The 2013 Formula 1 calendar, especially at this early stage of the season, provides periods of feast, followed by periods of famine. After the Malaysian Grand Prix we had to endure a three-week wait for yesterday’s Chinese Grand Prix, yet by the end of this week the cars will be back out on track, this time in Bahrain.
So with little time to digest the goings-on in Shanghai, we must already look to round four. The championship race is now fully underway, with battle being joined by a number of likely contenders. Fernando Alonso, who was 24 points off the pace when we left Malaysia, is now just 9 points adrift from early leader Sebastian Vettel after a comfortable win in China.
Alonso is a three-time winner of the Bahrain Grand Prix, and holds the record for the number of wins at this event. Team-mate Felipe Massa is the only other driver to win more than one race in Bahrain, so history would suggest that one of the Ferrari drivers will stand on the top step of the podium again tomorrow.
Last year, however, it was Sebastian Vettel who took victory in Bahrain, despite strong competition from Kimi Räikkönen that day. The Finn, in just his fourth race for Lotus, was the only driver who could match Vettel in the race, and came very close to overtaking the German at one point. Räikkönen missed out though, and had to wait until near the end of the season, when F1 returned to the Middle East, for him to take that first win of his return in Abu Dhabi.
One year on, Räikkönen stands second in the drivers’ championship, just three points behind Vettel. Should their Bahrain rivalry recommence this year, there could be a change in championship leader this weekend.
Fourth in the championship is Lewis Hamilton who, after narrowly beating Vettel to third place in China yesterday, is just 12 points adrift of the three-time world champion. The Mercedes is definitely getting faster and more competitive, but it will be a mightily quick improvement if they can make the jump from third place to a race win in just seven days.
And what of those already slipping out of championship contention? Spare a thought for Mark Webber. His trails in China – not enough fuel in his car for qualifying, losing his right-rear wheel during the race, and getting a three-place grid penalty for Bahrain after crashing into Jean-Eric Vergne – have left him 26 points behind his team-mate after only three races. Factor in the team-orders controversy in Malaysia that cost him the race victory, and only finishing sixth in his home race, and you might already start to assume that 2013 is just not going to be Webber’s year.
It is also looking unlikely to be the year that Sergio Perez imagined when he signed his McLaren contract. He may have had a small altercation with Räikkönen during the race in Shanghai, but that does not excuse the fact that he was comprehensively out-qualified and out-raced by team-mate Jenson Button in China.
Fair enough, Button may be the most experienced driver on the grid, but when you look elsewhere in the field, and see that Nico Hulkenberg got through to Q3 in Shanghai, led the race – albeit only for a few laps – and still scored a point, all in a slower car, you have to wonder whether McLaren picked the wrong driver to replace Hamilton. Perez needs to show that he is worthy of his McLaren seat, and Bahrain would be a good place to start!
In recent years, the Bahrain Grand Prix has been surrounded in controversy. It was cancelled in 2011, a few months after civil unrest began in the country. It was reinstated last year despite troubling reports about the way the rulers of the Gulf State were treating protesters.
There was an outcry from many observers who felt that Formula 1 should not be supporting a government that was being accused of using weapons against its own people, or otherwise stamping down on peaceful protests. Few in Formula 1 stood up to Bernie Ecclestone however, especially amongst the teams, and amid a media storm the race weekend went ahead without any major incidents.
This year, the level of protest over Formula 1 going to Bahrain has been more muted, or at least less-widely reported. No doubt concerns will be aired this week, as the event gets closer, but the number of people coming out to condemn the event seems to be much smaller than last year.
Is this because the race took place last year without any problems? Or is it because these people have accepted that, as long as he gets the race fees, Ecclestone is prepared to stage a race anywhere? Maybe, just maybe, it is because the situation in Bahrain is improving. Hopefully, with the world’s eyes on the country this weekend, we will find out more about the plight of the citizens than we would do otherwise, as well as watching some great racing.
|2013 FORMULA 1 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX|
|Timetable (all times BST)|
|Friday 19th April|
|Free Practice 1||08:00|
|Free Practice 2||12:00|
|Saturday 20th April|
|Free Practice 3||09:00|
|Sunday 21st April|
|Live: Sky Sports F1 HD, Highlights: BBC, Radio: BBC Radio 5 Live / 5 Live Sports Extra|