F1 Preview: 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix

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There’s one race down in the 2018 FIA Formula 1 World Championship season, but even though the season-opening Australian Grand Prix answered a couple questions, it posed even more.

As a temporary circuit around Albert Park, the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit is somewhat of an anomaly on the calendar, so the results from the weekend won’t necessarily indicate who is poised to be strong throughout the season.

Still, as the first race of the season, it did shine some light on how the on-track action might look for the rest of the season, and this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix should shed yet more light on the outlook for 2018.

And as one of two races to run at night – the Singapore Grand Prix is the other – Bahrain is set to be one of the more unique spectacles all year.

Key talking points to keep track of heading into the weekend are below.

Ferrari vs. Mercedes: Who is Top Dog?

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Sebastian Vettel and Scuderia Ferrari capitalized on a Virtual Safety Car in Australia to take victory over rivals Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes AMG Petronas. And they even enter Bahrain as the defending race winners.

Still, Mercedes could easily flip the script, given their dominance in the hybrid power unit era, and their W09 EQ Power+ just might be the fastest car on the grid, evidenced by Hamilton taking pole in Australia by over half a second.

However, Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas isn’t so sure that Ferrari is pretty evenly matched with them, despite the pace they showed at the season-opener.

“I think it’s going to be a close season. We’re not miles ahead,” Bottas said in a story posted on Crash.com. “I think Lewis really got everything right in Q3, maybe the other teams’ drivers didn’t get everything perfect. So I think it’s going to be a big battle and it’s going to be a tough season.”

If Ferrari can be in the ballpark with Mercedes, as they were last year when the teams seemingly traded strengths at every track, then 2018 could see yet another duel amongst them in the driver’s and constructor’s championships.

And Bahrain should give a better indication of such.

Where Does Red Bull Fall in the Title Picture?

Daniel Ricciardo during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. Photo: Getty Images

Not to be outdone by Ferrari and Mercedes, Red Bull Racing could be a sleeper in the title chase. Daniel Ricciardo was right on Kimi Raikkonen’s gearbox at the end of the Australian Grand Prix and hounded him throughout the second half of the race as they battled for the final spot on the podium, with Ricciardo eventually finish fourth behind Raikkonen.

Teammate Max Verstappen struggled after suffering damage early on that contributed to a spin, though he did ultimately finish sixth.

If they can keep things clean, this is a team that has the potential to mix it up with Ferrari and Mercedes. Both Ricciardo and Verstappen won races in 2017, one for Ricciardo and two for Verstappen, who won two of the final six races.

What’s more, Verstappen’s triumph in last year’s Malaysian Grand Prix came in a straight fight of sorts against Hamilton, as he overtook the Briton early in the race with a daring move up the inside entering Turn 1.

If they build on their Australia pace and can be close to Ferrari and Mercedes, Red Bull could easily find themselves battling for the win in Bahrain, a race they last won in 2013.

Can McLaren and Haas Maintain Their Early-Season Form?

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 23: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren F1 Team MCL33 Renault on track during practice for the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 23, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

McLaren F1 Team had its best race in years at Australia, with Fernando Alonso finishing at impressive fifth – his best finish since the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix – while Stoffel Vandoore came home in ninth to give McLaren its first double points finish since last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

Haas F1 Team, too, was fast out of the gates, with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean running inside the Top 5 before cross threaded wheel nuts on both cars ended their races prematurely.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Kevin Magnussen of Denmark driving the (20) Haas F1 Team VF-18 Ferrari leads Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

If both McLaren and Haas show similar pace to what they showed in Australian, then the top half of the grid could be in for a big shakeup.

Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix rolls off at 11:00 a.m. ET.

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Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)