Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Bahrain GP - The Race

Alonso racing in Bahrain (by the 4 year old)

Well despite the collective might of the Bahraini protestors, Ed Miliband, Yvette Cooper and George Galloway (oh and 17 MPs), the Bahrain GP did actually take place. Time for George to move on and find another cause célèbre to vent his spleen on. Oh here’s an idea, maybe he could just focus some of his energy on his new constituency of Bradford West, a by-election victory modestly described by George as “the most sensational victory in British political history. Although admittedly this statement was made by the same man who pretended to be a cat on Celebrity Big Brother. I need say no more. I thought Martin Brundle as ever summarised the issues very succinctly at the start of the race. His two abiding emotions were confusion that he couldn’t reconcile the images of violence that we all were seeing on TV going on in Bahrain and his personal impressions of the country. And also sadness for F1 as this weekend just had not worked. He pointed out that there had been cricket and golf tournaments taking place in Bahrain on preceding weekends and no one hadn’t given a monkey’s. Quite.

Right that’s the boring political stuff over and so back to race-blogging. In a round-up of news since qualifying, the 4 year old received the further devastating news that Schumacher was now starting from 22nd having changed his gear box overnight. More plaintive cries of “why does Schumacher never win?”. At this rate, I might have to buy him a boxset of F1 in the 90s and early 00s where he can watch Schuey cruising to endless victories lapping everyone else in the field 72 times whilst having time to have a quick picnic lunch and rejoin in the lead.

Ho hum, I’m perusing my notes (helpfully scribbled all over by the 1 year old) of the several hours of build up on Sky and most of it was deathly dull to be honest. Simon Lazenby is a bit like a Dementor – he just sucks the life and excitement out of every race. We had Natalie Pinkham interviewing Bruno Senna in an acid bright t-shirt and khaki hotpants (Natalie, not Bruno). All very on trend and maybe that is simply the point of Natalie. We’re not actually meant to take her seriously are we? Anyway who knows as my brain temporarily turned to mush during the interview with poor Bruno. We were told that a sandstorm might be on the way. Time to power up the Sand Monitor of Doom – surely McLaren with their endless freight containers of technological equipment would have such a thing…!?

Next up, Martin Brundle and Michael Schumacher were doing the Track Guide. Not quite sure why they were sitting back to back (maybe someone can enlighten me?) but Schuey was straight in with a ‘joke’ about how they were like a grandfather talking to a grandmother. Bless. Its amazing to think that 20 years ago they were both team-mates (sometimes I feel very old) before the days when Schumacher was All Powerful and would veto potential team-mates. Brundle said drivers really had to multi-task to assimilate all the details and information in just negotiating one corner and they both agreed that women were brilliant multi-taskers. I wonder if Brundle and Schuey once came back from an overseas race with a poxy fridge magnet for Mrs Brundle and Mrs Schumacher and they’re still frantically trying to make for it. Yes, there is a story there and it’s a sad one. You could tell Martin really enjoyed talking about the track with Schuey and even Damon (presumably with a gun held to his head) managed to say the Mercedes team owed a lot to Michael.

Bit of Sky filler (including the first Christian Horner interview – many more to follow – of the afternoon) and it was time for the Martin Brundle Gridwalk™. He told us that Kimi had dozens of new tyres to play with and would be One to Watch. He had a quick chat with Paul Di Resta and commented on his very impressive achievement of missing the second practice session and still managing to qualify in 10th place. Maybe the 2012 season is going to be all about the tyres. Come Monaco, no one will bother with practice and will just rock up on qualifying day with dozens of sets of shiny, new tyres causing Jean Todt to spontaneously combust. As if to echo my (barking mad) thoughts, Ross Brawn confirmed it would be a multi-stop race and ‘tyre degradation’ would be critical. Its safe to say that tyre degradation was the buzzword(s) of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Everyone was banging on about it ad infinitum and, to be honest, ad nauseum.

Then Martin spotted that there was Something Different on the Red Bull car. He couldn’t actually tell us what it was as the back of the car was being guarded by Red Bull mechanics. How 2010 and indeed how 2011. What utterly brilliant and ingenuous little device has Adrian Newey dreamt up now? Or as the husband called him (in a moment of rare wit for the husband a Sunday), the Master of the Dark Arts. Martin interrogated someone called ‘Peddles’ from Red Bull who said they might have changed something but we would need to go back to last week’s coverage and work out what’s different. What a tease this Peddles is! Its probably something to do with a diffuser that all the other teams (Lotus, Mercedes) will complain about. Sadly for the second race in a row there was no Random Celebrity at a Race (not even a glimpse of never-knowingly-overdressed Nicole Scherzinger sashaying through the paddock). I’m sure normal service will be resumed in Barcelona not to mention Monaco which will be fit to bursting with minor Royals, stellar heavyweight celebs (J Lo, George Clooney etc) and z-listers like Geri Halliwell. Rest assured, I’ll be in full rant mode about their petrolhead credentials come that race weekend.

