Monaco F1 Grand Prix: Rosberg all the Way!

May 23, 25, 26, 2013

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes, dominated the entire Grand Prix weekend to start at pole and then lead for 78 laps of the race. At the back of the field though, it was Russian Roulette with as many as six accidents – some mechanical and some avoidable!

Nico Rosberg dominated the Monaco Grand Prix weekend by leading in every lap that he ran.

Nico Rosberg dominated the Monaco Grand Prix weekend by leading in every lap that he ran.

How does one describe a Grand Prix race that stayed in a state of limbo until the 29th lap, barring the odd damage through an unfortunate crash or “racing incidents”? Three Safety Car periods and then a red flag that grinded the entire Grand Prix to a halt for over 40 minutes? Seven car casualties and crashes that changed the course of the championship?

Pretty damn boring and pointless I’d say!

On the narrow, twisty and highly dangerous street circuit of Monaco, overtaking is practically impossible. As a result teams are more dependant on working pit strategies to gain a minuscule advantage hoping to undercut the competition and gain track position.

A view of Pator Maldonado's Williams after he was hit by Max Chilton, Marussia.

A view of Pastor Maldonado’s Williams after he was hit by Max Chilton, Marussia.

The first pit-stop was made by Paul Di Resta of Force India in Lap 9, and yes that had more to do with team strategy rather than any racing exigency starting as he did at P17. The next stops were all after Lap 24 with Mark Webber, Red Bull, Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus (Lap 26) and Jensen Button, McLaren (also Lap 26).

However, following the horrific crash that Felipe Massa, Ferrari suffered at the Ste Devote corner in Lap 28, practically the entire field decided to pit and change tyres as was natural. But this also put paid to a lot of team strategies for the remainder of the race.

Sebastian Vettel summed up the remainder of the Grand Prix quite succinctly when he said in his syndicated interview to PMG: “When you’ve got two Silver Arrows at the front, you expect them to sail off into the distance, but it was more like following two coaches on a sight-seeing tour.”

There was also the small incident of both Red Bull Racing and Ferrari Teams driving the race “under protest”.  It started with leaks of Pirelli conducting a secret 1,000 km testing schedule with Mercedes – ostensibly on Pirelli’s new compound tyres for 2014 – having reached the paddock.

Analysts and of course, competing team principals suspect that the tests might have been conducted on the new construction hard tyres for the current season which were to be commissioned from the Canadian Grand Prix onwards.

The FIA has now got involved and will be investigating the matter thereby forcing Pirelli to postpone the release of the new construction tyres until the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

Back to Monaco and it wasn’t for nothing that most analysts and fans were wondering whether such a fortuitous pre-race test after a disastrous Grand Prix in Spain would change the flagging fortunes of the Mercedes team. Everyone, however, knew they had great qualifying pace but had been dogged by excessive rear tyre wear and consequently very high degradation in tyre performance.

Not just did the Mercedes duo put in the maximum laps on their starting tyres before the Massa crash, but also ended up leading comfortably for the first 31 laps of the race. And had it not been for a simple, yet bizarrely amateurish mistake in pitting Hamilton late enough to make him lose two positions in the Safety Car period, Mercedes could have easily made it a one-two!

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, crashes into the barriers for the second time in the weekend.

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, crashes into the barriers for the second time in the weekend.

But at the end, at least the die-hard fans of Merc, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton were not disappointed.

Given the nature of the race, I too have modified the construction of the blog to stick with what was considered the “most exciting and fascinating” part of the race, that is, from the start of Lap 54 to the end of the race. So here goes:

Lap 54 to Lap 78

Lap 54 Perez ran Raikkonen off the track at the Nouvelle chicane but the Iceman managed to get back on the racing line and maintain track position. By Lap 55, the Force India of Sutil had started to swarm all over Alonso’s back and finally in Lap 57 in what is the slowest corner of the circuit – the Portier hairpin – went to the inside of the track and passed the Spanish driver.

However, it must be said that Alonso who was having a frustrating evening driving around with debris stuck in his front wing, lost concentration and provided Sutil ample room by moving wide to the right. This moved the Force India driver up one place to 7th.

At the 58th Lap the line-up was: Rosberg, Mercedes, Vettel, Red Bull, Webber, Red Bull, Hamilton, Mercedes, Raikkonen, Lotus, Perez, McLaren, Sutil, Force India, Alonso, Ferrari, Button, McLaren and Vergne, Torro Rosso.

Jules Bianchi, Marussia crashed out in the 60th lap but he was lucky to avoid the barrier and slid away into the slip road to crash sideways into the tyre barriers. Double yellow flags were out and DRS disabled. Vettel had by now stepped off the gas preferring to follow quietly behind Rosberg who in terms of championship points is a whopping 67 points behind. It was smart thinking.

Webber too cut out the histrionics and maintained a respectful distance behind his championship-leading team-mate. If there was anyone trying to race at this stage, it was Lewis Hamilton although he too was provided with the routine team warning to take care of his tyres!

Romain Grosjean, Lotus climbs into the Torro Rosso of Daniel Di Ricciardo.

Romain Grosjean, Lotus climbs into the Torro Rosso of Daniel Di Ricciardo.

