Bahrain GP - Sunday - Race Report
Alonso's dream debut
The record books will say Fernando Alonso won the 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix on his debut for Ferrari, with team mate Felipe Massa in second place, in what was the first 1-2 finish for the Italian team since the French GP of 2008. The record books will also say Sebastian Vettel finished the race in fourth, but he really deserved more than he got...
The German took pole position in dominant fashion on Saturday and stormed off into the lead at the start of the race at such a pace that even Alonso admitted that he was not about to keep up with the Red Bull driver while running of the soft compound Bridgestone tyre. Vettel pulled out to a 5.5 second lead before pitting on lap 17, and resumed in the lead after the mandatory switch to the harder compound tyres. After the stop, the gap between the top two fluctuated, but Alonso's car was more equally matched on the harder rubber and he began to make inroads into Vettel's lead, bringing the gap down to 2.4s on lap 28. Still, Vettel seemed to have it all under control, as overtaking is almost impossible in Sakhir, but then his Renault engine's exhaust note changed and he started to lose power. Later the team would diagnose the problem as a spark plug failure, but by lap 33 Alonso moved in to pounce, and on the next lap on the penultimate corner he swept into the lead and never looked back.
Speaking at the end of the race, Alonso was clearly delighted with his debut win for Ferrari: "This is a special day for me. Coming back to the top of the podium is always special but it's even more special when you are driving a Ferrari because of all the history behind the team and the expectations a driver has of driving for them. There could not be a better way to start my relationship with the best team in world. I'm not sure whether we had the same pace as Vettel to begin with. He was very quick on the soft tyres and I could not follow him, but on the harder tyres we had something more. I had some pace in the pocket, and was just content to be concentrating on managing the tyres, waiting for the time to attack over maybe the last 12 laps. Then suddenly he had a car problem and the chance to pass him came earlier than I expected."
Things continued to get worse for Vettel and he tried to hang on and salvage a result. Felipe Massa had been running third since Alonso got past him at the first corner at the start. The Brazilian ran close to his team mate until they both passed Vettel, but his Ferrari's engine temperature had been rising from the start, and the team advised him to conserve fuel for the last 20 laps. Still, he was able to pass Vettel on lap 35 to make it a Ferrari 1-2.
This being his comeback to racing after his accident in the Hungaroring last July, Massa had more reasons to be happy with second place than to rue the problem that prevented him to fight for victory: "The race was really good and fantastic for us. I did not have a good start and I lost a position, an important position, to Fernando at the first corner. The race was just great for me, the car was perfect. I could manage to follow him for the whole time on the soft tyres and then we put the hard tyres on, I was so quick straight away and I caught him in a very good way. Then I started to have a problem, definitely the whole race in terms of temperature in the car. That made a lot of fuel consumption, so I started to save fuel maybe in the last 25 laps, even 30 laps to go. I was saving fuel and there was nothing to do anymore. I was also lucky with the problem with Sebastian Vettel to pass him and gain some more points and I was lucky that Lewis was not so quick at the end, so I could manage to save a lot of fuel and also hold the position. It was not an easy race but just a fantastic result for the team who did a great job."
Lewis Hamilton made a good start and was in fourth position, but locked up his brakes at Turn 4 and ran wide allowing Nico Rosberg through. After that he spent the rest of the first stint behind the German until getting past him during the pit stops. He remained 12 seconds behind Massa for a good number of laps, but then was able to pass Vettel for third place on lap 38 while starting to close on Massa. The McLaren driver then started to feel a vibration in his steering wheel and decided to play thing safe to finish on the podium.
Hamilton said, "For us, I think we had quite a good race. Unfortunately I lost a bit of ground, braked a little bit late into turn four with a lock up and went a bit wide. Then I was in a very bad position and Rosberg got past me and unfortunately I was held up behind him for the first half of the race. I was much faster but it is very difficult to follow here while trying to look after your tyres. Perhaps if I was ahead of him I could have carried on and followed the train these guys were creating. I was very happy after getting past him and got a strong result for myself and the team. It is more than we expected this weekend, a great job from everyone in the team, as always but we need to continue to push to keep up with these guys."
