With drones of negativity and corrupt politics pulsing its way through the F1 paddock, yesterday’s entertaining Bahrain GP was much needed. Was it a classic? Not quite, but it demonstrate how the sport still has a fundamental recipe for drama and excitement despite the off-track absurdity.
If it wasn’t for Sebastian Vettel’s first DNS (did not start) of his career, the story of the race would have been much different and one of F1’s finest races could have developed. But this blog is going to highlight the several stand-out performances that, for me, were worthy of the utmost praise.
Vandoorne’s stunning debut:
To the casual viewer, 10th place driving a McLaren in a race featuring 5 DNFs (inc.Vettel) could be looked down on as a mediocre result.
But put into context, Stoffel Vandoorne’s first Formula 1 weekend was preceded by an 11 hour, unexpected flight from a test in Japan; then later filling the shoes of the genius Fernando Alonso in a car he had never driven, all before going on to beat his veteran, world champion team-mate Jenson Button in qualifying 24 hours later.
Admittedly, Bahrain is a track Vandoorne loves, winning in GP2 a number of times. But when the lights went out on Sunday evening, the Belgium drove like he had been doing so in F1 for years. His performance has unquestionably boosted his chances of securing a seat in Formula 1 in the not too distant future.
I was apprehensive that the GP2 champion’s opportunity to drive this weekend would end in disappointment. Many hot-shot reserve drivers have been thrust into an unfamiliar car before and underperformed. In the fickle business of motorsport, that could lead to game-over in terms of career prospects.
Yet Vandoorne is, as Martin Brundle put it, “something special.” He is unique to anyone on the current grid. His driving style is somewhere between Vettel and Rosberg, and nobody out there matches his confident, yet humble persona that belies the sheer talent he has behind the wheel. The future looks of F1 is in safe hands, with the likes of Vandoorne, Verstappen, Sainz et al coming through the ranks.
His driving style is somewhere between Vettel and Rosberg, and nobody out there matches his confident, yet humble persona that belies the sheer talent he has behind the wheel.
Given the right equipment, I’m sure it won’t be too long until the Belgium national anthem is played, the last time being Thierry Boutsen at the 1990 Hungarian GP – you can hold me to that one.
Super Grosjean hits the jackpot:
Progress in F1 is a gradual affair. Teams who have been in the sport for decades can go years without podiums, and in some cases, even points continue to allude them.
But not for Haas F1. Amidst several reliability qualms, the brand new team – using as many Ferrari components as the regulations will allow – has taken Romain Grosjean to 6th and 5th in Australia and Bahrain respectively.
Grosjean has also enthused to ESPN that the car is “probably one of the best I have ever driven.”
But this is less about Grosjean (who is already an established driver), and more about the team who have created a business model that other potential teams will be lured to F1 by. It’s an incredible feat – one that many of the other teams will be left feeling hard done by.
Haas now has nine-times the points of the last three new teams to enter F1 (Manor, Caterham and HRT).
Also, it’s worth noting that Haas’ strategy in Bahrain highlighted several aspects about their car. Their Super-soft, Super-soft, Super-soft, Soft strategy demonstrated how good they are on tyres, and simultaneously allowed them to hide their lack of pace by running a more aggressive strategy – something the cars around them were unable to do.
Haas could win races in the future, but what’s more important for Grosjean is that by making headlines, he is firmly on Ferrari’s radar for a future drive. Those Italian lessons may soon come in handy for the Frenchman.
Rosberg in the form of his life:
Nico Rosberg has progressively become a pleasure to watch over the years he’s been at Mercedes. After being with the team since they took over from Brawn GP in 2009, he’s had to put up two of F1’s most dominant figures as team-mates.
His first three years were pitted against an aging Micheal Schumacher, and in the process, he became the first team-mate to beat the legend over the course of a full season. Nico achieved this feat in all three seasons.
But he was forced to raised his game at the arrival of Lewis Hamilton, and his ability to keep calm and avoid trouble has paid off, as he’s now enjoying a 5-race-win-streak.
One would be foolish to write Hamilton out the title fight just yet, but logic would put Rosberg as favourite. He’s clearly in the form of his life and his determination to finally beat his childhood chum over the course of a season has never been stronger.
It would also be refreshing for F1 to see a different champion, considering only three men have had the honour in the last eight years. No pressure to break the mould, Nico – although I suspect he’s going to handle it superbly.
Feature Image courtesy of Flickr