In Lap 62 Romain Grosjean decided in a fraction of a second of madness that he had to get past Daniel Ricciardo, Torro Rosso, but instead launched his Lotus right into the back-end of the impressive Australian. It was a totally careless accident from the Frenchman who, much like Pastor Maldonado and Sergio Perez was fast developing a reputation of being a reckless “kamikaze kid”.

Debris scattered all over the area meant that the yellow flags were out and the race temporarily suspended with the Safety Car out. Grosjean though, managed to get back into the pits, get a new nose assembly and a set of front wings! He rejoined the field in Lap 63 only to limp around at the back-end of the grid until Lap 65 and then get back into the pits with a broken floor, to retire from the race.

Normal racing was resumed at the end of Lap 66. All the leads had by now been wiped out thanks to the Safety Car but the leaders led by Rosberg made perfect starts to pull away from the pack. Status quo in terms of the Top 10 cars was maintained at this stage.

However, in Lap 69, the usual suspect, Perez, McLaren made contact with Raikkonen, Lotus even as they made their way into the Nouvelle chicane. Raikkonen was always going left, cutting off any space for the McLaren driver to pass but instead of slowing down and letting the Lotus take the racing line, ploughed into latter’s rear right tyre. The jury is still out on whether Raikkonen could have provided a bit more room to Perez or whether the latter should have backed off when he saw the daylight in front of him close.

Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus and Sergio Perez, McLaren bang wheels at Monaco.

Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus and Sergio Perez, McLaren bang wheels at Monaco.

The result was a smashed front wing for Perez and a rear tyre puncture for Raikkonen. With no choice left, the Finn was forced to pit in Lap 70! Kimi meanwhile, returned to the track in Lap 71 in 16th place. It was going to be the first time in 23 consecutive races that he was going to be out of the points table.

The blown front wing on Perez’s McLaren meant that he was beginning to lose downforce and consequently grip and very soon, Sutil made his move and passed him comfortably to take P5. However, the Mexican reclaimed the place in Lap 73 when he went off the road and came back on track in front of the German! This was getting ridiculous now.

More action from the Perez corner when in the very next lap, Sutil banged wheels with him at the Rascasse corner to push the McLaren into the left side barriers. Perez somehow stayed on course but was now aligned with team-mate Jensen Button who was not going to do him any favours given their recent history, cut off any room Perez had, to slide past him.

That was the end for Perez’s race as he struggled with brake problems and was forced to park at the side of the road, unable to get back into the pits. Poetic justice or what?

The mêlée pushed Arian Sutil into 5th place, maintaining Force India’s impressive performance this year and probably showing the German’s credentials as a superb F1 driver who had lost none of his skills in the two years that he was out of the sport.

With just under 3 laps remaining, Rosberg pulled away from the pack and a victory was well in sight and that too 30 years after his father Keke Rosberg had achieved the feat at Monaco – the first father-son duo to do so.

The real surprise though? Kimi Raikkonen still managed to finish 10th to complete 23 consecutive races in the points!

MONACO STATS AND FACTS

MONACO DRIVER STANDINGS
POS. DRIVER TEAM PTS.
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 25
2 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 18
3 Mark Webber Red Bull 15
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 12
5 Adrian Sutil Force India 10
6 Jensen Button McLaren  8
7 Fernando Alonso Ferrari  6
8 Jean Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari  4
9 Paul Di Resta Force India  2
10 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus  1
OVERALL DRIVER STANDINGS
POS. DRIVER TEAM PTS.
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 107
2 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 86
3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 78
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 62
5 Mark Webber Red Bull 57
6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 47
7 Felipe Massa Ferrari 45
8 Paul Di Resta Force India 28
9 Romain Grosjean Lotus 26
10 Jensen Button McLaren 25
11 Adrian Sutil Force India 16
12 Sergio Perez McLaren 12
13 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari  7
14 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber  5
15 Jean Eric Vergne Torro Rosso  5
CONSTRUCTORS STANDINGS
POS. TEAM PTS.
1 Red Bull-Renault 164
2 Ferrari 123
3 Lotus-Renault 112
4 Mercedes 109
5 Force India-Mercedes 44
6 McLaren-Mercedes 37
7 STR-Ferrari* 12
8 Sauber-Ferrari 5
*Torro Rosso
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Bahrain GP 2013: Stats and Fun Facts

Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel may have made the contest one-sided, but there was enough excitement down the field to keep everyone watching hooked.  

Here are some of the highlights, stats and fun facts.

Bahrain fountain.

Bahrain fountain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Winner’s Time

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing-Ranault: 1:36:00:498 (h:mm:ss:000)

Fastest Lap of the Race

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull-Renault Racing: 1:36:961 (m:ss:000)

Sebastian Vettel stormed to an easy win in Bahrain.

Sebastian Vettel stormed to an easy win in Bahrain.

Pole Position

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes: 1:32:330 (m:ss:000)

Longest Tyre Stint

23 Laps: Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus-Renault

Best Total Pit-Stop Time (2 Stops)

Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus-Renault: 43.988s

Kimi Raikkonen has mastered the art of managing the 2013 Pirelli tyres.

Kimi Raikkonen has mastered the art of managing the 2013 Pirelli tyres.

AWARDS

Bahrain’s Brilliant

  1. Sebastian Vettel, RBR-Renault for a tactically flawless race.
  2. Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus-Renault for taking P2 after qualifying at P9.
  3. Romain Grosjean, Lotus-Renault for taking 3rd after qualifying at P11.
  4. Paul Di Resta, Force India-Mercedes for a career-best 4th place on a two-stop pit strategy.

