LEWIS Hamilton and the Mercedes team put on a strategic masterclass to win the Bahrain Grand Prix, with the Brit defending resolutely against the charging Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
Bahrain hosted a spectacular race which saw battles all over the field, and proved that this season may be the closest in the turbo hybrid era.
Lewis Hamilton – 9.5
Mercedes came into this event unsure of how their car would fare against the Red Bull’s. This was evident in qualifying when Lewis qualified nearly four tenths off pole. But this was all about the race. Only one man could have made the strategy work, and that is the seven-time champion. The reigning champion pitted early on lap 28 to cover the Red Bull undercut, meaning Hamilton had an 11-lap tyre disadvantage, but held off Verstappen amazingly. “The pressure was immense,” said Hamilton, but he didn’t crack, and deserved his 75th victory with Mercedes.
Valtteri Bottas – 7.5
The forgotten man. This was a race of what could’ve been. He did his job and qualified third, two tenths off Hamilton. But only a tenth in front of Leclerc, who then jumped him at the race start. The Finn got passed, but was in no mans land. He was dropped heavily by the leading pair and was forced into the same strategy as Lewis. Without a slow stop he would’ve been chasing down Verstappen. However, he settled to pit in the final laps to secure the fastest lap.
Max Verstappen – 9
Max Verstappen should be flying out of Bahrain with 25 points to his name, and for the first time, leading a championship. But he was forced to settle for 18 points, why? He couldn’t keep it within track limits. “I had one shot,” Max said, fans have been begging for wheel-to-wheel action between Hamilton and Verstappen for years, and when it happened, Max couldn’t keep it between the lines and will rue this mistake.
Sergio Perez – 7.5
Perez had a poor qualifying, unable to make the medium tyre work in Q2 meant he was bound to eleventh. Red Bull should’ve put the softs on to ensure he was starting up the grid. Pre-race the team had to replace his car electronics, and on the formation lap they shut off completely. Starting from the pitlane you would think his race is done. But Checo pulled off some clinical overtakes and will be happy with fifth.
Lando Norris – 8
The battle between the McLaren’s is going to be tight all season. Lando was pipped in qualifying by his teammate by 47 hundredths of a second. He made up for it on the restart by overtaking Ricciardo with an amazing duel through sector one. Norris put on a surge to overtake Leclerc, and gapped him sufficiently to easily finish fourth. It was “better than we expected,” said Lando, but that’s exactly how they got P3 last year, consistency is key. As for beating Ricciardo, a cheeky “no comment!”
Daniel Ricciardo – 7
Beating his new teammate in qualifying is a good way to show the Woking team that bringing in Ricciardo was a smart move. Lando’s great start meant he got the preferential undercut, which hampered Ricciardo heavily as he had to re-overtake Alonso and Stroll. He was in a Ferrari sandwich, unable to close on Leclerc, but managed to hold off Sainz who had five lap younger tyres. He joked: “I would have loved to be in the battle for the win.” He should be happy.
Lance Stroll – 6
The Canadian will be happy that he managed to get into Q3, but was a long way off the pace, qualifying three and a half tenths off ninth. He was always fighting for the points in the race, but got spectacularly divebombed by Tsunaoda on the final lap to finish with a single point. With the aero changes affecting them heavily due to their low rake, Aston Martin are fighting an uphill battle. But I’m sure you heard team principal Otmar Szafnauer say that over and over during the weekend.
Sebastian Vettel – 3.5
This might be generous. Vettel got caught out in qualifying as Mazepin’s spin ruined his final run. He was adjudged to have gone too quickly and not respect the yellow flags, resulting in a five-place grid penalty and three penalty points. Vettel tried to make the one-stop work, and the charge through the field was on, until he clumsily rear-ended Esteban Ocon. Two more penalty points, and that was the end of his tricky race. If there were any questions about whether Sebastian had lost his touch, his battle with Alonso proved otherwise.
