2019 Bahrain GP – Preview

The speculation that Mercedes had been knocked off their perch as Formula One’s dominant force had been greatly exaggerated, but it was Valtteri Bottas, not Lewis Hamilton, who took full advantage to win the 2019 Australian Grand Prix, claiming the single point for the fastest lap of the race to take the lead of the 2019 FIA Formula One World Championship, which heads to the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir for the 2019 Bahrain Grand Prix.

Bottas (26 points) leads the championship by eight points over his teammate and defending world champion Hamilton (18 points) after defeating him by 20.886 seconds at Albert Park to claim the fourth race victory of his career, a performance Bottas himself regarded as the best of his career.

However, Hamilton suffered floor damage to his car on the fourth lap of the Australian Grand Prix, affecting the aerodynamic performance of the car, denying him any opportunity to challenge his teammate for the race victory after claiming pole position for the sixth-straight year, and the eighth time at Albert Park, becoming just the third driver after Michael Schumacher (Suzuka) and Ayrton Senna (Imola) to achieve eight pole positions at one circuit.

Whether Hamilton would have won the opening race of the season without his floor damage is up for debate, but it certainly would have been a lot closer, that is for sure!

Max Verstappen (15 points) is third in the world championship for Red Bull Racing-Honda after pushing Hamilton close at Albert Park, ahead of the two Ferrari’s of Sebastian Vettel (12 points) and Charles Leclerc (10 points), who after dominating pre-season testing, finished 57.109 and 58.203 seconds behind Bottas at the opening race of the season, and rightfully would feel ashamed of their performance in Melbourne, and will be hoping that this performance is just a one-off, and that they can challenge Mercedes for the championship throughout 2019.

Behind them in the standings are Kevin Magnussen (eight points) for Haas-Ferrari, Nico Hülkenberg (six points) for Renault, Kimi Räikkönen (four points) for Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari, Lance Stroll (two points) for Racing Point-BWT Mercedes, and Daniil Kvyat (one point) for Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda, who all scored points in the opening race of 2019.

However, it was a disappointing weekend in Australia for Daniel Ricciardo, his first race with Renault, having some difficulties or teething issues with the car in practice, qualifying outside of the Top 10 in 12th, and then sustaining damage to his car just metres off the start line on Sunday, which forced him to retire from the Australian Grand Prix after 28 laps.

Ricciardo will be hoping for a much better weekend in Bahrain, but you sense the best result he can hope for at the moment, given the car that he has at the moment, is a sixth or seventh-place finish, and most likely a lap down on the leaders (Mercedes, Ferrari, and Red Bull Racing-Honda).

So, who is going to win the Bahrain Grand Prix?

In my opinion, it is always very hard to see a team bouncing back to win the next race after being smashed by almost a minute in the previous race, but if Ferrari’s performance in pre-season testing was genuine, and that Mercedes, and to a lesser extent Red Bull Racing-Honda haven’t actually gained genuine performance between pre-season testing and the first race, and that both of their performances in Australia were simply track specific, then they are a strong chance to bounce back.

However, it is not the first time that a team involving Lewis Hamilton has gained a huge chunk of time, usually in the region of about a second, in a short space of time to instantly become more competitive.

Think mid-season in 2009 when McLaren, the team Hamilton was driving for at the time, moved from near the back of the field, where they were at the British Grand Prix, to challenging Brawn and Red Bull, on speed at least, at the following race at the Nürburgring in Germany, with Hamilton winning the following race in Hungary.

Think 2011, when McLaren (with Hamilton) moved from what many predicted was a midfield position for the team in pre-season testing to being arguably the second-best car on the grid for the start of the season in Australia, although comfortably behind Red Bull generally throughout 2011.

It cannot be a coincidence because if you were to add a second to the times both Mercedes achieved in qualifying at Albert Park, those were the times/margins that many experts thought Mercedes were behind in relation to Ferrari, and to a lesser extent Red Bull Racing-Honda.

Hamilton has proven, if the form is genuine, to be the face of the catalyst of turning the competitiveness of a team around once again, and if you believe this, then you cannot be surprised of his standing today as a five-time Formula One World Champion!