Bahrain Surprises

  1. Sergio Perez, McLaren-Mercedes for taking on team-mate Jensen Button and finishing at P6.
  2. Paul Di Resta, Force India-Mercedes’ first pit-stop which was neither here nor there!
  3. Paul Di Resta, Force India-Mercedes for leading the race albeit for 3 laps.

Bahrain Shunts

  1. Valtterri Bottas, Williams ploughing into Jean-Eric Vergne, STR-Ferrari, which resulted in the Frenchman driving into the Caterham of Guido Van Der Garde!
  2. Mark Webber, RBR-Renault for touching wheels with Nico Rosberg, Mercedes and getting summons from the race stewards.
  3. Felipe Massa, Ferrari’s joust with Adrian Sutil of Force India-Mercedes that practically wrecked the race for both drivers.

Bahrain Disappointments

  1. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes for not being able to capitalise on his pole position and dropping down to 9th place.
  2. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari for having a mechanical failure on his DRS flap on the rear wing which destroyed his race.
  3. Felipe Massa, Ferrari for suffering two tyre failures and a damaged front wing that kept him out of the points table.
PIT-STOP AND TYRE STRATEGIES: TOP 10 DRIVERS
POS. DRIVER TEAM START LAP STOP 1 LAP STOP 2 LAP STOP 3 LAP STOP 4
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull MEDIUM 10 HARD 25 HARD 42 HARD
2 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus MEDIUM 16 HARD 34 HARD
3 Romain Grosjean Lotus HARD 16 HARD 27 MEDIUM 42 MEDIUM
4 Paul Di Resta Force India MEDIUM 14 HARD 36 HARD
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes MEDIUM 10 MEDIUM 22 HARD 38 HARD
6 Sergio Perez McLaren MEDIUM 10 HARD 20 HARD 39 HARD
7 Mark Webber Red Bull MEDIUM  8 HARD 21 HARD 37 HARD
8 Fernando Alonso Ferrari MEDIUM  7 HARD 8 HARD 24 HARD 39 HARD
9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes MEDIUM  9 HARD 20 HARD 33 MEDIUM 44 MEDIUM
10 Jensen Button McLaren MEDIUM  9 HARD 21 HARD 34 HARD 46 MEDIUM
PIT-STOP TIMES
POS. DRIVER TEAM STOP 1 STOP 2 STOP 3 STOP 4 TOTAL
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 21.660 21.290 21.906 0 1:04:856
2 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 22.715 21.273 0 0 43.988
3 Romain Grosjean Lotus 24.605 21.608 21.556 0 1:07:769
4 Paul Di Resta Force India 22.009 22.475 0 0 44.484
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 22.072 21.444 21.600 0 1:05.116
6 Sergio Perez McLaren 21.471 21.161 21.319 0 1:03:951
7 Mark Webber Red Bull 21.798 21.221 21.031 0 1:04:050
8 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 23.055 21.436 21.123 21.189 1:26:803
9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 22.237 21.331 21.183 21.267 1:26:018
10 Jensen Button McLaren 23.093 21.894 21.696 21.230 1:27:913
BAHRAIN DRIVER STANDINGS
POS. DRIVER TEAM PTS.
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 25
2 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 18
3 Romain Grosjean Lotus 15
4 Paul Di Resta Force India 12
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 10
6 Sergio Perez McLaren  8
7 Mark Webber Red Bull  6
8 Fernando Alonso Ferrari  4
9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes  2
10 Jensen Button McLaren  1
OVERALL DRIVER STANDINGS (4 RACES)
POS. DRIVER TEAM PTS.
1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 77
2 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 67
3 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 52
4 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 45
5 Mark Webber Red Bull 32
6 Felipe Massa Ferrari 30
7 Romain Grosjean Lotus 26
8 Paul Di Resta Force India 26
9 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 14
10 Jensen Button McLaren 13
11 Sergio Perez McLaren 10
12 Daniel Ricciardo Torro Rosso  6
13 Adrian Sutil Force India  6
14 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber  5
15 Jean Eric Vergne Torro Rosso  1
CONSTRUCTORS STANDINGS
POS. TEAM PTS.
1 Red Bull-Renault 109
2 Lotus-Renault 107
3 Ferrari  58
4 Mercedes  66
5 Force India  36
6 McLaren  16
7 STR-Ferrari*   7
8 Sauber-Ferrari   5
*Torro Rosso

 

The Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix: Vettel Storms the Desert!

Defending World Champion Sebastian Vettel had a Bull run in Bahrain even as the Lotuses bloomed in the desert.

(Race 4: April 19, 20, 21, 2013)

Vettel, Red Bull drove a faultless race to win the Bahrain GP.

Vettel, Red Bull drove a faultless race to win the Bahrain GP.

Qualifying

Qualifying for the Grand Prix was a lot more relaxed for the teams with Pirelli having announced the use of their two relatively long-lasting compounds for the race – the medium tyres and the hard. Initial speculation was that the Red Bull Racing team would run away with the pole position and the second but there was always the 3-place grid penalty incurred by Mark Webber in the last GP to consider.

Qualifying went to form with all the top drivers and teams expected making the grade to Q3 with the exception of Romain Grosjean of Lotus, Sergio Perez, McLaren, Daniel Ricciardo, Torro Rosso and Nico Hulkenberg of Sauber.

