Stunning Vettel reined in by his Red Bull

Posted on March 14, 2010

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Sebastian Vettel had victory stolen from him by a cracked exhaust in a low-key start to the 2010 Formula One season in Bahrain.

The German had the season’s opening Grand Prix in the palm of his hand before the problem took about three seconds a lap out of his pace late on, letting Alonso, Massa and eventually Hamilton passed for a Ferrari 1-2 ahead of the 2008 champion. It was a sensational performance by Vettel before the exhaust problem, revealing unexpected pace in the Red Bull, controlling the race either side of the stops.

The Ferrari remains the machine to beat, despite Red Bull’s pace. Alonso disappeared for a distant win after Vettel dropped away and seems to have been held up.

But the main talking point after this first race is simply a lack of excitement. Stretching the tyres into a one-stop strategy made Bahrain into an endurance event, with every driver nursing his car from grid to flag.

The pace was terrible – Alonso’s fastest lap of 1:58.287 was well short of Vettel’s pole time and most of the race most of the cars stayed above two minutes a lap. The drivers are all talking about how they managed the tyres and Jenson Button has just told the BBC’s F1 Forum he couldn’t push throughout because it was all about managing the tyres. There was no real overtaking, especially at the front of the field, and the cars weren’t even close together.

There’s maybe something to be done by Bridgestone in making the tyres more marginal but the omens are not good.

Jenson was poor today. The world champion was 40 seconds off of Alonso at the finish and more than 20 seconds behind Lewis. He qualified poorly and made no moves in the race. We know he can race with the best of them but he was never hassling Michael Schumacher today, always following about a second behind but never closer.

Red Bull have to get on top of their reliability gremlins. It destroyed Vettel’s season in 2009 and denied him victory today. Mark Webber was stuck for most of the race today, in a further blow to hopes of lively racing as fuel levels drop and tyres wear away. He presumably would have been on or near Vettel’s pace given the chance but he wasn’t able to get any clear air. Adrian Newey has reportedly done something clever with the exhausts but if it causes problems with over-heating it might come back to bite them.

Michael was bang on Nico Rosberg’s pace by the end of the race. The old master will come good, I’ve no doubt about it, and if the car is there he’ll be winning races. Look out for him in the European season. Mercedes have work to do but the fundamentals seem ok.

Lotus did ok today. Their pace was poor, but Heikki Kovalainen finished while Jarno Trulli pulled up on the final lap. It was performance easily putting HRT and Virgin in the shade and clearly marked out Mike Gascgoyne’s squad as the best of the new entrants.

The first weekend is over. We still have four world champions in potentially race winning cars, plus racy looking midfield teams. But I have big concerns about the quality of the racing. This is a good, challenging circuit but there was no scope for over taking today. Formula One isn’t supposed to be an endurance sport and races shouldn’t be won either on a Saturday afternoon in qualifying.

Melbourne’s a very different track and the race will be race will be run in different conditions. Let’s hope for better racing!

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Posted in: Race