I am predicting Hamilton to bounce back from the floor issue he suffered in the race with his car in Australia to win in Bahrain, but I think Max Verstappen can put in a sterling performance to finish in second, with Valtteri Bottas to finish in third, just ahead of the two Ferrari drivers.

2017 Austrian Grand Prix Preview

The ninth round of the 2017 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship takes place this weekend at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria.

Sebastian Vettel leads the world drivers’ championship for Ferrari on 153 points, extending his lead over Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton (139 points) to 14 points after both finishing off the podium in Azerbaijan in fourth and fifth respectively, making it the first race since the Malaysian Grand Prix last year where neither Vettel or Hamilton finished on the podium.

Both the championship protagonists had problems in Azerbaijan, with Vettel receiving a 10 second STOP-AND-GO penalty after causing a collision with Hamilton, while Hamilton had to unexpectedly pit to change his headrest after it wasn’t attached properly after the red flag midway through the race.

The penalty for Vettel received a lot of criticism for various media sources close to Formula One, as well as teams, drivers, and legends of the sport.

I have stated my opinion on the incident between Vettel and Hamilton last week and while I thought Vettel should have been disqualified for breaches of Article 27.4, and Article 39.8 of the FIA Formula One Sporting Regulations, I can understand the difficulty stewards had in handing out a penalty that fit the crime due to the penalty-points system that has been introduced into Formula One in recent years, and thought it was the better way of handling the incident, although many people would disagree with this.

Valtteri Bottas is third in the world championship for Mercedes on 111 points after salvaging a miraculous second after being a lap down after two laps after a tyre puncture after a collision with Kimi Räikkönen.

Räikkönen drops to fifth in the world championship on 73 points after having a myriad of issues in Azerbaijan, eventually retiring with an oil leak. He needs to respond this with a podium (at worst), otherwise his place at Ferrari for 2018 will be under scrutiny.

The man in fourth position in the world championship is Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo (92 points) after a remarkable victory on the streets of Baku, taking his fifth race win of his Formula One career, and capping off a run of four-consecutive podiums.

While he has never had to best car throughout his Formula One career so far, Ricciardo has this innate ability to put himself in at the right place, at the right time to pick up the pieces if rivals have problems, and run with it!

Talking about fierce rivals, Ricciardo’s teammate Max Verstappen cannot a trick right now in his Red Bull, suffering his fourth retirement of the season, and his second retirement in a row at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, growing ever frustrated at his team’s inability to produce a reliable car.

Verstappen looked like a genuine contender for a race victory in Baku for most of the weekend until encountering issues with his car. Red Bull have got to sort out their reliability issues with both cars if they want to make sure they keep third place in the Constructors’ Championship ahead of Force India.

Before I touch on the Constructors’ Championship, I would like to give a special mention to Lance Stroll for his first podium in Formula One. Stroll drove a very mature race to become the second-youngest driver to finish on a Formula One podium, and while he is not the finished product yet, he does have some untapped potential and deserves to be persevered with.

In terms of the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes (250 points) lead by 24 points over Ferrari (226 points), with both Red Bull (137 points) and Force India (79 points) comfortably in third and fourth respectively. There is a good scrap for fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship with Williams (37 points), Toro Rosso (33 points), Haas (21 points), and Renault (18 points) all within 19 points of each other, with Sauber (five points) and McLaren (two points) battling for ninth and 10th in the Constructors’ Championship after Fernando Alonso scored McLaren’s first points of the season in Azerbaijan.

Looking at who will be strong at the Red Bull Ring, on paper Mercedes looks like the better package, who have all the ingredients for success in Spielberg, with a strong powerunit, a well-balanced car through the quick corners and changes of direction, and decent traction out of the slow to medium speed corners.

Ferrari also look close to Mercedes on paper, while it will be interesting to see whether Red Bull will have a good package in Austria to challenge Mercedes and Ferrari.

I am tipping a Mercedes victory, with Lewis Hamilton leading home a Mercedes one-two finish.

 

The first two practice sessions (90 minutes each) are on Friday at 10am and 2pm local time (6pm and 10pm AEST).

The final practice session (60 minutes) and qualifying is on Saturday at 11am and 2pm local time (7pm and 10pm AEST).

The 71 lap race is on Sunday from 2pm local time (10pm AEST).