Round 2 of F-1 sees Ferrari pip Mercedes twice

By Praveen Kumar S Published on Apr 10, 2018 02:38 PM IST

 

Sebastian Vettel won the Bahrain Grand Prix held at, well, Bahrain, with consummate ease this Sunday. While his expertise in car control is known the world over, I couldn't help but notice the elephant in the room, Vallteri Bottas, who drives for Mercedes.

Vettel's Ferrari was clearly the better car the whole weekend as Ferrari knew when and how to switch on the tyre's temperature and their upgrade package for the grand prix was somehow making their car go around Sakhir faster than Mercedes. With world champion Lewis Hamilton not there to worry Vettel due to his gearbox penalty, the German was off to a flier when the five lights went out.

But he was not left alone by the other silver arrow guy, Finland's Bottas, as he pipped compatriot Kimi Raikkonen for second place down turn one. He was neither sniffing Vettel out and nor was he further back. He was driving his own race until Mercedes guys struck Ferrari with strategy.

Checkmate… sort of

Sebastian pitted on lap 16, followed by his teammate the next lap. Both red cars had taken the softs as they were on a two-stop strategy. Mercedes pitted Bottas on lap 18 and surprised everyone by putting on mediums on the number 77 car. Seven laps later, Hamilton was treated the same way and Ferrari had nothing to do. They could only sit and wait, all the while looking for options.

After the race, Vettel said, 'When they went on to the medium tyre I thought that was checkmate because we needed to come in again.' That was how surprised he was when Mercedes struck with their strategy.

Adding to their woes was Raikkonen's untimely retirement. The Finn was told to stop by Ferrari after his car was released in an unsafe manner when he pitted on lap 36, which resulted in one of the pit crew with a double broken left leg. Ferrari was fined 50,000 euros later on. So, how did Vettel win when he did not have any advantage?

Talent shines out

It was down to the German's pure car control. He had to nurse his tyres for 41 laps in order to try and win the race or stand on the podium. He used his softs for 41 laps, which exceeded the tyre manufacturer Pirelli's estimate of 30 laps, much to everybody's astonishment.

But what's more, with 10 laps to go, Mercedes told Bottas to attack Vettel. It is at this point that Vettel showed that he was worthy of a four-time world championship titles. Getting on his radio, Vettel told his pit crew that he had everything under control. With tyres that were running beyond their limits, Vettel had the nerve to say so, especially when the same soft compound tyre bit Ferrari twice during last year's British Grand Prix.

Later on, Vettel said this about his radio message, 'I came on the radio with 10 laps to go and said 'I have everything under control'. That was a lie, I admit. I was nothing under control when they told me the pace of Valtteri at that time. There was no way I could do that. I was doing the maths in the car, (with) 10 laps to go, that pace, he’s going to catch me.'

Bottas the conundrum

Mercedes really lost a potential victory at Bahrain. Bottas was very fast, within DRS range in fact. Yet, he could not pass Vettel who was on tyres without grip. It was a revelation because, unfortunately for Mercedes, it showed he is not championship winning material. Had it been the other way round and Vettel hunting Bottas, I think you get the point.

Mercedes signed Bottas only for a single season at the end of last year, something they have never done before. It showed that they were skeptical about him and the Finn has been proving them right all this while. I think this might be his last season with the Brackley-based team.

The championship

Vettel leads the championship by a good margin now. This Sunday in China, he and Ferrari will be looking to make it a bigger one. This season might well be the end of Ferrari's long standing championship drought.