“Horrifying” final laps in Bahrain – Hamilton
Sir Lewis Hamilton has described the final laps of the Bahrain Grand Prix where he was battling with Max Verstappen as “horrifying,” fearing keeping the Red Bull behind was impossible.
The Mercedes driver was third with his final stint being eleven laps longer than Verstappen’s equivalent, as the Black Arrows opted to take an aggressive strategy to get ahead of the polesitter. But the tactic worked with Hamilton homing in lap by lap before the move at Turn Four with three laps to go.
Where Verstappen handed the position to Hamilton after Red Bull decided that he had gained an unfair advantage, avoiding a penalty, although he closed in again on the Mercedes in the few remaining tours, Hamilton held on to take a 96th F1 career win.
When asked how the final laps felt in his cockpit during the post-race press conference, Hamilton joked: “It was horrifying! It wasn’t great. I was struggling at the end with the rear end of my car, my rear tyres had gone off. I think [they were] maybe eight laps older or something like that to Max’s tyres.
“So, I knew he was going to catch me with 10 laps to go and I was like thinking ‘it’s going to be almost impossible to hold him behind’, which in fact it was, up until the Turn 4 incident.”
He says that despite the pressure, he “loved every minute” of his battle with Verstappen. Hamilton says that knowing Mercedes were behind this weekend and holding up the faster Red Bull was a real result.
Hamilton also explained that he did not certain he would hold on to win until the final lap of the 56-lap race. He said: “Bono [Peter Bonnington, Hamilton’s race engineer] just kept telling me how many laps were left! He was like ‘three laps, two laps’ and I’m like ‘Bono, I can count! I’ve got it!’.
“He’s just nervous, but I’m grateful for Bono and his patience with me. I think it was really the last lap – there was a point, once I got through Turn 4 I knew that I was in a good position.”
Shakespearean novel of track limits rules and directives – Wolff
Mercedes F1 CEO and team principal Toto Wolff has urged the FIA to clear up its track limits approach after fresh controversy in the Bahrain Grand Prix, saying the rules need to be “sacred” and not a “Shakespeare novel”.
Track limits were a pivotal role in deciding the battle for victory between Sir Lewis Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen overtook while leader Hamilton at Turn 4 but had to hand the position back to the world champion after leaving the track.
In qualifying drivers were told going over track limits in the session at Turn Four would lead to times being deleted, however for the majority of the race the rules were ignored before the stewards issued a warning to stay in the white lines. This prompted confusion for the teams about how track limits are enforced, with Mercedes chief Wolff urging the FIA to be clearer and more consistent in the future.
Wolff told Motorsport.com, “At the beginning of the race it was said track limits in Turn 4 wouldn’t be sanctioned and then in the race suddenly we heard that if you would continue to run wide it would be seen as an advantage and could cause a potential penalty.”
“Then at the end that decision actually made us win the race. Max ran wide in the definition of the race director, gaining an advantage, he had to give back the position and that saved our victory.”
Wolff says that the teams sporting director Ron Meadows were in contact with FIA race director Michael Masi during the race to seek clarification. He referred to the note saying ‘Yes, but only if you’re not gaining an advantage’ and that was in the notes. I haven’t seen them.
Vettel’s disastrous reset debut with Aston Martin
Sebastian Vettel’s debut with Aston Martin was a race to forget in Bahrain, as the four-time champions weekend unravelled in qualifying. The German was knocked out in Q1 on Saturday in eighteenth place, before he earned a back of the grid penalty for ignoring yellow flags.
His race didn’t fare much better, Vettel was battling outside the points before crashing into the back of the Alpine of Esteban Ocon. That damaged his car and earned him a 10-second time penalty. He finished fifteenth and behind Williams’ George Russell.
The stewards disagreed with his argument that Ocon had changed his line under braking but the stewards disagreed, with their verdict determining “that Car 5 was wholly to blame for the contact at Turn 1.”
Vettel was also handed five points on his super licence for the two separate incidents. He got three for the qualifying penalty, and two for the Ocon clash. The German went into 2021 with no points on his licence, if he receives seven more points before 26th March 2022, he will be given a one-race ban.
The four-times champion explained to Sky Sports, “I was trying to cut back to the left but Esteban was moving left as well and then when I was right behind him I locked the fronts and hit him straight on. So obviously that was not great for both of our races.”
“Initially it looked like it wasn’t that bad but towards the end, I was struggling quite a lot with tyres so I don’t think I could have realistically scored points today.”
Ocon collision “probably my mistake” – Vettel
Sebastian Vettel admitted that his collision with Esteban Ocon was “probably my mistake” and explained why he initially blamed the Alpine driver. On lap forty-five of the race the two were fighting for twelfth, but when the German slotted in behind Ocon he misjudged his braking going into the back of the Alpine.