While the Vettel expectedly put in a dominant run with a blistering 1:32:584s, what caught everyone by surprise was Nico Rosberg’s equally blazing time of 1:32:330s to take pole position. His team-mate, Hamilton claimed P4 with an impressive 1:32:762s only to be pipped by Fernando Alonso with 1:32:667 at P3.

The Lotuses meanwhile, had a torrid time with first Grosjean dropping out of Q3 to be placed finally at P11 and Kimi Raikkonen dropping down alarmingly to P9 with hardly any qualifying pace to match the front-runners.

The final line-up for the race was: 1. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 2. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 3. Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 4. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)* 5. Mark Webber* (Red Bull) 6. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 7. Paul Di Resta (Force India) 8. Adrian Sutil (Force India) 9. Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus) 10. Jensen Button (McLaren).

* Hamilton received a 5-place grid penalty for a gear box change and Webber was already under a 3-grid penalty for the accident he caused with Jean-Eric Vergne in Shanghai.

Race Laps 1 – 15

Nico Rosberg got off to a reasonable start but immediately was being put under the twin pressure of Vettel’s RBR9 and Alonso’s Ferrari F138. Characteristic of the men, it was an explosive start by the two championship rivals. Very soon, they had started to swarm around behind the leader. Rosberg defended gamely to stay ahead but the Bull and the Ferrari had far too much pace and grip. First Alonso came through from the outside to squeeze Vettel into P3 and move just behind the Mercedes. However, Vettel got better traction out of turn 4 and made a clean pass past Alonso. It was a fantastic piece of racing!

At the back of the grid, Felipe Massa made contact with Adrian Sutil of Force India and immediately damaged his front left wing. Sutil suffered a puncture and from then on, it was downhill for both the drivers – and it was only Lap 1! Massa lost one grid position and was down to P5 with Di Resta getting ahead. At this stage it seemed like yet another edge-of-the-seat thriller of an F1 race.

At the start of Lap 2, Rosberg was a mere 2/10th of a second ahead of the German champion and even though there was no DRS as yet, Vettel moved to the inside and tried a pass. Rosberg somehow held him off. The dogfight continued into turn 4 and both drivers were now racing wheel to wheel. Alonso too was awaiting his opportunity but stayed a couple of car lengths behind to avoid a repeat of Sepang where he managed to smash his front wing.

It was in Lap 3 that Vettel finally swept into the lead zipping past Rosberg to claim the lead. This was the signal that Alonso was waiting for to make his move. Just at the top of Lap 4 that Alonso made full use of his KERS and went past the Rosberg, but the German driver snatched the position right back at the second turn. Having the benefit of clean air in front, Vettel now set the fastest lap time of 1:41:960s.

Meanwhile at the middle of the racing order, Jensen Button, McLaren-Mercedes (P7) and team-mate Sergio Perez (P8) were doing a great job defending their places against the Lotuses of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Gosjean.

As the cars commenced Lap 5, Alonso used the DRS to full effect on the straight and rocketed away from Rosberg to snatch P2. More misery was to follow when Di Resta who was running a steady P4, squeezed his way past at the apex to move up one place. In a few short bursts of action, Rosberg was now trailing at P4. His medium compound tyres were now wearing alarmingly and the performance degradation was to the tune of around 2.5 seconds a lap. As if on cue, with his front wing flapping in the wind, it was now the turn of Massa to start harassing Rosberg.

Alonso's DRS wing stayed open forcing him to pit.

Alonso’s DRS wing stayed open forcing him to make an unscheduled pit-stop.

Up ahead, disaster struck for the other Ferrari when Alonso’s DRS wing got stuck in the open position due to a glitch in the automatic system. This forced the Spaniard to make an unscheduled pit-stop in Lap 8. The pit crew engineers did a great job by slapping back the errant wing into place and fitting on a new set of hard tyres but Alonso rejoined the race way back at P16 thereby practically wrecking his race and a prospective podium finish. He had also lost use of the DRS wing because he could not further risk using it in the race – a major handicap for a driver trying to work his up from the fag-end of the grid.

Lap 8 also saw the start of the Button-Perez drama with the latter playing the aggressor and the more experienced driver shutting him out. However, matters could have got embarrassing on more than one occasion with the Mexican driver sniping at Button’s rear wing and tyres.

At the start of Lap 10, Rosberg finally limped back in for his first pit-stop as did Button who decided to take a break from the dogfight he was involved in with Sergio Perez. Raikkonen and Perez, meanwhile, continued to stay on track and moved up into the slots vacated by the two. Fitted with sets of hard compound tyres Rosberg and Button rejoined the race at P12 and P13 respectively.

The start of Lap 11 saw Vettel make his first pit-stop along with McLaren’s Perez and Ferrari’s Massa. While Vettel rejoined at P5, Massa came out just behind Jensen Button. At this point in the race, Di Resta was in the lead for the first time in his F1 career followed by Raikkonen and joined by the ever-enterprising Nico Hulkenberg of Sauber. Like Raikkonen, Hulkenberg too seemed to be working on a two stop strategy and was making his tyres work longer.

Lap 13 saw Valtterri Bottas, Williams and Hulkenberg make a tyre stop and vacating two positions in the top 6 and allowing Sebastian Vettel to get into P3.

