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Same story at Williams – the consternation of Malaysia had been replaced by another great, clean, fair fight between Felipe Massa and emerging superstar Valtteri Bottas a week later in Bahrain.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.

Williams to wait until new year before making 2018 F1 driver decision

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Williams will wait until the new year before making an announcement regarding its Formula 1 driver line-up for the 2018 season.

Williams holds the final vacant seat in F1 for next year, with Felipe Massa retiring at the last race of the 2017 season in Abu Dhabi at the end of November.

The Brazilian’s departure has opened up a seat alongside Lance Stroll for 2018, which looked poised to be taken by Robert Kubica, over seven years after he last raced in F1 before injuries sustained in a rally accident appeared to cut his career short.

Doubts emerged about Kubica’s comeback following a test with Williams in its 2017-spec car in Abu Dhabi after the final race of the season, leading to Russian youngster Sergey Sirotkin becoming the favorite.

Besides Kubica and Sirotkin, ditched Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat is also an option, but Williams has now confirmed it will make no decision on its line-up until the new year.

Sirotkin first entered the frame in F1 in 2013 when he became a development driver at Sauber, with Russian backers SMP Racing pushing to get him a race seat for the following year.

Sirotkin missed out on a full-time role at the team, leading him to focus on racing in Formula Renault 3.5 for 2014 before spending two years in GP2, where he finished third in the standings in both seasons.

Renault struck an agreement to sign Sirotkin in a junior role in 2016, leading to a number of practice run-outs over the last two seasons, but he was passed over for a 2018 race seat when it signed Carlos Sainz Jr.

Williams emerged as an option for Sirotkin following a successful maiden test with the team in Abu Dhabi alongside Kubica, with talks now set to continue over the holiday period.

Sirotkin has not taken on a full-time race program this year, making just a single competitive appearance in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with SMP Racing in the LMP2 class.

Sirotkin has also been involved in the development of the team’s BR Engineering-designed LMP1 car for the 2018 FIA World Endurance Championship season, and is likely to secure a seat should he miss out on the role at Williams.