Bahrain GP shows racing is back on the agenda

Following last week’s Chinese Grand Prix, a busload of F1 people, fans and otherwise, could be heard on Twitter bemoaning the oddly neutered racing in that race. Mea culpa here – this column also contributed to that racket. But a few things in yesterday’s Bahrain Grand Prix restored the post-2010 consensus that wheel-to-wheel action is good.

Firstly, the fact that tyres did not wholly dictate the race for anyone. It was a fair fight, which Sebastian Vettel won in his habitual style. But those who fear the beginning of another hegemonic season should consider the winning margin – under ten seconds. This, then, no 40 second romp. Raikkonen, Grosjean, Alonso and maybe even Hamilton had the pace to win that race and might have done another day. A great shame for all that Alonso had the DRS problem he did – his recovery was typically dogged and showed what speed he had.

Secondly, overtaking happened, and in glorious quantities. It was riveting, and not least at McLaren as Jenson Button found out that Sergio Perez is actually quite fast (and possibly faster in the right conditions). There’s an old racing adage – ‘go fast. Don’t crash’ – of which the Woking team seemed only to have instructed the latter to Perez until yesterday, when Perez seemed to twig that driving rapidly was also required. The ensuing duel enthralled and delighted. Button was arguably overreacting with his contention that Perez had been aggressive, and it was interesting reading the team’s post-race press release which always tries to put a lovely chrome sheen on events. Even when events constitute red-blooded rivalry. More please.

Thirdly, I was struck when idly flicking onto Sky Sports F1 and alighting on a rerun of the Bahrain GP in 2010. Sky’s service is little short of outstanding, but they must admit culpability for false advertising as regards the title under which this race ran – ‘Classic Races’. Bahrain 2010 was by no means a classic race. In fact, it was dullery epitomised, and I know because I immediately began actually listening to Jonathan Legard’s commentary for subtler factual errors as opposed to the glaring howlers you cannot miss. Two things to be learnt from this: David Croft (and Ben Edwards on the Beeb too – there isn’t much between them) are excellent professionals who do their difficult job extremely well by comparison with recent incumbents.

More importantly, Pirelli and DRS and KERS have made the racing so good now, we’re spoilt. Even watching Nico Rosberg’s doomed but valiant attempts to hold back the sea of overtakers yesterday was worth last weekend’s strategy-fest. Rosberg’s Mercedes does seem to devour tyres when other machines merely consume them, but this unpredictability which we bemoaned last week also brings us considerable pleasure.

So next time I feel like criticising a race when it seems a bit sterile, I shall remember to spend some time watching F1 when the races really were insipid. Ignore us, Pirelli, and keep making those tyres out of paper. Ignore Jenson, McLaren, and let your drivers race. Ignore your fears of Vettel romping to a fourth straight title, people – this will be closer than you think. Hold onto your hats.

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