Meanwhile, the battle for P6 was hotting up with four cars chasing the luckless Rosberg – two McLarens (Button and Perez), Massa’s Ferrari, Grosjean in the Lotus and Hamilton in the other Mercedes! Each of the drivers threatened and challenged the other in an effort to wrest the slot with the most thrilling contest coming from Massa and Grosjean.

Back at the top of the field, in Lap 15 the Force India team made the call to race leader Di Resta to make his first pit-stop. It seemed like a puzzling decision at the time considering that the Scot was posting reasonable lap times and the wear on his medium set was not too drastic. Perhaps the fact that Vettel was fast closing in on the now-flagging Raikkonen in P2 was the cue they needed and before Vettel could continue his storming run in the desert, pulled Di Resta in.

Sure enough, Vettel swept past the Lotus being as he was on the fresher tyres to yet again lead the race. Team-mate Mark Webber, who until now had a relatively quieter race in comparison to the disastrous sequence of mishaps in Shanghai, had moved in to P3 and it now seemed that the Red Bulls were in a position to dominate the race at the Sakhir Circuit because the Finn had yet to make his first stop.

End of Lap 15: 1. Vettel (Red Bull) 2. Raikkonen (Lotus) 3. Webber (Red Bull) 4. Rosberg (Mercedes) 5. Button (McLaren) 6. Massa (Ferrari) 7. Grosjean (Lotus), 8 Perez (McLaren) 9. Di Resta, Force India 10. Hamilton (Mercedes).

Race Laps 16 – 30

Lap 16 started uneventfully with enough daylight space between the top 6 cars. But Vettel was in a different dimension having opened up a 3.583s lead from Raikkonen and 4.330s from Webber. The Finn finally decided to make his first stop at the start of Lap 17 and he rejoined the field in P11. However, it was clear at this stage that he would make one stop less than some of the other drivers out in front thereby guaranteeing a podium or at least a high points finish.

The midfield jostle continued as Perez, McLaren easily overtook Massa who was beginning to look more and more leaden-footed with heavy tyre degradation. His fall down the field continued with Force India’s Di Resta now sweeping past him followed quickly by the Mercedes of Hamilton. Massa had enough and made his way into the pits for a tyre change just before the start of Lap 18. Interestingly, he was fitted back with medium compound tyres in an effort to get him up the field quicker, but by the time he rejoined the race, he was down to P15. Ferrari’s afternoon was going from bad to worse!

Grosjean used excellent tyre strategies to stay in the top 3.

Grosjean used excellent tyre strategies to stay in the top 3.

Lap 20 saw a relatively minor tussle between Button (P4) and Rosberg (P3) with the British driver easily passing the German to claim track position. It was then Grosjean’s turn to take on Rosberg and make his pass stick. The Mercedes driver was now under threat from Perez in the second McLaren. Like Massa, Rosberg’s race had begun to unravel now struggling as he was with tyre wear and consequent performance degradation. At the top of Lap 21, both drivers decided on a cease fire to come into the pits for a tyre change. When they went out again, Rosberg was just ahead of the Mexican at P12.

The end of Lap 21 and the start of Lap 22 saw a flurry of pit action as both Lewis Hamilton and former team-mate Jensen Button came into the pits for their second stops. Just a lap earlier, Mark Webber too had to come into the pits for fresh compounds leaving Vettel to charge the front of the field with little or no competition by now.

By the time the drivers rejoined, the battle for the 10th was on in right earnest between an array of cars – Perez, Rosberg, Button and Massa, all battling for the place. Perez took the position albeit briefly, only to lose it yet again to Rosberg in Lap 23. Lap 24 saw the three cars of Button, Perez and Rosberg line up side-by-side with the Mexican gaining by a nose-length to surge ahead. Button followed suit, but avoided a direct confrontation with his team-mate to stick right behind.

At the end of Lap 25, Vettel finally came in for his second stop after making his hard tyres last out comfortably for 15 laps. A typical Red Bull pit-stop in terms of time consumed and the significant cushion that he enjoyed in terms of lead time, meant that Vettel rejoined the race at P1 and retake the lead. He was followed by Grosjean, Lotus, Di Resta, Force India and Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus with the Frenchman in the Lotus still to make a second pit-stop.

Meanwhile, down the field, Perez continued to hold back a marauding Button who in turn was being hunted down by Nico Hulkenberg. The three drivers were now stacked at P6, 7 and 8. The tussle was split up with Rosberg pushing past Hulkenberg to slot himself in at P8.

At the front, Di Resta began to storm all around Gorsjean and managed to blast past the latter on the main straight to claim P2. It was superb driving from the Scotsman who was enjoying his best run of his life and a testimony to the great straight-line speed that Force India had developed over the end of the last season and the beginning of the new one. Losing the track position to Di Resta was cue for Grosjean to come into the pits in Lap 27. He went back in on a set of mediums which meant that he was in for a three-stopper.

Back in the middle of the field the mini McLaren war which had been brewing the whole afternoon, was won by Button with him sweeping past the younger driver. Or was it?

Button was harassed by his team-mate Perez throughout the race.

Button was harassed by his team-mate Perez throughout the race.

