Last weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix was a cracker, won by Lewis Hamilton after a race-long battle with his team mate Nico Rosberg. But what can F1 fans take from the desert as the dust settles after the first skirmish of the season?
1) The sport ain’t in that bad a shape
Naysayers, quieten yourselves. This column, in the company of some illustrious figures, has been critical of the spectacle of F1 2014. In tandem with the lack of piercing whine, some had felt that the racing hadn’t been exactly riveting. Well, Bahrain shut us up. It was an old-fashioned thriller that had it all – inter-team battling, overtaking, skill and daring and even Esteban Gutierrez going on his head. Which is worth the Sky subscription fee alone, right?
2) Hamilton is only a nose ahead of Rosberg now
Unlike Malaysia, where he was a country mile down the road. There have been reports surfacing in the last few days that Rosberg had studied a dossier on Hamilton in the wake of Sepang, in order to better comprehend the trouncing that the Briton meted out to him there. And comprehend he did. Much has been made of Rosberg’s intellect and it was in evidence as his strategy execution was arguably superior in Bahrain. What was given less credit and exposure was his forbearance in the heat of battle in not taking Hamilton out. It’s probably fair to say bringing the cars home intact – as in Paddy Lowe’s exhortation – was Rosberg’s greatest achievement in Sakhir, especially when you consider Hamilton was driving defensively to the outer limit of propriety. Will there be further fireworks? You bet. The parallels with Prost and Senna are there to be tweeted.
3) Ferrari – and McLaren – have work to do
Luca di Montezemolo chose the wrong race to come to if he was looking for a Ferrari resurgence. He and his old mucker Ron Dennis may be taking a more hands-on role in the day-to-day management of their respective squads if things don’t improve quickly. In Ferrari’s case, what’s the point of having two roosters if you can’t build them a functional henhouse? (Stretching the metaphor somewhat, but there you are). Over at McLaren, it’s probably fair to argue that initial confidence in the car resulted in a lack of a catalyst for rapid development, and as such they’ve been left in the pecking order behind Mercedes, Red Bull, Force India and Williams.
4) New (and some old) talent needs recognising
Daniel Ricciardo has been a revelation, not only taking the battle to Vettel but looking every inch his equal. A number of us, Vettel included, didn’t see that coming. Also due hat-tips are Sergio Perez, who beat Nico Hulkenberg fair and square (though we’ll see if that is the case only on tracks Checo likes); Felipe Massa, who’s no longer ham-strung by either Ferrari nor his new team and is showing his speed of old; Daniil Kvyat, who seems to be mature beyond his baby face; and Kamui Kobayashi is trying his damnedest, as ever.
5) Uncertainty over governance does not breed confidence
Another weekend, another rumour about the future governance of the sport – this time that the teams are considering mounting a bid to buy the commercial rights to the sport. If that were true, I can’t see how it would have made sense to disband FOTA, because that surely would be a good vehicle for any such effort. Anyway, all the uncertainty over engine size, engine noise, fan attendance, double points and Bernie’s ongoing legal wrangles make for both an uneasy paddock and restive viewing billions. Ecclestone’s thinly-veiled denial that he is trying to wrest back control of the sport doesn’t help matters. It might be that the teams’ bid wouldn’t be such a terrible thing, but for most people, the history and the racing are the most important things. And if everyone in the F1 circus could remember that, please…?