Bahrain’s civil unrest has overshadowed the Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix once again this year. There were repeated rumors and concerns about the cancellation of this weekend’s race, but country’s and FIA officials kept the events moving and saw a race that appeared clear of any violence. Bahrain crown prince Salman bin Hamad refused to call off the race, but also could not guarantee the safety of the visiting F1 teams. As for the race itself – it was a never ending story of tire performance and degradation. Drivers and teams referred to it as “tire deg”. Bahrain’s high ambient and surface temperatures caused havoc and tire management was on the forefront of everybody’s mind all weekend long.
Red Bull showed its last year’s dominant form with a very strong qualifying result. Vettel grabbed his first pole of the year and Webber took a third position on the starting grid. McLaren teammates remained strong in qualifying with Hamilton and Button coming in second and forth grid positions. This week’s qualifying surprise came when poor planning on the part of Mercedes caused a bad qualifying result for Michael Schumacher. He ended up starting in twenty second spot after a five place gear-box change penalty. Ferrari and Lotus, among other teams, took a tire conserving strategy and chose not to fight for high grid positions but save the fresh tires for the race. This turned out to be a successful strategy, especially for Lotus that put both their cars on the podium.
Sunday’s Grand Prix continued a streak of exciting and unpredictable races. It was Sebastian Vettel’s turn to take the win for Red Bull this week. He had an impressive start and opened up a large two second lead after the first lap, reminiscent of world champion’s displays from the previous two years. Behind him, Lotus and Ferrari made stellar starts and were quickly moving up through the field. Lewis Hamilton was able to maintain second place for a while, but McLaren could not keep the same pace shown by Red Bull and Lotus. It then turned from bad to worse for Lewis as his left rear gave the pit crew a very hard time and his first two stops were very slow: nine and twelve seconds respectively.
Nico Rosberg came off his first ever Grand Prix win with a strong and aggressive drive. He was involved in two separate defensive maneuvers that were noted and to be investigated by the race officials after the race. Interestingly, both maneuvers happened in the same section of the track where he first forced Lewis and then Alonso off the track. As of this writing Nico is still being shown as finished in fifth place, but these incidents are being reviewed. Kimi Raikkonen passed his teammate, Romain Grosjean, around the midway point of the race and then proceeded passing until he found himself in second and chasing Vettel. Kimi was able to get close and was knocking on Vettel’s door for the lead when they went into the first corner side by side on lap 36. However, Kimi was never able to get in front and when both of them later pitted on the same lap, Vettel was able to open up a new lead and remain in front for the win. In the post race interview, Kimi was disappointed by his missed opportunity to win and took second as consolation. Same could not be said for a very happy Romain Grosjean, who finished third. This was the first podium finish of his career and first podium for a French driver since 1998.
The closing laps of the race were again full of action. This time, the hot temperatures started to take their toll on the high strung machinery. Bruno Senna retired on lap 54 with mechanical problems giving the Williams team a double DNF. Jenson Button pitted his McLaren from seventh place on that same lap. Button then saw his exhaust and differential fail on second to last lap causing him to retire. Rosberg’s team notified him about a broken exhaust via radio on lap 56. However, he was able to bring his car to the finish line. Interestingly, Rosberg then joined Vettel at pit exit when both pulled over without doing a cool down/victory lap. Did Vettel also suffer a mechanical problem or was he low on fuel? He deflected the question when asked about it in post race interview. Felipe Massa pulled over in the middle of the cool down lap, but he had to be happy with a first point paying finish of the season (he finished ninth).
The 2012 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix produced forth different winner from forth different manufacturer and forth different championship points leader in as many races. Who will win the next race in Spain on May 13? It’s really anybody’s guess, and that’s the way it should be.
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Andre Smirnov is a Software Engineer by trade and a life-long automotive enthusiast. On the weekends – you may find him at a car show, an auction, watching a race, or tinkering in the garage. When not working or spending time with the family – he often scours the internet and other media for various automotive, mechanical, and computer related information.