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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.

Sebastian shows his mettle // Ferrari take control with the duel in the desert

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We know a little more about the title race now. Mercedes showed Ferrari a fresh pair of heels on Saturday but when the points were counted on Sunday, Ferrari came away with the win. They're now leading both championships after an aggressive strategy allowed them to easily control Merc’s threat, with a little help from two Lewis Hamilton errors.

Vettel makes Mercedes crack

Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Ferrari: Started 3rd, Finished 1st

Ferrari may not have the outright pace over a single lap but they made it clear in Bahrain that their car is very drivable and holds the advantage in race trim. After a specialist track in Melbourne and then a wet start in China, Bahrain was the first ‘normal’ race of the season. In qualifying Vettel was on the Mercedes’ pace in Q1 and Q2 but as ever, the Silver Arrows turned the wick up when it counted and suddenly romped to pole, nearly half a second clear of Vettel, with the four time champion three tenths clear of the rest of the field.

Vettel was on the Mercedes’ pace
Credit: Ferrari Media

When it came to the race, though, Vettel was confident, and he had reason to be. The Ferrari jumped Hamilton at the start, putting him in position to pressure Mercedes. After 10 laps of chasing Bottas and analysing every inch of the Finn’s rear wing, Vettel took a gamble – possibly with the aide of seeing Lance Stroll’s sector times after being the first to stop – and pitted for super soft tyres, forcing Mercedes’ hand. Mercedes didn’t know what to do and stayed out, eventually pitting 3 laps later after dropping three seconds a lap. That was only after the Safety Car had come out, meaning that they had to respond. Had Carlos Sainz not slammed into the side of Lance Stroll, what would Mercedes have done?

Mercedes were snookered thanks to Ferrari’s aggression

The strategy had worked and got Vettel the lead. What’s more, Mercedes needed to stack their cars, resulting in Hamilton holding up Ricciardo and drawing a five second penalty from the stewards. Hamilton had cracked and so had Mercedes. It was less obvious in their three years of dominance but Mercedes’ rigidity in strategy is a big weakness that only really shines through when under pressure and it was the case again in Bahrain. Mercedes were snookered thanks to Ferrari’s aggression, quick thinking and most importantly Vettel’s pace.

The only concern for Vettel was a risky strategy for Mercedes to get track position. With Hamilton fitting the soft tyres he could run to the end but all Vettel had to do was finish within five seconds of Hamilton nursing his tyres to the end. Vettel’s pace was so strong that he forced Mercedes into some really tough decisions, as they needed to use team orders not once but twice just to get within range, but Vettel had the pace to comfortably stroll home and regain his outright championship lead.

Force India show race pace in recovery

Sergio Pérez, Sahara Force India F1 Team: Started 17th, Finished 7th

The Mexican always goes well in Bahrain and 2017 was no exception. After a woeful qualifying, both Force Indias had made up four places on the first lap, with Ocon tenth and Pérez 13th, significantly improving their hopes of points.

Pérez had had a terrible qualifying
Credit: Sahara Force India

Pérez had had a terrible qualifying, mired in Q1 after catching yellow flags for Carlos Sainz’s stranded Toro Rosso when he needed to improve, but he showed the pace in the race to compete for points. Up to 13th after the first lap, there was still a lot of work to do. Pérez passed Palmer on lap five and then Checo made a tactical master stroke, pitting on lap 10, just before the safety car came out. By the time every one had pitted, Pérez was up to ninth and in with a great chance of points.

By lap 17, Sergio had made light work of Marcus Ericsson, who stayed out under the safety car, and Nico Hülkenberg to move up to seventh. Then came the challenge of holding off his former teammate Hülkenberg for the rest of the race. Pérez made his second stop on lap 36, having opened up a buffer of eight seconds to Grosjean, Hülkenberg and Ocon, maintaining position, though losing out to teammate Ocon for a lap. Once again, Pérez had maximised the Force India’s performance, finishing within 10 seconds of Massa’s Williams and comfortably clear of Grosjean, despite a lowly grid position, to bring home more valuable points for Force India.

Wehrlein impresses on his comeback

Pascal Wehrlein, Sauber F1 Team: Started 13th, Finished 11th

While it may have been a mature decision by Wehrlein to miss the first two races to fully recover from his Race of Champions crash, there was always a risk that he’d never get his drive back. He helped his case with a strong drive on his season (and Sauber) debut. Despite his lack of running, the German beat teammate Ericsson by six tenths, qualifying for Q2 and knocking out a Force India and a Haas. In Q2, Wehrlein continued his strong pace, improving by almost six tenths and qualifying ahead of Ocon’s Force India to secure 13th on the grid.

German beat teammate Ericsson by six tenths
Credit: Sauber AG

Wehrlein drove a calculated race to perfection, and held off the late-breaking Daniil Kvyat to the chequered flag

Unfortunately the German couldn’t make the most of it, dropping to 17th by the end of the first lap after a terrible opening lap, possibly showing some rusty race craft. That left him 15th and last at the restart but what followed was a demonstration of tyre preservation and stamina.

Sauber pitted Wehrlein under the Safety Car, splitting strategies as Ericsson stayed out, but Wehrlein would have to manage his tyres to the end. Gradually, the midfield runners started to pit, and Wehrlein rose up the ranks, peaking in tenth as Ericsson, Grosjean, Palmer, Kvyat, Ocon and Alonso all pitted. With much older and harder tyres, as Wehrlein ran the soft tyres, it was always going to be a challenge to hold on to a point. In the end though, only Grosjean and Ocon got past, the German manfully holding off Kvyat and Alonso.

As for the stamina argument, Wehrlein drove a calculated race to perfection, and held off the late-breaking Daniil Kvyat to the chequered flag, making a forceful defence of 11th into turn one on the final lap, proving that he’s back up to full fitness, albeit two races late. Is this the start of a campaign to replace Valtteri Bottas in 2018? There’s still a lot of work to do if so.