Perez continued his relentless attack on Button and in Lap 30 using DRS, he made yet another overtaking move stick. But Button wrested back the lead on the turn and in a way showing Perez who the boss really was. Perez responded by tailing Button again and clipped a portion of the former’s rear right tyre and losing a portion of his wing instead. While it was fantastic racing for the fans, Button was not amused forcing the British driver to radio call to his team telling them to ask Perez to back off!

End of Lap 30: 1. Vettel (Red Bull) 2. Di Resta (Force India) 3. Raikkonen (Lotus) 4. Webber (Red Bull) 5. Button (McLaren) 6. Perez (McLaren) 7. Rosberg (Mercedes) 8. Grosjean (Lotus) 9. Hamilton (Mercedes) 10. Alonso (Ferrari).

Race Laps 31 – 45

By the middle of Lap 31, Vettel had opened up a massive 13.9 second lead from Di Resta and nearly 15 seconds from Raikkonen. There was no way that these two were ever going to catch the champion unless there was a calamity of sorts for the Red Bull team at the last pit-stop. But there was good news for the Lotus camp as Raikkonen begain gaining rapidly on Di Resta. A P2 podium finish was now looking like a distinct possibility.

Just behind, Sergio Perez had now started to feel the heat from Romain Grosjean’s Lotus even as the Frenchman stormed all over his back wing. Rosberg in turn, was in hot pursuit of Grosjean. At this stage there were four cars line up on the track barely 25 metres from each other!

In Lap 34, Kimi Raikkonen made his final pit-stop yet again changing into a set of hard compound tyres and rejoined the race at P7. But the likes of Di Resta, Grosjean, Button and Perez were due for their last pit-stops which would automatically get him back into the top three or four positions. Meanwhile Hamilton in his Mercedes had sneaked his way up the field and finally put an end to the Button-Perez dogfight by sweeping past the Mexican from the left side of the track to the right with a brilliant pass, to P5.

Di Resta made his final stop at this time and rejoined the race in P8 behind Raikkonen (P6) and Alonso (P7). There was more disaster for Ferrari in Lap 37 as Massa suffered a second puncture and had most of his rubber shorn off the right wheel. There was no question of the Brazilian being able to gain any points for the day after that.

On to Lap 39 and Raikkonen on his set of fresh tyres made his move on Hamilton to go past and claim P3. As if on cue, Hamilton made the decision to make his final pit-stop and leaving the Finn free to chart his way to the podium. The field at this stage was: Vettel, Grosjean, Raikkonen, Di Resta, Webber, Button, Rosberg, Hamilton, Perez and Alonso.

Di Resta, Force India and Grosjean, Lotus produced some thrilling racing.

Di Resta, Force India and Grosjean, Lotus produced some thrilling racing.

Vettel came in for his last pit-stop in Lap 43, perfectly timed to keep him well out in the lead considering that he had by now a 26-second advantage over second-placed Grosjean and around 30 seconds clear from Kimi Raikkonen in P3. Grosjean too followed suit and pitted in the same lap ceding his position on the track to team-mate Raikkonen.

Lap 44 saw a bunch overtaking manoeuvres going on at the same time – Rosberg got past Button, but Alonso attacking but staying behind Perez, and Grosjean on fresh medium compound rubber simply blowing past his much slower competitors on worn tyres. It wasn’t long before the Frenchman was back at P4 and challenging Di Resta for a podium spot. In the interim, in Lap 45, Hamilton went cleanly past Button on the turn to take P6. His team-mate, Nico Rosberg meanwhile, made a fourth stop by now and rejoined at P10. The afternoon couldn’t have been any worse for the German!

End of Lap 45: 1. Vettel (Red Bull) 2. Raikkonen (Lotus) 3. Di Resta (Force India) 4 Grosjean (Lotus) 5. Webber (Red Bull) 6. Hamilton (Mercedes) 7. Button (McLaren) 8. Perez (McLaren) 9. Alonso (Ferrari) 10. Rosberg (Mercedes).

Race Laps 46 –57

If anyone believed that the Button-Perez saga for the day was over, they were mistaken! At the start of Lap 46, Perez yet again moved hard on Button, made the move stick and forced the Englishman to concede the position. That scrap helped Alonso as he squeezed in on Button’s side to pass him and put him into 8th place. Button reacted by pitting at the end of the lap even as Alonso, now showing some typical form albeit sans the DRS advantage, blew past Perez to take P7.

By Lap 50, Vettel was comfortably ahead of Raikkonen by a shade less that 9.5 seconds who in turn had a cushion of some 9.5 seconds from Di Resta. The top two finishers had been decided but the third podium place was up for grabs with Grosjean eating into the lap times of Di Resta by almost 1.5 seconds per lap. Di Resta’s lead had now been cut to a mere 2.2 seconds and the question was whether the Force India driver could hold the Frenchman’s charge.

The final piece of action among the leaders came in Lap 52 when yet again Grosjean lined himself next to Di Resta down the main straight, and then exploded past to the turn for the last podium place available. It was better tyre management from the Lotus outfit and heartbreak for the Force India team.

Down the middle, Perez continued his most aggressive performance ever by taking on Alonso, squeezing him out on to the chicane and into the sand on turn 4 and then blowing ahead of the more accomplished of racers in the world.

Alonso, Ferrari is pushed on to the sand by Perez, McLaren.

Alonso, Ferrari is pushed on to the sand by Perez, McLaren.

