Sidepodcast // All for F1 and F1 for all

Class of the Field
Adam Barton

A Formula One fan since he was six, back while Häkkinen and Schumacher were having many an epic battle, Adam has seen a great deal. From German domination (twice), to British determination (once) and a Spanish invasion. A near compulsive fan who one day hopes to write about the sport for a living, outside of F1 Adam also authors his own blog One Guy's Opinion.

Romain disproves beginners' luck theory // A second race of good form for the Haas driver

Published

The expected farce on Saturday, with Williams running cars in Q2 “for the good of the sport”, was once again rescued by a stonking race in the desert night. F1 seems to have stumbled across a good idea introducing three tyre compounds and increasing the variability of strategy, though it’ll be interesting to see how long the variation lasts as teams revert to the mean. Ultimately though the first two races have been exciting because over half the field have been putting in strong performances, undoubtedly motivated by the potential drives up for grabs at Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and McLaren, but here are the best performances from Bahrain.

Grosjean stakes claim for top drive

Romain Grosjean, Haas F1 Team: Started 9th, Finished 5th

Haas’ debut sixth place had a huge slice of luck to accompany their impressive speed in Australia but they went one better in Bahrain to secure a stunning fifth place and this time it was aggressive strategy complementing the brilliance of Romain Grosjean.

Romain vs Kimi into turn one
Credit: Foto Studio Colombo

While in Australia Haas could only lock out the tenth row of the grid, this weekend they were on the pace right from the start, using the Ferrari power to good effect on Sakhir’s long straights. Ironically it was a lap from Nico Hülkenberg that contributed to Grosjean’s strong showing, knocking the Frenchman out in Q2 and giving him free choice on the tyres. With Grosjean showing great pace on his way to ninth, half a second behind Ricciardo and the Williams, it was confirmed by teammate Esteban Gutiérrez as he was just a tenth slower in Q1 and two tenths in Q2, a time only good enough for 13th in a heavily condensed midfield; the Mexican’s pace had him running eighth behind Lewis Hamilton during the first stint until a brake issue cut short a promising drive prematurely.

A long second stint allowed Haas to stay aggressive, pitting on lap 27 for the final set of supersofts

With Haas down to the one car they decided to double down and gamble on moving up the order. Even with free tyre choice they had started Grosjean on his brand new (saved from qualifying) supersofts when everyone expected Haas to replicate their Australian strategy of running long on soft or medium tyres. Grosjean was off the line like a rocket and jumped up to sixth as he was able to avoid the first corner mayhem and with fresh tyres he was able to run longer than those around him, pitting on lap 11 and staying on supersoft tyres to maximise lap time. A long second stint allowed Haas to stay aggressive, pitting on lap 27 for the final set of supersofts and had the new boys fighting with four time Constructors’ champions Red Bull for fourth place.

Ricciardo’s pace picked up after an early first stop on lap six, allowing him to manage the threat from Grosjean behind but he was far from finished. A three stop strategy meant overtaking was needed to stay at the front and Grosjean strutted his stuff, pulling off crucial moves on Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Massa in his second stint, and Daniil Kvyat and Massa again in his final stint as he opted for a short 17 lap stint on the soft tyres. Max Verstappen, who ran a different three-stop strategy with a short final blast on the supersoft tyres closed in as the race drew to its conclusion but Grosjean’s pace was just too strong and he cruised home for an unbelievable fifth place.

Smaller teams may not favour how Haas have entered F1 but fans have really taken to how the sport's new favourite underdog is performing. There are still some kinks to work out, with the occasional part coming lose, but Haas have struck gold in hiring Strategist Ruth Buscombe from Ferrari, who has so far been a vital factor in Haas’ success.

Wehrlein turns up the heat on Mercedes establishment

Pascal Wehrlein, Manor Racing MRT: Started 16th, Finished 13th

Pascal throws up sparks in Bahrain
Credit: Manor Racing

In the past joining Manor, or either of the other two (now defunct) new teams, has led to the question how much money does a driver bring to the team, and are they depriving more talented drivers the opportunity to perform on the world stage? There are a few notable exceptions in the case of Daniel Ricciardo at HRT and the late Jules Bianchi at Marussia, and the latest one appears to be Pascal Wehrlein.

Wehrlein was a late arrival in the deal for Mercedes to supply Manor with power units for 2016 and has looked comfortably in place in F1. A storming first lap in Melbourne was followed up by a more complete performance in the desert. Germany’s next great hope – as the country's F1 production line continues to develop and evolve – comes with pedigree as the youngest ever DTM champion aged just 21 as well as terrific raw pace, qualifying 16th and making Q2 in a car likely to be struggling in Q1 for the rest of the year. Wehrlein’s 1:32.8 was faster than both Saubers, both Renaults and Sergio Pérez’s Force India, and it was well over a second faster than his teammate Rio Haryanto who could only manage 21st.

Wehrlein is doing all he can to prove that he deserves a spot at Mercedes

Another great start had the German up to 13th as he showed maturity beyond his years in avoiding the melee at turn one. Starting on soft tyres Wehrlein ran longer than much of the midfield and pitted on lap 10 from seventh place. His pace on softs in the second stint had Wehrlein back up to 13th and battling the Saubers in the bottom of the midfield. But then Sauber went conservative on strategy opting for the medium tyres as Manor got bold and chose the supersofts for their final two stops. The plan worked for Manor as Wehrlein moved up three places in his final 15 lap stint, using fresher softer rubber, as well as his talent, to move past Sergio Pérez, Felipe Nasr and Nico Hülkenberg (all of whom had similar high expectations at the start of their F1 careers), to move up to 13th, within sight of Marcus Ericsson and Kevin Magnussen ahead.

Ultimately, Wehrlein is doing all he can to prove that he deserves a spot at Mercedes when the Hamilton/Rosberg spat turns ugly, as he finished nearly half a minute ahead of teammate Rio Haryanto despite an extra pitstop.

A new hope?

Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren Honda: Started 12th, Finished 10th

McLaren were either naïve or kept in the dark after Fernando Alonso’s injury as reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne was flown in from Japan late on Thursday. Ultimately we didn’t get the opportunity to have a full comparison of Vandoorne to a world champion as Jenson Button retired after just six laps. That said, the Belgian gave a very good account of himself, lapping within a second of his accomplished teammate on Friday, and then posting a lap within half a tenth in Saturday practice.

McLaren’s remarkable pace on Friday seemed to fade when the wicks were turned up, but points were still a very real possibility and ultimately when the laps counted Vandoorne was the one to make it count, the Belgian posting a time good enough to progress by four tenths in Q1 and then showed his potential, posting a lap half a tenth faster than Button to qualify 12th. The margin may have been small but it was enough for the F1 world to take note.

Stoffel gets comfortable in his temporary home
Credit: McLaren

Vandoorne did lose the place to Button at the start of the race but a supersoft-soft-soft-supersoft strategy had him lurking on the edge of the points throughout the grand prix, and passing Marcus Ericsson on lap 45 secured a point on debut for Vandoorne – more than Alonso and Button combined after two races. There were two clear positives from Bahrain for McLaren: they were competitive within the midfield on a track that shouldn’t suit them, and Vandoorne looks a safe bet when Alonso or Button jump ship, as the Belgian ended the race chasing down both Williams' and Daniil Kvyat.

Who was the official driver of the day?

Romain Grosjean once again took home the honours in the fan vote as Haas' aggressive strategy launched the pair to fifth in both championships.