Both drivers managed to continue but lost a handful of positions, neither of them getting close to the points. The stewards decided Vettel was responsible, handing him a ten-second penalty adding to the three penalty points he received for ignoring yellow flags in qualifying – but Vettel initially put the blame on Ocon, asking “Why did he move?” on the team radio.
After watching the footage Vettel came around to take responsibility but explained why he first blamed Ocon. The German admitted, “I thought he would stay right and then when he came back left, he was right ahead of me and I locked, so it was probably my mistake.”
“Obviously, I’m a bit sorry for such a bad weekend because I know how much prep goes in before the start of the season and the first race. On the other hand, it can only go up from here. As I said, we learned a lot of things so it’s a lot of work ahead of us but it is what it is and we have to tackle it step-by-step.”
Ocon says that Vettel apologised for the accident and he wasn’t holding grudges. He explained, “Unfortunately, the incident with Vettel at the end made us lose a couple of positions but that is how racing is sometimes when you fight so close. I’ve re-watched the accident just now and he didn’t tell me [about the radio comment]. He came and apologised, and he got the penalty for it so it is all okay.”
Aston Martin had a low key race in Bahrain with Vettel’s teammate Lance Stroll only managing tenth, as the former Racing Point outfit seems to be firmly behind midfield rivals McLaren, Ferrari and even AlphaTauri.
Tsunoda’s emotional overtake on Alonso
Yuki Tsunoda said he felt emotional overtaking boyhood hero Fernando Alonso on his debut at the Bahrain Grand Prix. The Alpha Tauri driver made an impressive series of overtakes on his way to ninth, becoming the first rookie to score on debut since Stoffel Vandoorne in 2016.
For the Japanese driver, the move which stood out for him was his pass on two times champion Alonso, on his return to the sport for the first time since 2018. Tsunoda said, “It was a bit emotional when I passed Fernando. Last time I saw him, 12 or 13 years ago, when I was seven or eight years old!”
“So, into Turn 1, I just trusted Fernando’s skills and just launched it – you know, like a rookie. I felt a bit sorry about it, but I just launched it from pretty far away, so there were a few emotional things. Of course, it’s not the same car but I was happy for that.”
For Tsunoda’s family, the aggressive driving style was what stood out for him, recalling when his father catching the acceleration of Alonso through the final corner at Suzuka, saying “his acceleration from the last corner is the best of any driver on the grid.”
During Sunday’s race in Sakhir, he was able to follow Alonso for a short amount of time, and saw an instant improvement to his own style.
Adding, “I drove with him a couple of laps and I learned from him how he managed the tires on the corners, how he was driving every corner. After I passed him, I tried to copy his driving and in a couple of corners were better from my car as well.”
Sainz admits to being too cautious on Ferrari debut
Carlos Sainz says he was too cautious in his approach in the opening laps of his Ferrari debut in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix. The Spaniard says he was eager not to take too many risks as he didn’t want his first race with the team to result in an early crash.
But by taking that risk, Sainz found himself shuffled down the pack too much and his race becoming about a recovery drive, finishing eighth two places behind teammate Charles Leclerc. While admitting he hoped to finish the race higher he feels his performance in the race had been strong, given how much he had been compromised by his early caution had compromised him.
He explained, “Overall it’s been a good weekend for me. Maybe the result itself is nothing special, but I think the weekend is stronger than the result feels in race circumstances and qualifying circumstances. I was a bit on the back foot after the first few laps, probably taking a bit of a cautious approach into my first few laps with Ferrari.”
“I just wanted to make sure I finished this race. Once I managed to clear the two slower cars, the Aston and the Alpine, and I managed to get into clean air, I was actually very happy with the car and could extract the pace from the car.”
Sainz says that there will be more opportunities to be more aggressive this year and he still needed to get more out of the car.
Coincidentally, Sainz finished right behind his McLaren replacement Daniel Ricciardo, which he felt was a good sign considering how much faster his previous team had been last year.
Saying, “It is encouraging because last year I remember I passed Charles pretty easy, so I remember how big the difference was between McLaren and Ferrari.”
Sainz says he was closer to the McLaren than the Ferrari was last season, catching up by half a second a lap. He added “So there’s positive signs, there’s encouragement, and there’s a big step compared to last year. Now it is a matter of fine-tuning the details, keep working hard back in Maranello and keep improving.”
F1 has released its weekly Coronavirus update, for week 22 – 28 March in the period 8,150 tests were carried out on drivers, teams and personnel with twelve positive tests. So far that the highest weekly figure since reporting began in June 2020.