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Winners and Losers - Bahrain

04 Apr 2016

Nico Rosberg made it two wins from two in Bahrain, but he wasn’t the only winner in Sakhir. We take a look at who left the desert on a high and who couldn’t wait to get on the plane…

The winners…

Nico Rosberg

He was fortunate insofar as his major rivals were hampered, Hamilton and Raikkonen by poor-ish starts, Vettel by pre-race engine failure. But once again Rosberg demonstrated his cool-headed ability to control a race when he’s out front. Whenever Raikkonen pushed, he responded, keeping clear of the red threat to score his second consecutive win of 2016, and his fifth in a row since Mexico last year. Two races in, and he has a 17-point lead over his reigning champion team mate…

‘The American dream’

Haas did a fabulous job to finish sixth with Romain Grosjean on their debut in Australia, but fifth here was even better because it was won the hard way. Yet again strategist Ruth Buscombe took an aggressive stance, which was made possible when Hulkenberg bumped Grosjean from Q3 in the dying seconds of Q2 and freed up their tyre choice. Two sets of new supersofts, another used set, and a set of new softs enabled the Frenchman to withstand a delay in his final stop and still to finish well, though arguably that might even have cost them fourth place. It’s a long time since a new team looked so accomplished, which might explain Grosjean’s slightly OTT post-race radio message…

Stoffel the super sub

He was only called up to replace Alonso on Thursday, arrived hotfoot after a two-stage flight from Japan on Friday morning, and drove the McLaren MP4-31 for the first time on Friday afternoon. But Vandoorne acclimatised so smoothly that he looked like he had been racing in F1 for years. After fractionally out-qualifyng team mate Jenson Button, the young Belgian knew instinctively when to push and to resist challengers, and when to capitulate, steered clear of trouble that other rookies might have fallen into, and scored his first world championship point – and McLaren-Honda’s first of 2016 – after a superbly mature performance. In years to come might we remember Bahrain 2016 the way we do Belgium 1991? When Michael Schumacher arrived in F1…

Marcus Ericsson

Driving a Sauber, you don’t get too many opportunities to shine, and on the face of it finishing 12th wasn’t much for Marcus Ericsson to write home about. But the way in which he fought tooth and nail, having lost ground early in the race because of sudden power loss, showed how much the Swede is maturing. His performance on used medium tyres in the closing stages, as he tried to make a two-stop race work while fending off Magnussen and Wehrlein on their new supersofts, was one of the performances of the evening, especially as he only conceded to the former when it became necessary to conserve fuel.

Mercedes’ ‘next’ superstar

Vandoorne might have stolen the rookie headlines, but every time you looked up there was Pascal Wehrlein, pushing the Manor into places that it ought not to have been. He fought superbly with the faster Sauber and Force India machines, passing all of them at one stage, and showed that he isn’t cowed in the slightest by the competition in F1. On this evidence Mercedes have another star on their hands…

The 2016 tyre regs

Without question the new system wherein Pirelli bring three different compounds to each race (rather than two) has spiced up the action, and in Bahrain there were several disparate strategies in play. Rosberg and Raikkonen, for example, ran used supersofts, new softs, used supersofts and new softs. Hamilton started on used supersofts, then switched to new mediums, used supersofts and then new softs. Haas gambled even more, with two sets of new supersofts, then a used set and finally new softs for Grosjean. Williams’ attempt at a two-stopper failed miserably. The point is that there was variety, and that made for an unpredictable event, plenty of overtaking, and the sight of several cars and drivers in unaccustomed places at various times – and that’s just what most fans want.

And the losers…

Lewis Hamilton

Mercedes’ clutch problem hurt the polesitter for the second race in a row, which will mean a red alert situation in Brackley after Australia will now have been upgraded to whatever tops that. Rosberg got it right, keeping the clutch materials within their narrow operating window. Hamilton nearly did but not quite, and that ‘not quite’ proved crucial as fast-starting Bottas was thus close enough when he got his braking wrong for Turn 1 that he clattered into the Mercedes. Hamilton was lucky insofar as he was able to continue, but Toto Wolff estimated that floor and bargeboard damage cost the world champion up to a second a lap. He is now 17 points adrift of his team mate, and it’s beginning to look like the start of 2014 all over again. But we all know how that turned out in the end…

Ferrari’s power unit department

Is there an underlying problem with Ferrari’s power unit? Raikkonen had a turbo failure in Australia, and now Vettel’s motor let go embarrassingly before the race had even started. “The problem was a surprise to me and to the whole team,” Vettel said after pulling off between Turns 13 and 14 on the grid formation lap. No kidding…

Williams' strategy department

It might seem strange to label Williams losers after they got both cars home in the points for the second successive race, but this was a case of what might have been. Sir Frank’s eponymous squad put their faith in the medium Pirellis in the expectation that the supersoft would not make a good race tyre, and tried to get Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas home with only two stops to the three that almost everybody else opted for. The strategy failed horribly, even though they ran second and third in the early stages after brilliant starts.  Massa - using the team’s vaunted new nose - lacked pace on the white-coloured tyres and lost ground hand-over-fist in the second half, while Bottas compromised his chances by running into Hamilton at Turn 1 at the start. That damaged his car, and earned him a drive-through penalty which ruined his two-stop plan. 

Force India

Both Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez were involved in incidents with other cars early in the race, the former on the opening lap with Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat, the latter with Toro Rosso's Carlos Sainz on the second. Both made early stops, lost an awful lot of ground, and had to fight on with damaged cars. The team which finished a superb fifth overall last year thus continued on their back foot and eventually trailed home a disappointing 15th and 16th.

Fernando Alonso

Forced to miss a race through injury for the second successive season, Alonso’s loss was Vandoorne’s gain – and no matter how big a team player the Spaniard is, it can’t have been easy for him to stand on the sidelines and watch the Belgian star in his car. The question now is will he be back for China?