After a two week hiatus, Formula-1 came back with the Bahrain GP, promising to be an exciting weekend. No one would have imagined the result that lay ahead.
The weekend kicked off when BMW stole the pole from the Ferrari of Filipe Massa, throwing open the race to the top between three teams. Almost nothing separating the top three, Ferrari, Mclaren and the dark horse BMW, rose to fight it out in the desert of Bahrain. The pit lane was abuzz with the fuel load in the BMW and the strategy of the Ferraris, the only way to put to rest the speculations was to wait for the five red lights to go out come Sunday.
The fifty-seven lap race kicked off with twenty-two cars rushing to the first corner and the crowd screamed as Hamilton had a sluggish start dropping to ninth as the cars passed the first corner. Massa stole first from Kubica with Raikkonen slotting in fourth as Kovalainen made an ambitious start coming up to third. Raikkonen found his equilibrium and in a fantastic lunge at turn three, he overtook Kovalainen.
Kubica losing out to Massa was now under pressure from the resurgent Finn.
Raikkonen overtook the pole on the first corner of lap four taking second spot from Kubica. Hamilton made a mess at position nine, not judging the breaking and almost piggy backing Alonso and in the process throwing his own nose wing on the track. With no front down-force Hamilton was left with no alternative but limp to the pits hence ruining his race. Hamilton filled his tank with fuel and sent his heavy Mclaren on the track. Hamilton pushed his car on the corners and almost went into a spin just recovering to save him the blushes. He was making mistakes even a rookie would not make on a heavy tank.
Meanwhile, the Ferrari duo made no mistakes and safely held onto their spots.
Raikkonen looked a little slower but on the second race on the same engine, the Finn was driving the car the best he could. The clock gradually clocked down the laps and the pit stop window opened up, the talk about the BMW being light were true as Kubica and Heidfeld were the earliest of the routine pit stoppers.
Kubica and Heidfeld came out comfortably ahead of the Mclaren of Kovalainen, Finns hopes of reaching the podium were looking bleak. The race was reaching dizzying speeds. The excitement was far from, the Ferrari duo of Raikkonen and Massa were exchanging fast laps and in the process pushing their cars as they got lighter with each passing lap. In the back of the pack, Button’s Honda was looking stronger than the Red Bull, Button had closed up on David Coulthard and was breathing down his neck, Button then made a mistake, and he tried an over ambitious overtaking on turn thirteen piggybacking DC damaging the Red Bulls suspension and taking his front wing off. At the same time, Kimi Raikkonen pitted, and Massa screamed ahead putting in two fast laps before coming into the pit himself. Massa had secured himself the top spot by errorless driving on the track looking like a true race winner, his counterpart in the Mclaren looked ragged. The “almost” champion Lewis Hamilton struggled with the balance of the car and could not procure any purchase from his machine.
The Mclaren was clearly struggling and Hamilton looked inept in handling this car, compared to former teammate Alonso whose car was certainly not top ten worthy but his driving and dedication was keeping him in the hunt for points. Hamilton’s partner Heikki Kovalainen in a similar machine was driving a safe drive being outpaced by the BMWs, the Finn very wisely realized the potential of his car, kept it within its limits- a truly smart drive by the Mclaren driver.
Alonso and Champion Raikkonen have been in this similar position and like true champions have pushed the car to its limit and looked better than the car. Hamilton encountered the star of the race Fisichella in the Force India with a Ferrari engine under the hood, Fisichella held off the Mercedes for close to five laps. Hamilton kept piling on the pressure but Fisichella refused to give way, it took Hamilton- the next superstar five laps to perform the sling shot across the start finish straight to take position thriteen away from Fisichella. Hamilton held his hands up in aguish and shook his fists at Fisichella, but the Vijay Malaya outfit will feel proud of the five laps. Fisichella has just vindicated his position in the F1 circuit.
The second pit stop window opened, pulling away comfortably, the champion Finn knew that he had to push hard on the track if he had to fight Massa for the top step. Raikkonen started to reel Massa in putting in three fastest laps of the race, but a frustrated Hamilton came out of the pits in sixteenth position right in between the Ferraris. Hamilton almost went colour blind as he did not let Raikkonen pass despite blue flags waving frantically.
Hamilton’s appearance had enabled Massa to pull away from the Finn. Raikkonen pit and came out fifth which meant he was effectively second after the pit stops had been completed.
The race wound to a close with Massa leading his teammate Raikkonen from the BMW of Kubica. Kubica and Heidfeld came in third and fourth respectively, the BMWs looked better than the Mclarens in the last two races and certainly the team which is looking to ascend to the top of the podium very soon.
As soon as the Mclarens were written off from the race Kovalainen annexed the fastest lap set by Heidfeld, securing himself a safe fifth close to thrity seconds behind the German.
The race, however, brought out some startling new facts mainly that of Lewis Hamilton. If anything, Hamilton, in a weak car, did not seem as impressive as he usually does. He struggled, looking suddenly ordinary, getting lapped by his teammate Kovalainen, struggling to even overtake the Force India. Kovalainen is looking increasingly as Mclarens number one driver with consistent finishes and his increasing reputation of being a very aggressive and fair driver.
The race however belonged to Force India. With Indian sports descending to a new low, India missing out at the Olympics in Hockey, a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Proteas, a disappointing show by Indian tennis sensation Sania Mirza, Force India has salvaged some pride, when Fisichella completed twelve just four places adrift of the last point. The team should take pride in the performance of the Force India team which finished ahead of Lewis Hamilton.
Alonso finished tenth battling Barrichello till the checkered flag; Alonso had been making some noise that he would shift to Ferrari since Massa had been unable to salvage any points in the last two races.Massa’s teammate Raikkonen came in second leading a very delighted Robert Kubica and his BMW teammate Nick Heidfeld. Heikki Kovalainen came in fifth followed by Jarno Trulli in sixth. Mark Webber in his Red Bull finished seventhand Nico Rosberg salvaging the last point at eighth.
Filipe Massa’s sixth grand prix victory and second consecutive win in Bahrain came when he needed to rise like a phoenix. The Brazilian came back from the pits of disappointments and scaled the heights of success. He has now asserted himself as a challenger to the crown currently adorning his teammate Kimi Raikkonen’s head.
Raikkonen took over the drivers championship lead ahead of Nick Heidfeld. The disappointing result has pushed Hamilton down to joint third with Robert Kubica and his teammate Heikki Kovalainen. BMW is now one point ahead of Ferrari at the top perch in the constructors’ championship. BMW is now looking increasingly threatening and may even usurp from Mclaren and Ferrari their place at the top.
All the teams will be now looking forward to Spain, some to vindicate themselves, some to establish and some to simply bully their presence in the field. With a result like this, I will be waiting for Spain with sweaty palms and a chilled can of Red Bull.
[image courtesy: http://flickr.com/photos/jpmartineau/538419013/sizes/m/]