Formula 1 | The ups, downs, failures and questions after the Bahrain Grand Prix

After each Grand Prix, Nextgen-Auto.com invites you to find the tops and flops identified by the editorial staff. Who deserves to be applauded? Who, on the contrary, should be criticized? Finally, what are the question marks or ambiguities that should be followed with interest during the next Grands Prix? Check it out below!

Tops.

Top n°1: Ferrari continues to rear with pleasure

“Traditional” champion of winter tests, Ferrari did not disappoint this time during the first Grand Prix of the season. 44 points: the Scuderia could not have started better. And yet, it was legitimate to wonder if the Scuderia would finally have the edge over Red Bull on pure performance, as the Milton Keynes outfit had impressed on the final day of testing. The answer came in qualifying: yes, little by little. But it is not only the performance (chassis as engine) that counts and the end of the race showed it: the Ferrari is also much more reliable and stable than the Red Bull; which also allows him to wear out the tires less, especially the soft ones, as seen in the first two stints.

As for the drivers, Charles Leclerc has already been able to silence most of the critics, who cast doubt on his ability to fight for a world title. He brought Max Verstappen to his own game, not risking it all in one corner, but remembering the advantage of staying a few seconds behind, temporarily, to benefit from the DRS advantage in the next area. The Monegasque was also ahead of his teammate Sainz, who despite a good resistance in qualifying, did not have the same pace. Charles Leclerc leads a world championship for the first time and even achieved the weekend of his dreams: pole position, victory, fastest lap, all the laps led… Rebelote?

Top n°2: K-Magnificent

If a few weeks ago, by some divinatory omen, someone had assured us that Haas would finish 5th in the first Grand Prix of the year, with Kevin Magnussen at the wheel, the Saint-Anne hospital in Paris would have been on alert. And yet this is what happened during this Bahrain Grand Prix. It is a double performance: from Haas of course, who sees his commitment to sacrifice 2021 for the initial performance of his car fully validated, finding the advanced positions at the start of the season. Of course, such a formidable resurrection is starting to loosen tongues: if Haas is so efficient, isn’t it also thanks to the new building full of ex-Ferrari aerodynamics in Maranello itself, where this single-seater was designed? It is understood that McLaren and Alpine, who do not have a B team, have it bad.

The other great performance is of course that of Kevin Magnussen: without having contested the Barcelona winter tests, the Dane showed that his talent was intact; and that despite some run-ins with his team manager, he was still one of Günther Steiner’s favourites. An early Christmas story!

Top n°3: Valtteri Bottas, the number 1 of the peloton?

Valtteri Bottas reminded the paddock of his value last weekend: he, who sometimes beat the master in the field, Lewis Hamilton, in qualifying, thus finished Saturday as “the best of the rest”, well ahead of his teammate Guanyu Zhou, and by the way curing his pride by relegating his successor George Russell to 3 positions. He is the good side of the Finn that we already knew at Mercedes.

In the race he also reminded us of his dark side (which justified his departure from Mercedes), when he completely collapsed at the start, falling from 6th to 14th place. Bottas also struggled to pass Yuki Tsunoda, recalling his difficulty navigating the pack. But his formidable rise to sixth place from the start bodes well for the season for Alfa Romeo, which has a car that was obviously born very well (thanks also to the Ferrari power unit).

the flops

Failure #1: McLaren worries about potential industrial disaster

The Barcelona tests had managed to position McLaren as one of the potential favorites to fight for 3rd place in the constructors’ standings: but today, we can see how precarious any winter hierarchy is. However, we clearly didn’t expect the McLarens to be so low, even after winter testing in Bahrain, which was already complicated by brake problems (but most of them were carried out during the day…). In both qualifying and the race, the oranges were nowhere, or somewhere between Latifi and Hülkenberg. Questions already arise: do you miss this daring McLaren especially in terms of suspensions? Or is it due to the specificities of Bahrain, in particular its slow turns and insistence on motor skills? We’ll soon find out: If need be, McLaren could jump back in time and cross the desert again from 2015-2018. If so, we don’t see how James Key could keep his job as head coach.

Finally, McLaren’s struggles remind us that despite the large number of sponsors on the car, the team also came very close to bankruptcy in 2020, having had to sell its Woking headquarters to re-lease it, and not be able to modernize your wind. tunnel in time for the new aerodynamic regulations of 2022. What if we saw the real repercussions of this losing streak?

Failure 2: Stroll’s ego and reputation severely punished

There are arguments to defend Lance Stroll: he is the author of flashes regularly every season, he is still a relatively reliable driver, he was not that far from Sebastian Vettel last year, etc… But in Bahrain, especially in qualifying, it was difficult to find him. Any excuse for the Canadian.

How could it be otherwise, when a regular driver of the team, who has done all the winter tests, finishes 3 tenths of a driver who arrived in the car on Friday morning, without experience (in this case, we recognized to Lance Stroll and Nico Hülkenberg)? How can you also excuse an indifferent attitude in the paddock after such a performance? No doubt Lance Stroll knows he’s protected, no doubt also that he’ll have a hard time shedding his “daddy’s boy” reputation if he does it again.

Failure #3: Bombshell hits for Red Bull

To finish on the podium, you still have to finish… this well-known adage in the paddock only makes more sense in light of the double disaster suffered by Red Bull. The sum of the withdrawals of Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez is very, very salty: 44 and 27 points behind Ferrari and Mercedes respectively. Although the Red Bull was the 2nd most competitive car, close to Ferrari, and well ahead of Mercedes.

Now it is left to Red Bull to rack its brains: where does this apparently fuel pump and supply problem come from? Is the standardized part in question? This seems unlikely as not all other computers have experienced this issue. Is the Red Bull Powertrains-Honda power unit installation to blame? Anyway, we’ll have to rack our brains quickly at Red Bull because any other double DNF would obviously be catastrophic. And this time, there are no longer any Renaults or Hondas left to serve as scapegoats: history will record that the first Red Bull Grand Prix powered by engines under the Red Bull Powertrains name (although Honda still plays a very important role) will have ended in a double abandonment in a problem linked to the power unit. Oh!

We want to see…

Will Mercedes stop throwing for throwing?

Mercedes wasn’t lying in winter testing in Bahrain, and those who have claimed otherwise are now at their expense. But neither should we plunge into the opposite extreme, and consider that all is lost forever for the world champion team. Apparently, for Imola, the team intends to find new solutions to solve the problem. “fundamental” (Lewis Hamilton dixit) porpoise (but not only) affecting the new car. Toto Wolff too, even before the race, repeated that Mercedes had big gains to be found in “five or six domains” in particular. From Jeddah, a less critical circuit for rebounds, the situation could perhaps improve.

This extreme sidepod Mercedes is early in its development cycle (earlier than the other F1s?) and nothing is lost, especially when you get to know Brackley’s drive and inventiveness. The concerns would be more legitimate in terms of the power unit, which is now frozen for four seasons. Customer teams are already starting to complain. What if the problem was in Brixworth and not Brackley? What if the E10 fuel integration had been lost?

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