Since Friday, Ferrari seemed to be the team that would dominate the Bahrain Grand Prix. During the practice sessions, another fact could be noticed: Felipe Massa had better car balance than Kimi Raikkonen. If nothing disastrous happened, it was clear to me that they would finish 1-2, with Felipe ahead of Kimi (reference: my previous post Raikkonen and Hamilton under pressure?), and so it happened. It was a brilliant comeback for the Brazilian driver, who had been criticized after making costly mistakes in the previous two races.
Raikkonen was not bad either. He continues to deserve his 'Iceman' moniker, this time for being sensate enough to realize that second place was the best he could get. The Finn knows that many times he cannot match Massa's pace, and settled for the 8 points that put him in the championship lead.
According to my observations, Massa is still faster considering single lap times, but over the course of a race, Raikkonen is more consistent. That reminds me a little of the old Nigel Mansell vs. Nelson Piquet duel at Williams in 1986-87. Due to his own mistakes, the faster Mansell lost a few races to the more consistent Piquet. Both Raikkonen and Massa are long ways from becoming the legends that were Mansell and Piquet, but if I were Massa, I would take a glance at the history books and try to be more consistent. Piquet ultimately won the battle within Williams by winning the 1987 championship.
Not just another German race car
BMW once again showed some promising pace. They seem to be better than McLaren during the race, especially considering that they have less tyre wear than the British team. In fact, their problem is that they cannot heat up their rubber fast enough. That plays a big factor in qualifying. Kubica had to take less fuel than Ferrari and McLaren to be able to get the pole. Once they get around this issue, they will be racing more closely to the red cars. All in all, BMW is leading the Constructors Championship, after finishing 3rd and 4th in Bahrain.
BMW made two mistakes during the race. One at the start, when Robert Kubica had major wheelspin and lost his lead to Massa going into turn 1. The other was when the team provided no information to Kubica about the fact that there was oil on the track. As he lost his grip, Kimi Raikkonen managed to get by him. Those mistakes were not that costly, as the most that BMW could have hoped for was third. Ferrari was in a league of their own and Kimi would eventually get around Robert.
For the second consecutive race BMW got faster, more consistent lap times during their last stint, coincidentally when they used the prime tyres. The cars were lighter on fuel, because the last stint was shorter, but they seemed to be a lot more well balanced. Maybe it is something that BMW's engineers should consider for the next race: two stints with the primes and one with the options.
McLaren struggles, especially Hamilton
If everything went well for Ferrari and BMW, the same cannot be stated about McLaren. Lewis Hamilton was out of control throughout the weekend. On Friday he seemed uncomfortable that his teammate Heikki Kovalainen was very close to - even ahead of - him on the time charts, and crashed into a tyre barrier while trying to be faster. During the race, he got a poor start. His car just did not jump away when the red lights turned off. Later he said it was his own mistake, because he did not press early enough the button that would engage the proper engine setting (reference: post-race driver quotes). At least he raised his hand for that mistake.
By lap 2, Hamilton was in 10th position, behind Fernando Alonso. He still had a chance of finishing at least 6th. Something came loose inside his head, though, because as he accelerated faster than Alonso out of a corner, he did not steer away from the Renault, hit its back, almost flew over it, and lost his front wing. I am not sure what he was thinking. He later made it worse by saying that it was a racing incident. Hopefully he will watch the replay and publicly blame it on himself as soon as possible. I do not recommend waiting one full week for him to change his mind. Felipe Massa just did that after Malaysia and the Ferrari fans were not happy about that.
After the accident with Alonso, Hamilton came in for the pit stop, changed his nose cone, put a lot of fuel and went back to the race with a different strategy. That was not enough. There was no miracle Schumacher-style comeback for him. In the end he finished just 13th.
While everyone talks about Hamilton, Heikki Kovalainen has scored the same amount of points - 14. Watch out for him. He does not lack any natural talent in comparison to Hamilton, and driving the last season in the lousy Renault taught him a couple of things that Hamilton is yet to learn. Yesterday, though, he finished only in a business-like 5th.
- Fernando Alonso could not score any points this time. With 19 of the 22 cars finishing the race, all he could manage was a realistic 10th for Renault. He raced since the second lap without a small part of his rear wing - chopped off by Hamilton - but that did not affect the results.
- David Coulthard brake-tested Jenson Button going into a corner and 'f'orgot' to check his rearview mirrors. Button avoided the crash under braking, but Coulthard simply turned as if nothing was happening. The two collided. These situations are becoming common to Coulthard. He has to stop blaming them on the other drivers or on plain bad luck. He cannot show a gap, brake early and close the door when the driver behind is already committed to a move.
- Although Honda had disappointing race results - Rubens Barrichello was 11th, Jenson Button DNF -, they have once again shown some improvements. While they still lack straightaway speed, they may be consistently fighting for the points if the new aero package planned for Barcelona fixes that.
Star of the race
Shame of the race