Apparently not since 2003, has there been 4 different winners in the first 4 races. Who won the title in 2003? Michael Schumacher just as he had the previous 3 years so lets not get too excited shall we? Anyway its Go! Go! Go! In Bahrain. Vettel zoomed off into the lead and both Rosberg and Button had diabolical starts. But then Button always has rubbish starts (maybe he needs a Race Start Strategy Guy of his own – hopefully Martin Whitmarsh is on the case). Grosjean propelled himself into 4th place and Alonso was just behind him in 5th. All the cars seemed to get make it round the Difficult First Corner, even the HRTs.

Suddenly OUT (we were told) was Petrov who appeared to have no wheel. Although this turned out to be Kovalainen but I missed the bit where they corrected themselves so spent most of the race totally confused about the fortunes of the Caterham drivers. In the nicest possible way it didn’t really impair my enjoyment of the race. On lap 3 in a utterly shocking development, Massa did a great move to get past Kimi of all people for 7th place. As Brundle said, he’s driving like a man possessed. Wouldn’t you if you faced the sack every week or maybe he’s trying to make sure when he does get sacked, another team does actually want to hire him. Poor Felipe, he’s too kind a soul really for the grim dog-eat-dog world of Ferrari. By lap 5, Kimi had bludgeoned his way past Massa again and Grosjean was absolutely flying. First he overtook Webber and then much more impressively he did a brilliant move to squeeze past Lewis Hamilton on lap 7. Poor old Lewis. When is it all going to go right (clue – it goes a lot more wrong before the end). There was a mention of Daniel Ricciardo and I suddenly realised I had forgotten about all about him. From 6th on the grid to 17th. That’ll take some explaining.

Already by lap 8, Button was on the radio reporting problems with his tyres and the first round of pitstops kicked off. Gre-a-t. Blogs are hard enough to write without everyone starting to pit from lap 8. The 4 year old suddenly piped up “Alonso’s tyres are going off too and can you write that down”. So there you have it, my child can’t read anything more complex than ‘Mum went shopping’…‘Dad got cross’ (or is that real life?) but is able to opine accurately on tyre degradation. Sure enough Alonso went hurtling off into the pits. Hamilton also came into the pits and there was a Mini-Disaster as the left rear wheel-nut got stuck and both Alonso and Webber leap-frogged him out of the pits. There was a massive tussle between Lewis and Rosberg for position (its fair to say both are ‘uncompromising’ drivers) where IMHO Rosberg forced Lewis wide. Anyway Lewis edged back in front and radioed into the team to ask “what happened”. A very calm voice replied there was a long way to go. Not that they were fearing a Lewis meltdown but the person on the other end did sound a bit like a trained counsellor. We were told that Rosberg and Lewis were ‘under investigation’ for that incident. Rosberg started protesting it wasn’t his fault. Er, the camera doesn’t lie, Nico.

Lap 13 and we were told that Di Resta was leading (ok briefly). There was so much overtaking going on all over the track just like at the last race. Button passed Alonso in a cool Button-esque move, Kimi took Webber and the learned commentators remarked this was a very unusual place to overtake. As if normal racing rules apply in the world of Kimi Raikkonen! Then Hamilton passed Alonso for 8th place and given Lewis and Fernando aren’t exactly best buds ever since their “I hate my McLaren team-mate” season (a modern variant of the Prost-Senna “I hate my McLaren team-mate” season) that must have cheered Lewis up a tiny bit.

So time to take stock on lap 16 – the frontrunners were 1. Vettel, 2. Grosjean, 3. Kimi, 4. Webber, 5. Button and 6. Lewis. Michael Schumacher was in 13th place having started 22nd – but there were a lot of good cars and drivers ahead of him (having scythed through the dross) so it was hard to see him picking up too many points. Poor Schumi. Radio McLaren contacted Lewis to say they were switching to Plan B. Tannoy alert for Ted to find out what Plan B was (I’m heavily resisting any music related ‘jokes’). Meanwhile Vettel was out there in the lead doing what he does best, ie. driving a car with an ‘innovative’ secret device that gives him a massive advantage. Not saying anything but this car was the same car that being guarded in the pitlane. I wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen Ross Brawn and Martin Whitmarsh filling up Complaint Forms at their respective track-side desks with all the monitors. Although they probably have minions to do those kind of things.

Meanwhile finally after being all over the back of Grosjean’s car for a few laps, Kimi got in front of him on lap 25. Time for another round of pitstops. In went Lewis and there was ANOTHER Mini-Disaster with the left rear wheel-nut. I’m guessing his radio-feed would be fairly unprintable. Martin Whitmarsh might actually need to shout at some people. Just like Ron Dennis would have. Good old Ron – what a (non ray) of sunshine he was but its fair to say this sort of thing wouldn’t have kept happening on his watch.  

