Reflections on Bahrain
Sky Sports F1's Martin Brundle tries to make sense of a bewildering weekend in Bahrain, ponders the Pirelli dilemma, and explains why Kimi Raikkonen was right not to be satisfied with second place...
By Martin Brundle. Last Updated: 24/04/12 12:18pm
I've attended well over 450 Formula One races and last weekend in Bahrain was one of the most surreal and emotional for everyone involved.
When we packed for the double-header, I suspect the majority of the paddock thought that we would be heading directly home after the Chinese GP. On my way to Bahrain via Abu Dhabi, in the connecting airport it struck me how many flights there were to Bahrain, and how jam-packed our Boeing 777 was.
On landing I was expecting a tired and broken down vision with lots of damage and debris. However the airport was flat out and the roads - the quality of which we can only crave in the UK - were busy with everybody going about their business in the capital Manama. I was surprised at the amount of corporate, residential and infrastructure development that had taken place since my last visit along with the volume of construction underway.
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Were the problems being suppressed in the villages out of our view? Were we being duped? There was significant police presence but there always has been in Bahrain (and many other F1 races we visit, including armed personnel at some like Istanbul) and in any event we were promised security and safe passage.
During the time I was out and about in Bahrain and at the track for the next six days my confusion would only grow. Watching the news channels in the hotel room simply didn't match what I or my friends and colleagues were witnessing. It became impossible to know who and what to believe and so, as I said in the Sky Sports F1 race show, I decided to trust my own eyes and instincts.
Trouble found Force India and it did sound scary. I thought Bob Fernley and the team handled it extremely well and I admire them for the actions they took in the face of potential ridicule and antagonism. It was a sweet result when Paul di Resta danced his car home on a two stopper for sixth place, his 19th consecutive finish.
In the end I believe F1 made the right decision to go to Bahrain and not run away in adversity which would have exposed us to all kinds of challenges in the future. But there must be greater accord and healing in the country before we head there again next year, which has been promised. I very much like Bahrain and its people; I hope they can find a way.
Now we have the fourth winner (of both driver and constructor for the first time since 1983) and championship leader in as many races. It became increasingly clear that the Red Bull car was sticking to the track in a much more convincing way as the event unfolded. The team had been working hard and long hours changing exhaust layouts and other small but critical aerodynamic areas.
In eight days we have had two great races largely driven by the degradation and resultant strategy dilemmas around the Pirelli tyres. In our show I expressed an opinion that whilst I'm really enjoying the races I wouldn't want F1 to become only about the tyres. I hadn't realised that Michael Schumacher was about to launch a broadside at the difficulty of managing the narrow window of performance and the high drop off of the tyre grip.
On the journey home I was talking with two F1 drivers, a world champion and a multiple race winner, and they had very similar concerns to Michael in that they can't push the cars anywhere near their limits. 'Physically my granny could drive the race' quipped one to underline how far away from the limits they are.
Pirelli have done a great job for F1 and judging by audience figures and comments the fans love this style of unpredictable racing. But it does become confusing when we have drivers popping up out of the blue with a fast but unrepeatable lap time in a session, and fancied runners simply disappearing backwards in the race. We need to see pure skill, speed and pace win through too, and not simply just applaud those who could tip toe the best or find the right set-up sweetspot on the day. There is room for both.
The stand out for me on race day was Kimi Raikkonen. Eleventh on the grid but with four of his six sets unused he was always going to move forward. It's impressive that his race craft hasn't suffered at all by being away, we've seen him in numerous wheel-to-wheel combats already and he's staying out of trouble at the start too.
I spoke with him after the race and he was really unhappy not to have won. "I chose the wrong side with my one chance to pass Vettel," he remarked. I asked if he meant that he should have carried on down the inside, and he surprised me when he said, "No, I should have just gone down the outside".
I feel that, just like with Sauber in Malaysia, if Lotus (formerly Toleman, Benetton and Renault) had done more winning in recent times they would have seized the upper hand with Red Bull more aggressively and forced the pit-stops. In hindsight they would surely have eased Kimi past his team-mate much sooner when they were together earlier in the race. Kimi also slipped up and let Felipe Massa's Ferrari by in the early stages which cost him a lot of time.
I said to Kimi 'so that's a race that got away' and his facial expression confirmed that the racer in him is fiercely alive and kicking. No self-congratulatory pat on the back for him.
Romain Grosjean did a tremendous job in the other Lotus for his first podium too especially as he had two less sets of tyres than Raikkonen. The car clearly has benign aerodynamics and is reasonably straightforward and consistent to set up which bodes extremely well for this season.
Somehow Sebastian Vettel has turned up at the top of the championship table. Now we have the Mugello three day test and the first European race in Barcelona where traditionally the development race really gets underway. The equivalent of one fifth place covers the top five in the championship which sets the scene very nicely. And we will be covering every minute of every session live for you.