Practice Sessions, FP1:
The first session taking place under the sun was of a little use for the teams in terms of testing tyres, planning the strategy for the race as the track temperature was fairly higher than they were to get during the actual race time in the evening. This session could be taken as an extended testing session to test new parts on the car. The usual suspects were heading the timesheets with Hamilton setting the pace followed by his teammate Rosberg. There was a fight for P3 between Alonso & Hulkenberg as both of them were going back and forth setting some fast times but in the end Alonso managed a slightly better lap to end P3 while Hulkenberg impressing with P4. The other SFI of Perez too had a good running as rounded up at P9, making it a top 10 finish for the team.
Both the drivers did a fairly good number of laps and looked good all through the session. Hulkenberg even topped the speed traps sheet as Perez got up to P5 in that list.
Whether it was daylight or floodlight, it did not affect Mercedes by much as their domination continued in Bahrain. The session under lights was important for all the teams as it gave a clear picture for qualifying and race as to how much the teams, drivers have to do to bring the tyres to the right temperature and set-up the cars in that way. The order remained the same from the morning session for the top 3. Perez was the leading SFI driver at P10 and ran the most number of laps, it was clear that he was still getting used to the car but nevertheless it was a better start to his weekend than the first two races. Hulkenberg ended P13 as he stayed in the garage for quite a bit of time and did less than half the number of laps his teammate did; could be due to confidence in the car straightaway.
It was a fruitful Friday for the team, as they finished most of their program without any issues. A 1-2 in the end for the team in the speed trap list with Perez P1 and Hulkenberg P2.
Another session during the day time which was of little use comparatively but this was the session for teams to prepare for the coming qualifying session. The number of laps done by the top half was considerably less than the teams who are struggling to find pace. No guesses as Mercedes led the pack with yet another 1-2 and in the same order as the previous FP’s. At P3 came our man Perez, much better FP’s for the Mexican as he slowly finds his feet in the new car. Hulkenberg too was not far behind as he lapped in at P8 and at this stage things were looking very bright for the dark coloured team.
It was clear that SFI were looking to lead the best of the rest pack in the race as their race pace on longer runs were slightly better than the likes of Williams, RBR & Ferrari. Before that, certainly they were hoping to break into Q3 with the cars and it was highly likely they would this time around. Once again 1-2 in the speed traps, this time Hulkenberg was leading Perez.
The first qualifying session under lights in Bahrain and I must admit, the track looked spectacular under lights, a total contrast to what it looks like during the day. Singapore and Abu Dhabi have got a good competition now from Bahrain. As for the session it was an interesting one, we didn’t see any big surprise apart from maybe Sutil bowing out but then the Sauber has been struggling and specially the German driver. Both the SFI driver made it through safely in the top 5 with Hulkenberg leading due to the late tyre change. Everyone bar Maldonado, Sutil & the two Caterham & Marussia’s were out in Q1.
The second session though did give its share of surprise as well as disappointment. The last few laps of the session turned out to be tense moments as two of the young Germans couldn’t make it to Q3. Vettel only managed P11 after facing downshift issues while having run wide in T11, Hulkenberg couldn’t improve thus finishing at P12 (both were to start P10 & P11 respectively after Ricciardo’s penalty). The SFI of Perez made it safely through to Q3, his first one since joining the team.
The wait at the end of the session was to see which Mercedes will be on pole, whether it is Hamilton or Rosberg. The British driver was the clear favourite but the German had the last laugh by finishing on pole by virtue of posting a fast lap in his first run. Hamilton couldn’t improve and thus Rosberg aborted his lap; Ricciardo qualified at P3 but was to drop down to P13 which pushed Bottas to P3. Perez qualified a good P5 (was to start P4), welcome result for him after Australia & Malaysia.
Mixed results for the team in the end, a small mistake from Hulkenberg costed him some 4-5 places surely. But Perez did a fine job and there was a reason from optimism as the race pace of the team was good enough for them to beat their rivals and move up the order in the race; a podium finish was also on the cards. The speed trap saw Perez leading from Hulkenberg; that is 2-1 to the Mexican driver.
It was the 900th Grand Prix in Formula 1’s history and what a way to celebrate and remember the GP. By far the best race we have seen in recent times, some amazing battles between the drivers be it for the lead or for grid positions behind the lead. The start of the race gave us a massive fight for P1 as Hamilton took the lead from Rosberg but the German was not giving up yet as both went on changing place till about the middle of the lap. It was fantastic start to the GP, a clean battle for the Mercedes duo. Behind them Massa moved ahead to P3 from Perez and Hulkenberg was up to P7 overtaking Alonso cleanly, a static start for the Mexican and a brilliant one for the German.
From then on the race went to a strategic mode as various teams started pondering whether to stick with 3 stops or go aggressive with 2 stops. The leaders were in the race of their own as the fight for final podium position became an open fight between Williams, SFI and the distant RBR. Things were settling down pretty much until the coming of the SC with about 17 laps to go which brought the field close again. It was a scary incident involving Esteban & Pastor, it was good to see that the Mexican driver was unhurt after his Sauber had flipped over after it got hit by the Lotus.
The SFI were in the battle of their own as Hulkenberg was trying to make places after a bad qualifying. Perez was giving no room to his teammate as he enjoyed his first competitive race with the team. Their battle was a fun to see and Perez won it this time when he overtook Hulkenberg when they were in fight with Massa for the final podium position. The SC brought about a slight disadvantage to the team as they were left with medium tyres for their final stint while both the RBR behind were on soft tyres towards the end which of course was the faster tyres at that moment.
As expected the battle for win continued in the end stages of the race as Hamilton’s medium tyres were up against Rosberg’s soft tyres, they were once again in the tight battle like the start. In the end Hamilton prevailed to win his second GP on the row while Rosberg had to settle for P2, but he can be happy that he is still leading the championship from his teammate. The long podium wait for Sahara Force India team was finally over as Perez fended off Ricciardo in the closing stages to secure a P3 finish (our first podium since 2009 and his first with the team), it was an amazing sight for any Indian F1 fan. Hulkenberg couldn’t resist the Ricciardo pressure but he kept Vettel at bay to secure another P5 finish for him which moved him up to P3 in the championship. Williams lost out due to SC while Ferrari struggled for power throughout the race. Marussia took the P10 battle in their hands as Chilton finished yet another race at P13 to give them a lead.
It was a hard fought race for all the teams and the drivers but it was worth every moment. A brilliant driving from Mercedes drivers along with our drivers with the Red Bull & Williams drivers chipping in as well. The SC was a disadvantage period for us but Perez did all he could to secure his podium moment which he did in the end. A proud moment for the team and all the fans; that finish moves the team to P2 in championship. It is a massive boost for a team like us, hopefully lot more moments to come this season. A big battle lay ahead of us but there is no giving up. A welcome break for everyone before everyone head to China for the next GP in 2 weeks time.
Thank you for reading.