Even more excitement was on with the Webber-Hamilton duo racing wheel-to-wheel to usurp the 5th place; the hot pursuit continuing right through into Lap 56. In the last lap of the race Hamilton finally got around the outside of Webber and passed him. It was absolutely on-the-edge racing from the two magnificent drivers and completed what was a truly thrilling race!

Vettel duly completed the formalities with Raikkonen and Grosjean following in P2 and P3 with Di Resta coming in at P4.

Bahrain may have been Vettel’s lone Bull run  but the rest of the action was enough to keep the legion of F1 fans hooked and happy!

Final Standings: 1. Vettel (Red Bull) 2. Raikkonen (Lotus) 3. Grojean (Lotus) 4. Di Resta (Force India) 5. Hamilton (Mercedes) 6. Perez (McLaren) 7. Webber (Red Bull) 8. Alonso (Ferrari) 9. Rosberg (Mercedes) 10. Button (McLaren).

Next edition: The Bahrain Stats Sheet

Part II: F1 Season 2013 – It’s time for Predictions!

Featured are the two drivers – Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus and Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes – who have the best chance to turn the tables on the top seeds in the current season.

That Kimi Raikkonen is a cult figure in the Formula 1 Grand Prix firmament and has a legion of fervent, and passionate fans as is evident from this picture. A view of the “Kimi Grandstand” before the start of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2012.

That Kimi Raikkonen is a cult figure in the Formula 1 Grand Prix firmament and has a legion of fervent and passionate fans as is evident from this picture. A view of the “Kimi Grandstand” before the start of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2012.

3. Kimi Raikkonen, Lotus (Finland): 2012 Season – Wins 1; Podiums 7; Points 207

Season 2013 (2 races): Wins 1; Podiums 0; Points 31

 When Kimi Raikkonen announced his return to the Formula 1 fold in 2012 after a three-year hiatus, there was a sense of euphoria among thousands of his loyal fans. And yet, there were some apprehensions as well. The question on most peoples’ lips was whether he would be the same force that he was when he walked away from it all after bagging one WDC title with Ferrari in 2007 and two runners-up finishes in 2003 and 2005 with McLaren respectively. Would he be competitive enough after such a long sabbatical especially considering that he was mainly rally driving for the Citroen Junior Racing Team, dabbling in a bit of NASCAR in the U.S. before ending up racing trucks in the Camping World Truck series!

But as the cliché goes, you can take a man out of racing, but you can’t take racing out of him! Raikkonen’s comeback was made possible before the 2012 Season when Lotus-Renault (the re-branded race management of Team Renault),  got him back into the fold. The man himself probably missed the adrenaline rush of being in the fastest cars in the world and so might have even settled for a lesser pay packet to get back into the F1 Grand Prix Circus (although he would be loath to admit it). You can check out the Iceman’s second coming by Lotus F1 at http://www.kimiraikkonen.com. It is truly a must for all Kimi die-hard fans!

And boy! What a phenomenal return it has been! Even after three years away from the mainstream, Raikkonen simply waded back into the frenetic, high-octane world of Formula 1 and glided his way to one win and seven podium finishes and a staggering 207 points to end the season on P3. The feat is categorised as “staggering” only because the car at Raikkonen’s disposal – the Lotus E20 – was way behind in race pace in comparison to the Red Bulls, McLarens and even the Mercedes’. And yet, he managed to beat two former world champions, Lewis Hamilton and Jensen Button, quite comfortably.

The season’s crowning glory came in Abu Dhabi when he held off a marauding Fernando Alonso to win his first race in 2012. It is a testimony to Raikkonen’s sheer driving ability, acute spatial awareness and incredible race control that he managed to score points in that car in each race of the season bar one – at Shanghai, China where he finished at P14. Every other race was within the top 10 and there were 19 of them in all!

What was even more creditable was that he was the only driver to complete all 20 races without a single accident or mechanical failures. It is another matter though that his car had begun to sound like a hollow, damaged drum by the time he hit the brand new circuit in Austin, Texas. Raikkonen had literally worked his car and all the available engines for the season, into the ground! Contrast this performance of his younger team-mate Romain Grosjean’s results for the season wherein he had all of seven retirements through crashes and mechanical glitches!

So what does Kimi Raikkonen need to do this season in order to win the World Drivers Championship? Well, he has started terrifically by winning the Australian Grand Prix and then managing to somehow stay in the points (7th position for 6 points) in the Sepang Grand Prix, his qualifying penalty of three grid positions notwithstanding. A total of 31 points means that he is just 9 points adrift of Sebastian Vettel and already second in the driver’s points table. With the first win out-of-the-way, Raikkonen needs at least a couple more P1 finishes to throw in the gauntlet at Vettel and Alonso. And it is possible this season.

The Lotus-Renault E21 is showing fantastic pace in the dry, even faster than the Red Bulls or the Ferraris. Second, even as the likes of Vettel, Webber and most of the drivers are going to town criticising the rapid degradation of the new Pirelli tyres, Raikkonen has shown the way in their careful preservation and management. On the James Allen on F1 website (the Bible for us F1 fans), Lotus’ Technical Director, James Allison said that unlike what people believe about Raikkonen being a very fast driver; it is his patience over tens of laps that characterise his current version as an F1 racer.

To amplify the point, he revealed that when Kimi was behind the two race leaders at Sepang, he deliberately maintained a one second distance behind them, so that he had the benefit of clean air around him, which in turn, prevented his car’s tyres from overheating.

