Kurt Verlin
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2016 Bahrain Grand Prix Recap: Rosberg Makes it Five

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Bahrain International Circuit

The beautiful Bahrain International Circuit at night.

2016 Bahrain GP Top 10Two weeks ago, I described how the new qualifying format had been so universally panned that the guys in charge immediately scrapped it and declared that Formula 1 would go back to the 2015 qualifying rules for the next race weekend.

But a few days before the 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix, it was announced they had gone back on that decision and that the new format would be revived for Bahrain; no one was surprised, then, that qualifying was just as unexciting and illogical as it had been back in March. Despite this, the FIA and FOM are now insisting on coming up with some new qualifying format rather than reverting back to the old one.

From a fan’s perspective, this decision makes little sense, as the previous format worked quite well. But Formula 1’s governing bodies have clear intentions: they believe Mercedes’ domination is hurting Grand Prix attendance and the change to the qualifying format is a quick-and-cheap attempt at mixing up the grid—specifically, at making it more difficult for Hamilton or Rosberg to start at the front of nearly every race and zip away from everyone else.

Needless to say, this is a band-aid solution that not only corrupts the ideals of qualifying—to find the very fastest drivers over a single lap—but also one that simply doesn’t work, given that the Mercedes drivers are still starting on the front row. It’s clear the FIA and FOM are putting stakeholder interests above the health of the sport.

But enough politics—let’s get to the racing.



As mentioned, qualifying was a bit droll. Hamilton just barely squeezed pole with a 0.77 second gap to Rosberg while the Ferraris settled in their usual spots on the second row. Alonso couldn’t participate because of injuries sustained during his crash in the Australian Grand Prix; his replacement was Stoffel Vandoorne, last year’s GP2 champion, who was brought in last-minute and made a great impression by qualifying ahead of Button. Grosjean qualified ninth, showing that Haas’ performance last race was not a fluke, and Ricciardo settled his car in fifth, ahead of both Williams.


The Race

During the warmup lap, Vettel was forced to retire due to an engine failure, marking the first time in his career that he did not start a race for which he qualified. As he is the driver who most hope will challenge Mercedes, his retirement didn’t bode well for the race.

Vettel's smoking car

That’s not burnout smoke behind Vettel.

Nonetheless, the 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix did turn out to be exciting, in part because of another poor start by Hamilton. As Rosberg rocketed past his teammate, Bottas tried to follow, inadvertently bumping and damaging the Brit and hurting both of their races. Räikkönen also had a poor launch, dropping to fifth behind the fast-starting Williams and ahead of Grosjean and the unlucky Hamilton.

Rosberg remained untouched for the rest of the race, scoring his fifth consecutive win (including the three races he won at the end of last year) and the eight consecutive win for Mercedes. Räikkönen was on the charge during the first stint, wasting no time to quickly dispatch people left and right as soon as he came up behind them, and eventually finishing second.

Hamilton might have been able to challenge Räikkönen had it not been for the bodywork damage he suffered at the hands of the other Finn, but instead had to settle for the final spot on the podium.

Lewis will want to forget this start.

Ricciardo led a mostly lonely race, finishing in a solid fourth, three places ahead of his teammate.

Grosjean and the Haas F1 team once again impressed with a fifth place finish. Earlier this year, I optimistically predicted that Haas F1 would be trading blows with Force India—I could never have imagined that it would be overtaking Williams and Red Bull on the track (and with ease, at that), or that Grosjean would be ranked above both Ferrari drivers at any point in the season.

Looking back: The 2015 Bahrain Grand Prix ended with the same podium.

Verstappen finished sixth after numerous overtakes, something the young driver seems to excel at doing; however, his teammate didn’t fare so well after suffering an early puncture.

Despite a mostly advantageous start by both their drivers, Williams once again failed to capitalize on the opportunity. Massa could only manage eighth place after his team made the poor decision of trying a two-stop strategy, and Bottas ended ninth for similar reasons and because of the drive-through penalty he received for colliding with Hamilton.

A better view of why Bottas was penalized.

Vandoorne rounded out the top 10 in his maiden race, becoming the first McLaren driver to score points this year as a power failure forced Button to retire. So far, it seems the McLaren Honda team continues to be suffering from major reliability issues.


Post-Race Thoughts

As Sky Sports commentator David Croft likes to repeat, whenever a team has scored a 1-2 finish at the first Grand Prix, that team and the winning driver have historically always gone on to win their respective championships. If the rule holds this year, that would mean a championship victory for Mercedes and for Rosberg. The former is certainly the most probable outcome. The latter remains to be seen. Rosberg is certainly showing excellent form of late, winning the last five Formula 1 races, but three of those were last year and Hamilton has gotten the best of him both qualifying sessions so far.

As for Ferrari—well, they seem close. Räikkönen didn’t finish far behind Rosberg despite having a poor start, but it’s possible the latter was holding back. Still, I wonder what would have happened had Vettel been there. We’ll have to see at the next race, in China, in two weeks!

2016 F1 Championship Standings (after Bahrain)