I have to say that the Bahrain Grand Prix turned out to be rather better than I expected. The changes of podium positions kept the race alive and it seems that Ferrari’s threat to Mercedes was not just a flash-in-the-pan in Malaysia but something which is gaining momentum, whereas Williams’s challenge seems to be fading. At least the English team knows exactly where it’s going wrong.
As a whole, the Bahrain Grand Prix is also gaining in status. It has one of the best paddocks of the year, where you can frequently encounter the drivers making their way from hospitality area to the garage, or perhaps one of the ‘celebs’ invited by the Crown Prince for the weekend. Regular guests include Jackie Stewart, Nick Mason, Lord March and Rory Bremner, while Eric Clapton has been a guest in the past.
For the fan, it can be a curious experience and one which was epitomised for me on Sunday night in our hotel back in the Juffair area of Manama, the capital of the Kingdom and former British protectorate. I was having a quick snack in the bar before the 10 minute drive to the airport and there were some musicians sitting at the next table. Throughout the week I had seen a number of people with ‘entertainment’ T-shirts on their backs; these are talented performers from all over the world that the Bahrainis ‘import’ for the race weekend and who entertain spectators in an area behind the main grandstand. Frequently, there are more people enjoying this entertainment than that taking place on the track itself.
Anyway, the musicians soon struck up playing what I thought was Portuguese ‘gypsy’ music – I hope that term doesn’t offend anyone, it’s just that’s what it was: played on accordion, bag pipes, drum. It was performed with great energy and even though I wouldn’t go out and buy a CD of it, it sounded tremendous. On inquiry, I was right, it was Portuguese.
Then a trio of other entertainers joined in with some break dancing – again, massive energy, taking it in turns on the bar floor, to show their great athleticism. I don’t suppose the Bahrainis in the bar had seen anything like it, and I just wonder if this isn’t what is needed in F1 these days. The previous evening, there had been a concert at the circuit, not by anyone I recognised but they were clearly popular as it took some F1 professionals over an hour just to get out of the car park, and the roads are pretty good at the circuit.
This mix of motor racing and general entertainment is what the Bahrainis have been practising for some years and it really reaps rewards. On a warm night in April, it’s a great evening out for the fans: something for everyone as well, with the Grand Prix thrown in. There isn’t much to do in Bahrain, so when the Grand Prix comes to town, not only do Bahrainis join in but so do the Saudis from across the causeway. It really is a pretty good Grand Prix when the racing’s exciting.
We certainly had that from GP2 as well. I’m not sure if it’s the addition of DRS which makes it so good, but the opening two races were really thrilling stuff. There are some very talented drivers out there who have to make their cases for F1 this year: Mitch Evens, for instance, has been around for a couple of years now, so has Alexander Rossi. Stoffel Vandoorne is pretty adamant in his ambitions that this is his year, but there are some talented newcomers including his ART teammate Nobuharu Matsushita who immediately established his credentials, plus the likes of Jordan King, Richie Stanaway and Alex Lynn. It’s looking like a good year in GP2 and apart from a little French get together in race one which eliminated Pic, Gasly, Nato, Sorensen and Marciello, they mainly behaved themselves which is quite a surprise in GP2.
And so to the Grand Prix: well, there was no stopping Lewis Hamilton, was there. He was in tremendous form, and his head seems to be in the right place too. He has mastered his own teammate and if anything, his only slight Achilles heel seems to be the car and the brakes in particular.
Ferrari is close by and their drivers’ different strategies enlivened the race. One of the comedy moments of the weekend was surely Sebastian Vettel going very wide out of the final corner across part of the gravel trap and then claiming not to know why he had front wing damage. It’s always nice to realise that Sebastian is human after all and can make mistakes.
Red Bull don’t seem to be getting any better, even though Daniel Ricciardo finished seventh, although all that could change at the next race, when everyone will come with new packages and parts. Daniil Kvyat could only reflect that things couldn’t get much worse in practice, although he could always look to Jenson Button to realise that they can. Even Ron Dennis displayed some frustration at his driver’s continued misfortunes although when things were going right, McLaren’s pace was certainly there and improving. It was good to see both Force India and Lotus getting points too.
There’s the unaccustomed luxury of a three week gap now to the first of the European races in Spain, another long straight there and use of the DRS which certainly enlivened the Bahrain race. Teams will be working flat out on developments to bring to Barcelona and the pack could be shuffled there. That race is followed by a two day test, so there’s further potential for changes again after that race. That’s one thing that can never be said of F1, that it gets stale. There’s always the potential for change and you have to remember that: things will never stay the same!
By Bob Constanduros