The nice thing about Formula 1 is its unpredictability. Well, this weekend, anyway. Never mind the unusual shenanigans happening off the track in Chelsea dungeons, on the track we are having quite a year. Quite rightly the Crown Prince of Bahrain insisted nothing would be allowed to distract us from the racing, despite all the salacious gossip in the press worldwide.
At Bahrain, there were one or two surprises. Swiss based BMW Sauber now lead the F1 Constructors Championship. Robert Kubica gained pole in a car that was clearly not the fastest at the event. Raikkonnen didn’t win. Massa did. Kovalainen beat Hamilton and got the fastest lap in not the fastest car on the circuit. Toyota actually beat their customer team, Williams. And the start was not chaotic. Presumably all that wind they experienced today – about 20 to 30 kmh gusting along the pit straight – distributed the sand fairly evenly and so the expected advantage of being on the racing line on the grid was not as great as it might have been.
OK, Hamilton cocked up big style at the start. He admitted to Autosport later that he hadn’t been able to put the mapping into “launch mode” quickly enough. I thought there were supposed to be no driver aids this year? So what’s all this talk about then?
Anyway, he was gobbled up by the pack quicker than you can crack a whip, falling from 3rd on the grid to 10th place by the end of the first lap. It didn’t help that he miscalculated just how slow the Renault was out of that corner and so ran into the back of the renegade in the Renault on acceleration, dropping himself down to 18th after pitting for a new nose. If he hadn’t have fluffed the start though, he wouldn’t have been anywhere near the middle of the pack. Looks like he’s having the kind of experience most other newcomers to F1 have in their first years in slower cars. For most of the race he was lucky to be racing with the Fisichella Force India over 13th place.
Looking at the scores on the doors, McLaren have gone backwards since the beginning of the year scoring first 14, then 10 and now just 4 points as a team. Ferrari on the other hand has got better and better, with scores of 1, 10 and today top marks with 18 out of 18. BMW meanwhile have been more consistent, edging forward bit by bit with scores of 8, 11, 11 so far this season. BMW’s slow but deliberate progress clearly comes from the calm way that merry Mario Theissen runs things. More to come, I think.
So, now we have to wait three weeks for Barcelona, where we will see if any teams have made any leaps forward, or by standing still be going backwards. Up until now they have been away from home, and although teams as rich as Ferrari can ferry failed engines to their factory for analysis and problem solving in the week between the Australian and Malaysian GPs, most teams do not have such a $500 million budget. So, most changes – particularly to everyone’s aerodynamic packages – have had to wait until the return to Europe before they can be installed.
Hopefullly, the ITV commentary team will learn to observe and talk about what is actually happening next time, and not bore us with inane tales of gossip picked up around the paddock while something interesting is happening on the track. The usual character is of course to blame – Martin Brundle is, as always, superb. If only his colleague would watch the monitors while he is talking we might get some synchronisation between what he is saying and what we can see happening for a change.