That this Grand Prix would be overshadowed by the politics of Bahrain was a given, and sure enough every single axe was brought out of every cupboard to be ground.
Opinion as to whether the GP should even be taking place was as divided as can be. The teams clearly didn’t want to go but had a contract with Bernie. Bernie wasn’t going to call off the race because CVC would forfeit the $40m race fee. The FIA kept its head well under the parapet and said it was nothing to do with them. The Bahraini organisers had every reason to insist on the race because to them it was a political statement. The sponsors had in any case already written off Bahrain as a venue for corporate glad-handing, but the British government said it was perfectly safe place to go to.
So, what to do?
Underneath all those headline there were many murmurings of pressures and threats to make sure the teams turned up. Some (McLaren, Ferrari) had major Arabian sponsors to consider but on the other hand Amnesty International claimed the situation had not improved since last year’s race was cancelled. Bernie dismissed AI by saying “they get paid for it, it’s a business for them”.
Journalists, too, plied their own personal viewpoints, from saying that they never saw anything of any protests, to those who personally saw barbed wire fences being places around villages en route to the circuit to make sure no protesters got near the racegoers.
It was, all in all, a bleak situation and showed the seedy underside of the Formula One business where, despite protestations to the contrary, politics and money and business go hand in hand. Watching all this unfold on TV was not pleasant, and left a poor impression of some of the key players.
In the end they all turned up, although one or two team members made their personal decisions and went back home, and the Force India squad missed one of the practice sessions in order to get their team members back to the hotels in daylight after a frightening incident the night before involving teargas and the waving of guns at their minibus.
The circuit has not got any better since F1 was last here. On telly it just looks like a slightly second-rate arcade game, complete with artificial trees and a stark contrast between the track and the surrounding grass and sand. It remains one of the worst artificial circuits in the calendar, and for that reason alone ought to be ploughed up and turned back to desert.
The practice sessions showed, again, that the Maccas and Mercs were quite quick, but that Red Bull was also looking good. There was however no sign yet that the Renaults (or Lotus’ or whatever they’re called) would feature so strongly....
Qualifying was electric! Seb Vettel put his Red Bull on pole with a magical lap, with Hamilton’s McLaren next and their team mates Webber and Button following on the second row. Nico Rosberg continued the Merc revival by putting it on fifth place, although Schuey failed to get past Q2 when his DRS failed on his first run and the car was pulled in to the pits. At this point the Lotus’ were just 7th (Grosjean) and 11th (Raikkonen).
The Ferraris? It was another poor Q. effort, with Alonso down in 9th and poor Massa not even getting into Q3 and having to start 14th. His career revival was not going well.
The big surprise of the race itself was not the fact that Vettel disappeared into the distance (just like in 2011) but the pace of the Lotus’ behind. From the start they picked up places, with Grosjean leading the way by jumping immediately from 7th to 4th and with Raikkonen going from 11th to 7th. They both then picked up further places and after the first round of pitstops were up into second and third behind Vettel.
Raikkonen, on new tyres, was able to slip past his team mate and began to haul in the leading Red Bull, getting within the 1-second DRS zone of Vettel. He made one lunge into Turn 1 but Vettel defended, and that was the closest Raikkonen ever got. With his tyres now fading he settled for second spot, some 3 seconds behind at the finish, with Grosjean a few more seconds in arrears. It had been a great race for Lotus!
The Maccas faded away from their practice form; Hamilton had two slow pit stops with wheelnut problems, and Button had various car issues and retired at the end. The Ferraris had another poor race and slipped back after initial gains, although Massa had a much better race than of late and finished just a few seconds behind Alonso, albeit with the pair down in 7th and 9th. There seems no solution in sight, other than brave words that the next GP in Spain needs to bring a resurgence. But how?
It had been a good race to watch, with the fourth different winner of the season. How much of this is due to the artificial ingredient of the Pirelli control tyre, however, was highlighted by Michael Schumacher after the race who said that most drivers were running at a pace akin to following a high-speed safety car. They were unable to race either themselves or their cars at the ultimate pace because of the detrimental effect on their tyres.
As we’ve already asked many time before – why would Pirelli get mixed up with a sport where no-one has a nice word to say about the tyres?
Click here for FIA lap chart.
Stefano Domenicali: “We managed to limit the damage, at least as far as the Drivers’ championship is concerned. Now we must look to the future and make a step up in terms of quality which should allow us to fight for the podium and not just a points finish. That’s what I have been asking our engineers for several weeks and by Barcelona, I expect to already see the results of the effort we are expending in every area.”
Felipe Massa: ““It was definitely not a very easy race, but in the end, we managed to do a good job and, for the first time this year, finish in the points. It’s a nice result at this time, but we are well aware that it is not Ferrari’s style to be happy with a ninth place. Having said that, it is a performance that gives me confidence for the rest of the season.”