If the Bahrain Grand Prix were an indication of things to come, then we indeed have a tremendously exciting season to look forward to.
A desert might be an unlikely location for a Formula One circuit, but the Sakhir circuit is vindication of the emergence of Asia as a strong market for motorsports. The season-opener today lived up to its expectations, setting the stage for what should surely be an extremely competitive year. Ferrari asserted their supremacy after a lacklustre 2009, Fernando Alonso taking the chequered flag in his first ever race with the Italian team. Teammate Felipe Massa, driving in his first race since his dangerous crash in Hungary, came in second, with Lewis Hamilton finishing third for McLaren.
The race could well have been Sebastian Vettel’s but for the exhaust problems that forced him down the order after a decent start; he finished fourth. Alonso, starting on the clean side of the track and slotting in second ahead of Massa at the beginning of the race, lost no time in taking advantage of Red Bull’s reliability issues, going past Vettel, followed presently by Massa and Hamilton. Mercedes put in a strong showing, Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher finishing fifth and sixth respectively. Schumacher wasn’t quite his old self, and being overshadowed by his younger teammate is certainly not something he will take sitting down; flashes of his genius should come through sooner or later. Reigning drivers’ champion Jenson Button came home seventh.
The first corner saw all the twenty-four cars come through relatively unscathed; Mark Webber locked up, spewing a stream of smoke across the track, and Adrian Sutil’s Force India made contact with the Renault of Robert Kubica, but they managed to stay in the race, dropping to the bottom of the chart. Force India did manage to make it into the points, though, with Vitantonio Liuzzi’s ninth-place finish. They are possibly the best of the midfield teams at the moment, with an unchanged line-up from last year. Webber finished eighth, with Rubens Barrichello rounding off the top ten.
The rookie teams struggled as expected. Karun Chandhok was out of the race almost as soon as it began; his teammate Bruno Senna didn’t finish the race either. The Hispania Racing Team wouldn’t have had any grand expectations from the race, but they definitely have a lot of work to do- there is a separate race at the bottom, with fellow first-timers Lotus Racing and Virgin Racing having put in a bit of testing already and not quite as raw as HRT. Lotus managed to finish the race, which should give them some confidence to build upon. But it just wasn’t a day for the rookie drivers- Vitaly Petrov, Russia’s first F1 driver, went into the pits, never to exit; Nico Hulkenberg spun heavily but managed to keep his Williams going, finishing in a creditable fourteenth place.
Some of the questions doing the rounds after the regulation changes have now been put to rest. The ban on refuelling during the race saw the fastest pit-stops happen under five seconds; we’re probably going to miss the sudden fires, stuck fuel nozzles and falling pit mechanics. Safety car periods may also not have a considerable effect on pit-stops; in the past, the pit lane used to be the busiest part of the circuit whenever the safety car was out, but with tyre changes being the only priority now, it will be interesting to see what sort of pit strategies are employed. With only eight engines being allowed for the nineteen races this season, drivers will have to pamper their cars, especially considering that all the races will be started under a full fuel load- everything boiling down to reliability and skill, as usual.
The juggernaut rolls into Melbourne shortly; Ferrari currently lead the pack, but with four teams being touted as championship contenders this season, the wind can blow just any which way.