The Bahrain weekend was a rollercoaster ride in many ways. Firstly, the distraction of the “situation” in the country, and its portrayal in the media, cannot be denied. And on the technical front, we came here from China with more questions than answers, slowing turning the balance round in the days leading up to the Bahrain GP and validating new thinking throughout the three practice sessions as we figured out which of our Shanghai updates worked and how well. The amount of work involved, report documents that are about as thick as a good paperback and hours of analysis, is hard to comprehend, especially when, for the race team, it all has to be done on the hoof, travelling from Shanghai to Manama.
The reward for all that work came on Saturday afternoon courtesy of Daniel Ricciardo’s fantastic sixth-fastest time in qualifying. We nearly settled for tenth, a common practice in Q3 to save a set of tyres for the race. But, “he who dares wins” – so the decision was taken to go for it instead and what a great decision as it delivered a fantastic sixth. However, to use one of racing’s best known clichés, the points are only given out on Sunday. Too bloody right and so the overall feeling after Bahrain is one of extreme disappointment. The facts: Jean-Eric came home fourteenth, immediately followed by his team-mate Daniel.
Sixth on the grid meant we were hoping for points – realistically, if our Aussie had finished where he started we would have considered that a very fine performance. It was not to be. He got off the line OK, but after that he got bogged down and half the field seemed to rush by. Somewhere in the middle of the first lap, Daniel’s front wing was damaged. That slowed him down considerably, as he had to fight an evil-handling STR7 until his first pit stop for fresh rubber, when the mechanics fitted a new nose assembly. By then his race was over in terms of any meaningful result, but as the teachers in the Toro Rosso school for young drivers can tell you, for a young driver, every lap you do in a Formula 1 car is another lesson learned.
Jean-Eric Vergne has been having a hard time in qualifying, but has shown grit and determination in fighting back in the races. He did the same today, but it did not really deliver anything worthwhile, apart from that aforementioned lesson learned. After the race, the Frenchman admitted that he really needs to get to grips with the challenge of qualifying because, given he was delivering good lap times during the race, if he had started further up the order then points might have been on the agenda come the chequered flag.
The happiest man in Bahrain was Sebastian Vettel who converted yesterday’s pole into his and Red Bull’s first win of the year. It was a victory largely unchallenged, apart from a short period before his third pit stop when the second-placed man actually had a look-see moment alongside the German. Who was the second-placed man? None other than the sport’s most famous returnee, Kimi Raikkonen, whose Lotus was the big Sunday surprise. Even more surprising, a less illustrious returnee took third, none other than the Finn’s team-mate Romain Grosjean. Vergne very sportingly congratulated his fellow Frenchman on his first podium.
We now have a three-week break, although like a lot of things in F1, that is not quite true. In fact, before we head to Barcelona for the first European race of the season, the Spanish Grand Prix, we will be heading to Mugello for the first in-season test since 2008. It will be the perfect opportunity to carry on the good work on developing the STR7, while also giving our two drivers time to put on more miles and gain confidence in themselves and the car.