In the end Vettel limped home to fourth place doing a brilliant job to stay ahead of Rosberg for the last three laps, but the Red Bull driver really deserved more. After the race he said, "It's a pity what happened today. It was positive all weekend, except for the exhaust failure. From Saturday morning onwards, we were one of the quickest cars on track in all conditions. We had control of the race today and we were on top of the strategy - everything was running smoothly. I think at every point I knew how my tyres were, so we kept good control of the tyres and brakes. At some stage, I think about 15 to 20 laps from the end, you could see my lap times were getting slower. It seems something mechanical broke, luckily we could continue and finished fourth, but we should have won today. It cost us a lot, but we've got 12 important points."
Mercedes GP had looked as strong as the McLaren's in qualifying, but during the race the MGP W01 struggled for pace. Rosberg held up Hamilton during the first stint but could not keep up with him after the pit stop, dropping back at a rate of more that half a second per lap. He even caught Vettel with three laps to go but his rear tyres were worn out and could not pass the Red Bull, even though the RB6 was crippled by a serious power loss and ended up finishing fifth.
At the end of the race Rosberg said, "I lacked pace on the option tyres in the first stint and struggled quite a bit. Lewis beat me on strategy in the pit stops, so we need to analyse later and see what happened. I couldn't quite get Sebastian at the end as I lost grip in the dirty air when I got close. However, fifth place is a good start for us and I am confident that we can develop well from here."
Michael Schumacher ended the day sixth on his return to Formula One after a three year retirement. He ran behind his team mate the whole race having struggled with understeer all weekend. His highlight of the day was beating Jenson Button in the first lap scrap, but he couldn't do more than hold Webber in the first stint and the reigning World Champion from the pit stops until the flag.
The veteran German was, nevertheless, pleased with his result: "After three years away, I'm happy to say that I had fun out there today, especially at the beginning with the good start that I had. I can live very well with sixth position and it gives both me and the team a good base to make progress. I have every confidence that we will improve the car. Working with the team for our first race together was very positive and the guys did a great job so I would like to thank them for their support in my comeback race. We all know that we have some way to go but we will get there. The season is long."
Jenson Button finished seventh behind Schumacher on his debut race for McLaren-Mercedes. The world champion followed Webber during the first stint and passed the Australian on the pit stop. During the closing laps he closed the gap with Schumacher but was never able to get past him. Webber spent his afternoon behind someone else's car but was never able to make a move on either Schumacher or Button, even though he had a car that was clearly quicker than theirs.
Vitantonio Liuzzi made the most of his start, moving up to ninth place in his Force India when his team mate Adrian Sutil hit Robert Kubica at Turn 2, with both falling to the back of the pack. He also managed to get past Rubens Barrichello on the first lap and the Brazilian pressured him during the first stint. After taking on new tyres on lap 20 he pulled away, and started to close the gap on Webber, but ended the day in ninth. Barrichello took the final point in his Williams-Cosworth. Both man benefited from Sutil's mistake on the second corner, when he ran into the side of Kubica's Renault and spun both cars around. The Pole had to lift as a huge cloud of oil smoke came off Webber's Red Bull and he was hit by the German who failed to see what was happening ahead of him.
Lotus won the battle of the new teams by having better reliability than its two rivals, as none of them had much pace. Heikki Kovalainen finished the race in 15th place, two laps down, with team mate Trulli being classified 17th even though he stopped within sight of the flag when his car lost all gears. The rest of the new runners fell out with various ailments inside the first 20 laps, but Karun Chandhok had a sizeable accident on lap 2 when he was caught out on a bump on the circuit - having only run five laps on the circuit all weekend.