Defending world champion Sebastien Vettel won his first Grand Prix of the season Sunday in Bahrain in a race that was somewhat exciting but lacked the drama of last week’s late-race shuffle in China in which all sorts of people gained or lost positions left and right.
While there was some close racing out on the circuit – and the start was a real barn-burner with lesser-lights making charges and gifted qualifyers shuffled back – the real entertainment Sunday came in the "firsts" that were recorded.
For instance, the fact that two-time champion Vettel – who won the Grand Prix in his Red Bull-Renault – was the fourth different winner in the first four races of this Formula One season, is something that hasn’t happened since 2003.
Jenson Button opened the season in Australia this year with a decisive win for McLaren-Mercedes. Fernando Alonso won for Ferrari in Malaysia and Nico Rosberg was first last weekend in China in a Mercedes.
In 2003, Michael Schumacher, Giancarlo Fisichella, David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen were the first four winners. Only Fisichella has no current connection to F1; Raikkonen finished second Sunday for Lotus-Renault and Schumacher was tenth in his Mercedes. Coulthard is an F1 commentator/analyst on BBC broadcasts that are carried here on TSN.
Roman Grosjean followed Raikkonen home in third place for Lotus-Renault and the podiums for Lotus were the first for that marque since 1988 when Nelson Piquet finished third in Australia.
Those podiums were also firsts for the drivers – Grosjean’s first of his F1 career and ex-world champ Raikkonen’s first (his last was at Italy in 2009) since he retured after going away for two years to play around in World Rally Championship cars and NASCAR.
For the second race in a row, one engine dominated. Last weekend in China, Mercedes engines finished one-two-three (Nico Rosberg for Mercedes itself, followed by Button and Lewis Hamilton in Mercedes-powered McLarens). This week it was all Renault on the podium.
Gee – I wonder how that happens . . .
Vettel’s victory puts him on track to win his third consecutive championship. He has scored 53 points so far in 2012, with Hamilton in second place with 49 and Vettel’s Red Bull teammate Mark Webber (who finished fourth on-track Sunday) in third with 48. Button and Alonso are tied with 43 to round out the top five.
Red Bull is now back in front in the constructors championship, which they’ve also won the last two years. The team has 101 points to McLaren’s 92. Lotus is third with 57, followed by Ferrari with 45 and Mercedes with 37.
McLaren had a dreadful race Sunday. Hamilton finished eighth and Button was scored 18th after dropping out of the contest with one lap remaining with a broken exhaust header.
For the second race in a row, McLaren experienced pit stop difficulties and the team announced after the race that it would be conducting a review of everything associated with pit stops.
Button was upset afterward while Hamilton seemed to take it in his stride, which I find extremely puzzling since he behaved earlier in the year as if somebody’d gone and peed in his cornflakes when he didn’t win.
"I guess this was just one of those days," he said, after sitting in the pits twice during prolonged tire changes.
Not Button, though. "I don’t understand why we were so far off the pace," he said.
Nico Rosberg didn’t have as swell a time this week as he did in China, which he dominated with a pole and a win. This time, he qualified fifth and he finished fifth – although he had to force two other drivers (Alonso and Hamilton) right off the racing circuit to maintain his position.
The fact that he wasn’t given a time penalty of some kind after the race is really curious. I know you can block in F1 (they call it "defending one’s position" but everybody knows it’s blocking) but I didn’t know you could put somebody right off the track and not be punished – but apparently so.
It will be interesting to see what happens when it comes to this sort of nonsense as the season progresses because, although the stewards change from race-to-race, a precedent has been set, particularly with the ruling on the Alonso block.
F1 is now off for three weeks, with the next race scheduled for Barcelona, Spain, on May 13.
– Paul di Resta (Force India-Mercedes) finished sixth, Alonso (Ferrari) was seventh, Hamilton (as mentioned) was eighth, Felipe Massa (Ferrari) was ninth and Michael Schumacher was tenth for Mercedes to complete the top ten.
– It was a good result for Massa, who has been under fire at Ferrari since the first of the season. As did Alonso, Massa had a storming start in the GP and that got him off on the right foot.
– Schumacher drove an excellent race, although his tenth-place finish might not have reflected it. He had a mechanical problem during qualifying and didn’t make it out of Q1. The team decided to change his gearbox, which then resulted in a penalty. Ergo, he started 22nd in the 24-car field and so by finishing tenth, he advanced more than any of the other drivers.
In short-track racing, that would have earned him the "hard charger" award.
– What’s with Raikkonen’s race engineer telling him to go ahead and use "push to pass?" That’s an IndyCar expression.
– I don’t remember a race in which Mark Webber was so invisible. I hardly heard his name mentioned all day and yet there he was, Steady Eddie, fourth as usual – further explaining why he’s third in the championship without scoring a podium.
– Bernie Ecclestone says nobody cares who finishes ninth or tenth. If that’s the case, why have more than eight cars in a race?
OTHER WEEKEND RACING:
IndyCar is off till next weekend, when they race in Brazil.
The economics of big-league motorsport involvement are starting to catch up with some well-known teams. For instance, Bryan Herta Autosport, which won last year’s Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon aboard, announced this week that it won’t go to Brazil next weekend and will instead concentrate on Indy, where driver Alex Tagliani won the pole in 2011. And Rob Dyson’s Dyson Racing announced it will not compete in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. Not enough sponsorship help.
In NASCAR, Denny Hamlin won the Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway with Martin Truex Jr. Second and Jimmie Johnson third. James Buescher won the Camping World Truck Series race.
Speaking of NASCAR, the sanctioning body issued a press release this past week, trumpeting its support of green initiatives in recognition of, and support for, the environment.
This series, which finally switched to electronic fuel injection about 20 years after every car on the planet did, included this in its list of "green commitments."
"Miss Sprint Cup will wear a green fire suit throughout the weekend in support of the environment."
I swear I did not make that up.