Fernando Alonso – 7
The story of qualifying was whether Alpine were going to be able to escape Q1. Everyone doubted the cars pace, but no one doubted the two-time champion. He outqualified Ocon in Q1 by a second, ultimately putting his car ninth. In the race he was battling for seventh, until a sandwich wrapper became lodged in his rear brake duct, causing an early retirement. A good return.
Esteban Ocon – 4
As I said, the story was whether Alpine could get out of Q1. Ocon failed miserably. He never seemed to get the measure of his car, and his only highlight was getting shafted by Vettel. I’m not saying that Ocon is in danger of being Vandoorne’d, but Esteban Ocon is no longer in his ‘maturing’ stage, he’s had three and a half seasons to progress and needs to show that he’s the future of the Alpine brand.
Charles Leclerc – 8
The Ferrari has pace. I repeat. The Ferrari has pace. Leclerc put in a blinding qualifying lap to finish just 0.09 off a Mercedes. Over the course of the race, he was being dropped by around a tenth of a second per lap to Lando. Compared to where they were last year, that’s a mighty leap. This bodes well for the Scuderia.
Carlos Sainz – 6
I suspect Charles got a humungous tow in his qualifying lap, either way, Sainz qualified a bleak six tenths back. He was a bit obscure throughout the race, but was just over a second to catching the man who replaced him at McLaren for seventh.
Pierre Gasly – 4
A rocket performance in qualifying saw Gasly qualify fifth, unfortunately, he got jumped by both McLaren’s off the line and then ran into the back of Ricciardo. After damaging his front wing and occurring floor damage, he ran last before retiring with a suspected gearbox issue.
Yuki Tsunoda – 6
The youngest driver on the grid underperformed in qualifying and started twelfth, and then had a terrible start to boot. From then onwards, marvellous. Divebombing a two-time champion on your debut? Easy work. “I had to trust Fernando’s skills and just lunge it,” Yuki said, and lunge it he did. Last lap send for ninth? Tsunoda doesn’t care. This man will be in this sport for a long time. Give him the right car and he will deliver a championship.
Kimi Raikkonen – 6
The Finn started his 20th season in Formula 1, and showed no sign of slowing down. He will be disappointed to be five tenths slower than his teammate in qualifying, but to finish the race two seconds away from a point is a sure sign that Alfa Romeo has progressed towards the midfield.
Antonio Giovinazzi – 6
It was much the same as Kimi, a good opening race for the Italian. This season is important as Giovinazzi needs to prove his worth as there are plenty of other Ferrari juniors gunning for his seat. Quali proved his pace, but he needs to do more in the races.
Mick Schumacher – 5
We must be mindful of the car he’s in. As it’s going to be rooted to the bottom, his task is to outperform his teammate, which he did. A spin on the restart shows how tricky the car is to handle, and with no developments, it will carry on throughout the season. He got the mileage in and finished the race without another mistake. Decent.
Nikita Mazepin – 0
Two spins in practice.
Breaks the gentleman’s code of no overtaking in qualifying out laps and overtakes multiple world champions.
Spins in the first corner to ruin the final runs for every driver he just overtook.
Spun and crashed out on the first lap with no one around him, successfully navigating one corner.
George Russell – 7
Once again, George Russell delivers. If there is a sniff of a chance to get into Q2, you can bet that Russell will drag the Williams there. No one expected much, and I certainly didn’t expect to see Russell running briefly in 10th. George did well to hunt down an injured Vettel to overtake him towards the end to finish 14th. This is the first time since the opening race of 2018 where Williams is not rooted to the bottom of the table. I think points are to come, maybe next time out in Imola.
Nicholas Latifi – 3.5
17th is one of Latifi’s highest qualifying positions. However, throughout the race he had to manage an engine problem, which caused him to retire towards the final stages of the race with a boost leak. Was still beating the Haas of Schumacher, so not all bad.