differentiators like aerodynamics, suspensions and PU performance” but standardisation of “areas not relevant to fans”
It looks good but I reiterate that they’re just ideas. This is key. Even I can say that “I want this, I want that” but you have to put them into fruition. Don’t believe it until you see it when it comes to Formula One!
But from their ideas, it does look good. The calm and relatively positive reaction from all of the teams is a good sign but I’m sure their will be a lot more talk behind closed doors of what teams like Ferrari and Mercedes actually think. There’s a meeting next week to talk about things like the 2021 regulations so don’t expect any big reaction until then. Liberty have to be careful that they don’t listen to the teams too much and just do their own thing. It’s clear they want closer competition but this must be done without artificial methods which will be a mammoth task. A cost cap of 150 million is likely to go up in my opinion although Ferrari will still get a bonus of 40 million. This is what sources are saying, no confirmation. It’s only the start of a big year of talking and discussion between Liberty and the teams.
And so to the Chinese Grand Prix. It’s another very different track which is front limited (the front tyres take the most punishment) and it includes some very long corners which will cause high degradation and make it hard to follow but the 1.1KM straight along with DRS for two-thirds of the straight makes for one of the best overtaking opportunities of the year.
Interestingly, Pirelli have decided to bring the ultrasoft, soft and medium tyres to the Grand Prix. Why is this interesting? They’ve decided to skip out the supersoft tyre so there’s an extra step between the ultrasoft and soft tyre. It means that Q2 on Saturday will be fascinating (providing it’s dry) to see if the top teams can try to get through on the soft tyre rather than the ultrasoft tyre. You start the race on the same tyres you use to set your fastest lap in Q2. If they can do that, then a 1 stopper is highly likely; start on the soft finish on the mediums.
But if you start on the ultrasoft tyre then you will be forced to do a 2 stopper. You will have to pit within the first 10 laps because the ultrasoft has very high degradation. A mix of strategies like we saw last Sunday with teams going for 2 stopper and some going for 1 could make for another exciting race.
All of this is providing the weather stays dry. At the moment, it looks like a very similar forecast to last year. Friday looks to be very, very wet so the teams won’t do much (if any) dry running which means finding the setup will be harder and less data and knowledge on tyre longevity will be known; this could make for a good race. There will be rain on Saturday morning as well but it should all dry out for qualifying with Sunday being the best day in terms of the weather. Temperatures will be around the 18 degree celsius mark so it should be quite comfortable conditions for the tyres. Of course, the weather could change and the rain could come later than forecast.
Mercedes should be much stronger in Shanghai. They prefer the faster corners and the lower temperatures and should be back on form this weekend. But Ferrari could have won this race last year because they were very unlucky that the safety car came down the pitlane and the rest of the field had to follow it. The cars that hadn’t pitted yet (Ferrari had already pitted) got a free pitstop. Vettel still managed to finish 2nd with the best race pace of the day. I think it will be very close between Ferrari and Mercedes this weekend with a Hamilton/Vettel front row on the cards.
But, if Red Bull can get on top of their reliability woes then maybe they can win the race. They were very quick in China last year and that was with a much bigger deficit to were they are this year. They should be mightily quick in the middle sector but will lose around 0.3 of a second on that long back straight. My prediction is for a Red Bull win, to show that they will challenge more often than not. Again, it will be close and any small pace advantage will be negated by track position or an alternative race strategy.
With just 5 days between races, don’t expect any major upgrades. The only big difference is the track itself which will suit some cars and drivers compared to Bahrain. If Toro Rosso can perform strongly again then it could be an astonishing year for them and talks about a Red Bull-Honda partnership will start to rumble. The midfield battle will be tight again and it will come down to the slimmest of margins as to who can collect those vital points. Williams and Force India look like they’re on a downhill slope and I can see them slipping towards the rear end of the field in the race. Both of the cars are visibly lacking grip and you can tell that the drivers have very little confidence in them, as they can’t get on the power early and they tentatively break into the slow corners from a high-speed.
I hope I can talk positively again about the race but it’ll be tough to match last weekend’s super race.
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