There was some brilliant hammer and tongs racing between Alonso and Rosberg which led to some very aggressive driving from Rosberg to keep Alonso behind including his new specialty of forcing a driver off the track. We had some classic fist-shaking from Alonso and a further announcement that Rosberg’s and Alonso’s cars were being investigated. Two investigations have been opened and one driver features in both. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that Nico might be in a spot of bother. All this palaver for 8th place – still 4 points is 4 points I guess. If this had been Schumacher forcing drivers off the track, there would have been general condemnation and blood-letting but as it was baby-faced Nico, the commentators didn’t seem too bothered. Just saying.

So the half-way point roll call read: 1. Vettel, 2. Kimi, 3. Grosjean, 4. Di Resta, 5. Webber, 6. Button. However, Kimi was really catching Vettel – there might be a danger that Vettel might actually have to race someone for his lead and it would be a lunatic in a Lotus to boot. How marvellous! It was quickly time for a Williams Retirement™. Maldonaldo’s car appeared to blow up (ok he got a puncture but there was a lot of spinning and smoke) and that was the end of his race. Webber managed to pass Di Resta for his favoured fourth place but we didn’t really care as Kimi was now RIGHT BEHIND the Red Bull of Vettel. Brundle started waxing lyrically about seeing Kimi sauntering down the pitlane without a care in the world before the race. Maybe Kimi is the new James Hunt. I like him way more now than in his McLaren and Ferrari era. I’m so fickle. On lap 36, Kimi had a long look down the inside of Vettel but didn’t quite manage to pass the Red Bull. Non-Turning Point Alert.

Time for yet more pitstops and this time McLaren didn’t manage to stuff it up but the damage was already done as Lewis was languishing in 10th place or as the 4 year old said the mechanics were ‘silly poo-poo heads’. Lap 40 and Vettel and Kimi pitted AT THE SAME TIME but Vettel stayed in the lead. Red Bull called the shots there and really Lotus should have bought in Kimi a lap or two earlier. Vettel then just started tediously pulling away. Oh buggeroo – we wanted a wheel to wheel Grandstand Finish and it didn’t look we were going to get one.

At this point, the commentators suddenly said ‘if you’re joining us after the 4-4 thriller from Old Trafford…’ and in one fell swoop sent the husband into a huge depression as this meant his football team now only had a 3 point lead at The Top of the Premiership. How cruel can life be? Imagine his misery if he was a supporter of Portsmouth or Wolves. Of course, as he tells me on many many occasions, he too has known dark times when his team didn’t win something for one year in the 1970s.

Back to lap 52 of the Bahrain GP and Nico managed to muscle past Di Resta. It might be worth, Paul, complaining loudly on your team radio, that you were pushed off the track by Nico – not saying this actually  happened but it would be highly believable. In a supreme moment of Murrayness, just after Radio McLaren told Button he was doing a great job and there were places to be had, he came in for a 4th pitstop with a left rear puncture. What is the deal with McLaren and left rear wheels! He rejoined only to have his car start making some really bad noises and he was forced to retire. What a stinker of a weekend for McLaren. Ron, come back soon, your old team needs you!

And so to the chequered flag where Vettel won his first race of the season. Cue the Vettel raised finger of victory. That finger really bugs me.

So here are the results from the Bahrain Grand Prix 2012:

1.     Vettel – Led from start to finish just like old times. Yawn.
2.     Raikkonen – All hail, Kimi. Its great to have you back!
3.     Grosjean – Great racecraft and he has improved as a driver beyond all belief.
4.     Webber – His fourth 4th place in 4 races. Says it all.
5.     Rosberg – Subsequently cleared by the stewards and this was Alonso’s response on Twitter: I think you are going to have fun in future races! You can defend position as you want and you can overtake outside the track! Enjoy! ;)))
6.     Di Resta – Fantastic job by driver and team.

Quick mention for the most cringeworthy moment of the entire Sky coverage – when Natalie Pinkham asked Kimi after the race if he was going to have a celebratory ice-cream. The look on Kimi’s face was priceless. We’re four races in now and Sky just isn’t doing it for me with the exception of Martin Brundle. Even the commentary this week was riddled with mistakes and Croft needs to STOP SHOUTING ALL THE TIME. I miss the relaxed, friendly banter of the Beeb team who actually look like they have fun at races. The Sky team in comparison are wooden, awkward and have zero charisma. There was a great moment when Jake and DC bumped into Martin after the race –  http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/formula1/17808455. “He’s still working in television apparently”. Love it.

Next up, the Circuit de Catalunya. I’m a huge fan of Barcelona as a city but the races there are normally a massive snoozefest. I’m praying for rain. Will we have a 5th different winner in 5 races? We shall have to see. Til then, adios!

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