Allison has said in a podcast that Kimi lost traction on the wheels only twice during the entire race at Melbourne. And that even in the final laps (where he set the fastest lap time of the race), his tyres were only half worn! So much so for tyre degradation!

Given dry conditions, Raikkonen is going to dominate in the season that is unfolding even if the car he has does not have great pace in qualifying. Lotus is expecting a lot more updates in the days and months to come, so that would be one area that they will address specifically. But qualifying pace or not, it takes Raikkonen to spot one gap in the field at the start and he has the talent to simply blow his way into a top three slot. From there on, he is normally unbeatable only because the level of control he exercises is masterful.

Standing ovation for Raikkonen after his win at bu Dhabi in 2012.

Standing ovation for Raikkonen after his win at Abu Dhabi in 2012.

Raikkonen in his second coming is a lot cannier and a more measured. As a bottom line, all this is great news for true-blue racing fans because we can expect to be treated to some masterful driving on the most grueling and competitive race tracks in the world.

4. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes (Great Britain): 2012 Season – Wins 4; Podiums 7; Points 190

Season 2013 (2 races): Wins 0; Podiums 1; Points 25

On his day, there is no better sight than Lewis Hamilton blazing his way like a silver arrow at the front of the grid. Such is his pace and control that he is capable of opening up significant leads in a matter of mere seconds. It is often said that the 27-year-old Englishman knows only one gear to drive in – overdrive! He possesses incredible control but his blazing, blasting style of driving can end in heartbreak and that too in a few crucial races when points in the bag matter the most.

Easily one of the fastest drivers in the world, Hamilton has also been plagued with a mixture of bad luck and myriad mechanical problems with his McLaren MP4-27. Season 2012 could have seen Hamilton challenging the eventual winner and leaders and even dominating the standings had it not been for five crippling retirements.

In Germany, (Hamilton’s 100th Grand Prix start) he had a punctured tyre in Lap 3; in Belgium Romain Grosjean made contact forcing him to plough into Fernando Alonso and Sergio Perez thereby ending the race for all four drivers; his gearbox failed at Singapore, followed by another mechanical failure at Abu Dhabi when he was comfortably in the lead, and finally in Sao Paulo, Nico Hulkenberg made contact with Hamilton forcing the two-time world champion to retire from P2 in his very last race for Team McLaren!

The sum total of all the mishaps suffered by Hamilton meant that he lost at the very least between 50 and 75 points which had a significant impact on the final standings in Season 2012. Had Hamilton completed all races like say Kimi Raikkonen, he would have finished third overall and could have even challenged Alonso for second. Even then his stats for the season were extremely impressive with over 75% of his total points (190) coming from wins and podiums! In a car that gave both McLaren drivers a lot of grief during the year, those are remarkable figures.

Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton (Photo credit: Dwonderwall)

As the season drove to a close, controversy erupted when Hamilton was said to be unhappy at McLaren owing to contractual differences with the team principals (McLaren apparently refused to hike his salary for the 2013 Season), Hamilton finally joined Mercedes even after he was rumoured to have approached Bernie Ecclestone for getting him a seat at Red Bull Racing. This was subsequently vehemently denied by Hamilton but true to form, he was yet again at the centre of an unnecessary controversy.

Analysts wondered whether all this would have an impact on his performance in the season. If the first two races of the season have been any indication, Hamilton is back to doing what he does best – making the most of a machine that cannot as yet be categorised as really quick. He finished 5th at Melbourne and 3rd at Sepang netting him a total of 25 points so far (adrift by 15 points from the leader Sebastian Vettel). But there are encouraging signs that Mercedes will be a serious top 3 contender in 2013 with both Hamilton and Rosberg showing excellent form. The two have pushed Mercedes within 3 points of the second place held jointly by Lotus and Ferrari in the Constructors Standings.

A lot of Hamilton’s assault on Vettel’s stranglehold atop the F1 food chain will depend on his ability to curb his naturally aggressive instincts. Much like Alonso and Raikkonen, he will have to nurse, cajole and coax his car into providing the best possible performance within its limitations and chalking up points consistently over 20 races. He has started well and that is half the job done because the worst fate that can befall a race driver is to have mechanical problems or accidents early in the season. It tends to play with their psyche in a negative way and adds way too much pressure when the time comes to playing catch-up.

If you race fans have noticed, this season Hamilton seems to be taking it a whole lot slower and easier. He seems calmer and has been pacing his sessions a lot more sensibly. Gone is that instinct that pathologically drives him to blitz the time-sheets, be it in the practice sessions, qualifying or then in the race. Instead, he is now driving well within himself and selecting his moment to unleash the beast for a few flying laps when it matters, say in qualifying. He was also raring to have a go at Vettel and Webber towards the end of the race at Sepang but a curt instruction from Ross Brawn from the Mercedes telemetry station and his own new-found sense of maturity, saw him conserve fuel and his tyres and safely bring home the car in third place.

Hamilton’s machine may not possess the heavy artillery required to destroy the Red Bulls’ charge at the top of the grid. But there is no way that he can be written off as a title contender especially considering the driver problems being faced at the Austrian team garage and the terribly designed, uncompetitive car of his former team, McLaren. If he manages to keep his head as he did at Malaysia, Hamilton could well be one of the top three drivers vying for the title in 2013.