Teammate battles in Bahrain a refreshing tonic for F1

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I touched on this briefly in another MST piece this am, but the 10 points-paying finishers in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix came from the minimum possible number of teams, five.

What was intriguing about all that was that in each team instance, there weren’t any major dramas or public team orders determining how the pair of drivers would finish.

Mercedes’ pair of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg had the epic scrap for the win between them. Hamilton and Rosberg would exchange moves that borderlined on crazy if one was established number one, but it was just a pure fight between them. Even in the final stint, as Rosberg was on the softer option tires, he should have by rights had the position over Hamilton. But he had to earn it, and despite several attempts, he was unable to pass Hamilton on the primes.

Red Bull provided the rare “Sebastian, Daniel is quicker than you” line on a radio transmission at one point as Daniel Ricciardo was, at that early point in the race, quicker than teammate Sebastian Vettel. Ricciardo had to fight to get ahead of him and ultimately ended fourth, while the four-time champion ended sixth. Ricciardo has done pretty much all that could be expected of him, and more, through three races thus far and his improved race pace has been a welcome sight for those more accustomed to his qualifying prowess at Toro Rosso.

Force India? What is it with Sergio Perez and Bahrain that ignites a fire under the young Mexican, where he’s fearless on passing maneuvers in places of the Sakhir circuit that you otherwise wouldn’t dare pass? He and Nico Hulkenberg had multiple great dices during the day, with Perez ultimately securing the team’s first podium in four and a half years, much to the delight of team principal Vijay Mallya.

Same story at Williams – the consternation of Malaysia had been replaced by another great, clean, fair fight between Felipe Massa and emerging superstar Valtteri Bottas a week later in Bahrain. Massa’s start was sublime; both were unlucky in the safety car period to fall from podium contention down to seventh and eighth.

Even Ferrari had Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen close, although Alonso appears ahead in that internal team battle thus far. There’s bigger issues at Maranello than the driver lineup; the car and power unit package weren’t in the same zip code this weekend.

But in all five of those instances, it’s hard to pinpoint a specific number one versus number two driver situation other than at Red Bull. And even there, Ricciardo’s established himself quickly as worthy of the seat to make it a near 1-and-1A situation.

With no established hierarchies within the teams – as yet, anyway – we were treated to five teams’ epic scraps as on-track battles won out over team preferences from the pit wall.

Team orders will always exist to a degree, but for less than two glorious hours Sunday night in Bahrain, they were not the story.

Honda defends decision to redesign F1 power unit for 2017

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Honda Formula 1 chief Yusuke Hasegawa has defended the decision to redesign its power unit layout for 2017 despite suffering a number of reliability and performance issues at the start of the season.

Entering its third year since returning to F1 as an engine supplier, Honda looked to make gains by revising the layout of its power unit to mirror that of pace-setter Mercedes.

The decision appeared to backfire, though, with a lack of both performance and reliability leaving customer team McLaren frustrated and without a single point after three races.

Speaking in Friday’s FIA press conference in Russia, Hasegawa was asked if the decision to revise the power unit layout was a mistake, and defending the move despite admitting to the ongoing problems.

“I don’t think we made a complete mistake from last year’s performance. We knew that we have to change everything, not only the package but also the combustion, so we tried to modify all areas,” Hasegawa explained.

“Some areas we succeeded, to reduce the weight and lower the center of gravity, but yeah, definitely we couldn’t get enough power from the combustion. So, yeah, it is just an excuse, but we still need time.

“But we don’t think we made a huge mistake, the direction was right. We are very much disappointed with our current situation.

“But because the base concept is correct, we believe we can make good progress in the middle of the season.”

McLaren’s hopes of scoring its first points of the year in Russia took a hit on Friday when Stoffel Vandoorne was forced to take new elements for his power unit, triggering a 15-place grid drop for the race.

More brake issues strike Haas in Russia F1 practice despite supplier change

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The Haas Formula 1 team endured another difficult day of practice ahead of the Russian Grand Prix as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen suffered more brake issues despite changing supplier.

Haas confirmed on Thursday that it would be switching from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes, having suffered problems throughout its 14-month stint in F1.

Despite enjoying a positive test in Bahrain with Carbon Industrie parts last week, both Grosjean and Magnussen struggled with their brakes in FP1 and FP2 at the Sochi Autodrom on Friday.

Grosjean finished FP2 14th-fastest, with Magnussen breaking into the top 10, charging to ninth place in the VF-17 car.

“We’ve got very little grip. We’re really struggling with the balance,” Grosjean said. “We had some issues, as well, with the brakes over the long runs. We need to look at what we can do better with them.

“Generally, it’s just been a very difficult Friday. The car didn’t perform well – very low grip on low fuel and high fuel.”

Team principal Guenther Steiner added: “We had a lot to do and I think we did a lot. We still haven’t got all the results yet, as we need to go through data.

“I would say the issues with the brakes were mainly because they’re new to us. We need to find out how they work. Going through the data, we will decide tomorrow what we’re doing and how we continue.

“All in all, we had pretty fruitful sessions. We did a lot of laps and we learned a lot. Now we need to get the best out of what we learned for tomorrow to go into qualifying.”

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 8am ET on Saturday.

F1 Paddock Pass: Russian Grand Prix, Friday edition (VIDEO)

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While the drivers may be the stars of Formula 1, their on-track escapades would not be possible without the titanic effort from those behind the scenes at their respective teams, making it key for us to hear from the people who make racing possible from time to time.

Following on from the special Friday edition of NBC Sports’ original digital series ‘Paddock Pass’ in Bahrain, Will Buxton is back with all of the interviews from the team bosses in today’s FIA press conference in Russia.

In part one, we hear from Otmar Szafnauer, COO at Force India, who gives his verdict on the team’s showing in 2017 so far and new driver Esteban Ocon’s start to the season. We also catch up with Renault technical boss Nick Chester and Pirelli’s new F1 chief, Mario Isola.

In part two, Ferrari’s engine boss Luigi Fabroni offers his thoughts on the Italian marque’s strong start to the 2017 season following Sebastian Vettel’s wins in Australia and Bahrain. At the other end of the success spectrum, McLaren’s Matt Morris and Honda’s Yusuke Hasegawa discuss the ongoing rebuilding project at woking.

Vettel refusing to be misled by Mercedes’ F1 practice pace in Russia

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Sebastian Vettel is refusing to read too much into Ferrari’s impressive Formula 1 practice pace in Russia on Friday, saying it is easy to be “misled” by rival team Mercedes.

Vettel arrived in Russia for the fourth round of the season after making the best start to a campaign by a Ferrari driver since Michael Schumacher in 2004, winning two of the first three races.

Vettel continued Ferrari’s impressive showing to start 2017 by dominating second practice on Friday at the Sochi Autodrom, finishing over half a second clear of Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

However, Vettel is refusing to take too much from the result, citing Mercedes’ jump in pace from Friday to Saturday in Russia last year as a reason why not to.

“I think Mercedes will be fine. It’s a circuit that suits them, so they will be strong tomorrow,” Vettel said after practice, as quoted by the official F1 website.

“I don’t want to make this personal but I think last year people expected Williams to be the fastest after Friday if I remember right, and obviously it turned out Mercedes were.

“That’s how sometimes you can be misled. I think there are a lot of things we can play with in the car, loads, engines modes. At this track especially there are a lot of things you can show or not show.

“I think the most important [thing] is that we talk about ourselves, our balance, and I think we improved throughout the session so I’m reasonably happy.”

Vettel will be chasing Ferrari’s first pole since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday, with qualifying live on CNBC from 8am ET.