In the desert of Bahrain, a political sandstorm has been brewing for some time. The Gulf state has long been rife with protests and lacking civil stability, yet the aficionados that run Formula One have deemed it safe enough to conduct a yearly three-day event amassing global publicity. Indeed, the tumultuous nature of the build-up to this year’s Bahrain Grand Prix saw one protester killed during demonstrations, a petrol bomb explode and a Sauber minibus being approached by masked men. But the race itself – thankfully – went smoothly.
Whether the decision to hold the Bahrain GP proved a justified and calculated risk or simply a narrow, chance escape is, perhaps, difficult to judge; though, what counts is that the F1 season was allowed to continue undisrupted, and the greatest benefactor was last year’s champion, Sebastian Vettel. After a disappointing start to the season, Vettel and Red Bull found themselves without a win, lurking in a part of the table that would have been unfamiliar to them since their dominance began two seasons ago. But this weekend, the hoodoo was ended. Vettel was able to qualify in pole position for the first time this season and duly proceeded to convert this into the maximum 25 points for his first win of the year.
…far from one-sided…
Though Vettel led from start to finish, the contest was far from one-sided. Kimi Raikonnen and Romain Grosjean of surprise contenders, Lotus-Renault, provided fine displays in capturing 2nd and 3rd place respectively. Former world champion, Raikkonen – making his return after two years out of the sport – was as close as 0.2 seconds behind Vettel at stages and his team-mate, Grosjean, impressed greatly with his debut podium finish. Elsewhere, Mark Webber finished fourth to complete a wholly satisfying weekend for Red Bull, rocketing them into first place in the Constructors standings.
By contrast, McLaren endured a weekend to forget, only taking four points via Lewis Hamilton’s eighth place finish as his team-mate, Jenson Button, was forced to retire with two laps remaining. Hamilton suffered frustration over his left rear-wheel, a problem Button had faced in the prior race in China. Indeed, McLaren have stated their intentions to change strategy ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix, whilst Hamilton indicates that the team needs to go ‘back to the drawing board.’
…make the headlines…
Also victim of a torrential outpour of bad luck was Michael Schumacher, who was docked five places on the starting grid due to a late gearbox change. Though, the seven-time world champion still managed to win his Mercedes team a point to go alongside the ten accumulated by Nico Rosberg’s fifth-place finish. Off the track, Schumacher continued to make the headlines as he launched a verbal tirade against Pirelli, suggesting that the tyre manufacturer must “rethink their approach to F1”.
Post-race, Vettel was delighted with a victory that leaves him four points clear of Hamilton on 53 in the Drivers standings. He heaped praise on the track staff that “tried as hard as they can to make it [the race] as safe as possible”. Webber’s solid finish places him within five points of his team-mate, while Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso (who finished seventh) are tied on 43 in fourth and fifth. As for the teams, Red Bull’s points haul breaks the hundred-point barrier to leave them nine clear of McLaren, who are on 92. Behind the top two, Lotus’s phenomenal showing sends them into third place on 57, while Ferrari sit in fourth with 45, eight ahead of Mercedes.
…resume their dominance…
As far as the F1 season goes, it would be unsurprising if Vettel and Red Bull were to resume their dominance of yesteryear; but as for Bahrain, the future remains clouded. Although Bernie Ecclestone maintains that F1 will be back there next year and “for many years after”, current conditions dictate a change in order – or danger is risked.
The financial gain of the event for Bahrain is said to exceed $500 million, but is this enough to cover the cost of a potential future disaster? Would this sum, for example, be enough to compensate for chaotic publicity, tarnished reputations or even human casualties? While the state of Bahrain remains in turmoil, the safety of its Grand Prix will always be under threat. And with an already hectic F1 race schedule, Bernie Ecclestone and his team would do well to realise that.