After Vettel’s slightly fortunate win in Melbourne the new season moves to the night race in Bahrain this weekend
The rivalry between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton looks set to intensify under the dazzling floodlights.
Vettel has previous in Bahrain with three Sakhir wins to his name, a record he shares with Fernando Alonso. Ferrari, meanwhile, have five wins at the track so expectations in the Italian team’s camp will be high. For added motivation, nine of the previous 13 winners in Bahrain have gone on to lift the drivers’ championship.
Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes were cruising at the Australian GP, but Sebastian Vettel was the unlikely victor. How did he do it? After 25 laps of the Australian GP, Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes were in complete control. Six seconds ahead of closest challenger Kimi Raikkonen with his Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel leading the race but yet to pit, the world champions seemed destined for a comfortable victory.
On Lap 19, it seemed as if the Scuderia were placing their race-winning eggs in Raikkonen’s basket, pitting the Finn -who was running second behind Hamilton – to put pressure on Mercedes.
Mercedes responded straight away to cover off their rivals, bringing in Hamilton one lap later for the same soft tyres. Not only did this work, but they extended their advantage over Raikkonen from three to five seconds.
So far, so good. But what the Silver Arrows didn’t account for was not one, but two Haas pitstop malfunctions with both Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean retiring from the race and pulling their cars to the side of the track due to loose wheel fittings.
The second of those retirements saw a Virtual Safety Car deployed – and enabled Ferrari to pounce. Vettel was around 12 seconds ahead of Hamilton prior to Grosjean’s exit but pit-stops at Melbourne’s Albert Park take around 23 seconds, so in theory the German would have been more than 10 seconds behind Hamilton after pitting in normal conditions.
But the Virtual Safety Car meant Hamilton and the rest of the field had to slow to a set pace, while Vettel could dive into the pits and make up much more ground than he would otherwise be able to manage. The pitlane, in contrast to the track, did not have an additional speed restriction due to the VSC. The German coming out ahead of Raikkonen was to be expected, but Vettel even emerged from the pits marginally in front of a startled Hamilton.
Hamilton said after the race it was too early to have a clear picture of the relative competitiveness of the cars.
“I never know how it is going to pan out,” he said. “You don’t get a good understanding until after four races.” The point being that Formula 1 cars do not behave the same on all types of tracks, and the gaps will ebb and flow.
Hamilton said he could have done a number of things to prevent what happened had he only known the problem waiting to trip Mercedes up. Team boss Toto Wolff added they would have asked him to build a bigger gap in the first stint. As he only needed another second or so, it’s hard to imagine he would not have been able to do it.
Hamilton definitely had a pace advantage over the Ferraris behind him, but it was nowhere near as big as it looked in qualifying, when he took pole with a stupendous lap that put him 0.7 seconds clear of the field.
odds for Bahrain are as follows:
Hamilton should be favourite, likely to qualify on pole and with the fastest car but the gap to Ferrari is narrow on race pace, and Vettel at 3/1 with Bet365 is the value