History will show that Finland born Valtteri Bottas was the winner of the 2019 Rolex Australian F1 Grand Prix. Behind the scenes, what will be forgotten is that his team mate and expected winner, Lewis Hamilton, was hobbled by damage to a small but crucial part of his Mercedes-AMG F1 car.
It was a section of the floor pan directly ahead of the left hand side rear tire and designed, like so many parts of the car are, to reduce turbulent air and divert airflow. The section itself was caused by an impact that the team speculates was on a kerb. Hamilton himself was not able to pinpoint a time or location as to when and how the car was damaged.
Further questions came out about the seeming “failure” of Ferrari to match the performance of the silver vehicles. Sebastian Vettel was forced to ask his team mid-race a simple but unanswerable question: “”Why are we so slow?” Bahrain may go some way to redressing a one race imbalance.
Red Bull performed to expectations, as did one half of the new look Renault team. Nico Hulkenberg finished a reasonable seventh but the question was what happened to Daniel Ricciardo’s car after his start line impact with a drainage grill and grass section. Certainly the nose damage was significant but the team appears to not have revealed the cause of the retirement itself, other than the disappointed Australian reporting further damage to the right hand side of his Renault.
The three debutantes held up well in their first cut and thrust exposure. Lando Norris in his McLaren, Alexander Albon from Toro Rosso, and George Russell from Williams, managed to stay out of the way of the quicker teams, and can only improve as extra race time comes their way.
Tire choice seemed to be more important that originally thought at Melbourne, and the Bahrain round goes up a level, literally. Of the five compounds available, Bahrain will have the hardest through to the middle compound. Pirelli describes the identification thus:
Compound 1 (the hardest) will be marked with white Pirelli branding, but without the lines around the outside wall of the tyre,
Compound 2 will be marked with full white branding,
Compound 3 will be marked with full yellow branding,
Compound 4 will be marked with full red branding,
Compound 5 (the softest) will be marked with red Pirelli branding, but without the lines around the outside wall of the tyre.
Bahrain itself will host the second round of the 2019 Formula 1 season and it will be a twilight race for added visual spectacle. First run in 2004 and on a circuit built from scratch, it’s regarded as a technically demanding circuit and this weekend should see better opportunities for overtaking, as opposed to the Albert Park street based circuit.
Built on a 15 turn design, with a mix of four straights counterbalanced by some genuinely speed sapping hairpins, the 57 laps over the 5.412 kilometres should, with the changes to the aero and rubber packages for this season, showcase what these changes are intended to bring.
It should be also the first litmus test for the rookie drivers, faced with a dedicated race circuit for their first F1 race drive. Ferrari won here last year, with Sebastian Vettel taking the chequered flag a bare seven tenths ahead of the first winner for 2019, Valtteri Bottas. With Ferrari’s pace seemingly off the boil in Melbourne, Bahrain could be a place, this early in the season, for a redress to occur. And Daniel Ricciardo will no doubt be watching for grass hummocks and drainage grilles.
Rokit Williams announced earlier in the week that they have identified a crucial “weakness” in their FW42 car. George Russell, hinting at a potential mid-season change, says: “To change something so fundamental will take months of development, work in the simulator and designers working out how to do it, and that’s what needs to be done at the moment. Unfortunately we’re looking at a number of races before we’re going to be able to fight. That is just where we are at the moment.”
The money is on Turn 10 as the one to watch. Drivers will be coming in from a downhill run, after gaining speed at Turn 8. It’s a left hand kink into Turn 9 and preparing to back off on speed for Turn 10. By being in a still turning corner, load is taken off the front left and the risk of locking & flat-spotting goes up rapidly.
There’s some extra entertainment this weekend in the form of Formula 2, and news that Michael Schumacher Junior, racing in F2, will do some testing in F1 after the race weekend. Practice starts at 14:00 hours local on Friday March 29. The qualifying sessions commence at 18:00 local March 30, with the race starting at 18:10 local on Sunday, March 31.