The Fastest Lap in Sunday’s Bahrain GP was set on Lap 22 of the race by Valtteri Bottas. Given this was a dry race the fact that pace-setting time was posted 35 laps from the chequered flag is quite remarkable. It is also quite depressing too, as it does not bode well for teams and drivers outside of the established ‘big-three’.
Doubtlessly Kimi Raikkonen could have staked a claim on the fastest lap accolade had he not been victim of a botched pit-stop and we will never know the pace inside the two Red Bulls due to their early exit. Then again, if my granny had wheels she would be a shopping trolley!
What is abundantly clear is the inability of any one of 13 rivals to go faster than Bottas despite fitting two, and in one case three, sets of new tyres. That is opposed to the Finn who set the benchmark time on a set of the ‘medium’ tyres, the hardest and slowest available.
Romain Grosjean in a Haas which shone in Australia could not better Bottas’ mark despite making three pit stops and racing on the fastest ‘super soft’ tyres for the final 11 laps of the race. Hulkenberg, Alonso, Sirotkin and Hartley were others who pitted within the final third of the race but none could match the pace of a fuel laden Mercedes on ‘slow’ tyres.
Thankfully it appears we have a true battle at the top, between two teams and two exceptionally hungry drivers. And the closely matched Red Bull pilots may yet stake their claim on some race victories.
Reliability continues to blight the team and statistically, they have one of the most unreliable cars. Max Verstappen has been forced to retire from ten of the 39 races he has had for the team to date. Daniel Ricciardo has retired from four of his last six starts and in the last five races (Mexico 2017 onwards), only once has a Red Bull driver stood on a podium step.
Despite all of this, on just one occasion in 2017 did a driver other than a Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull pilot collect a trophy, that being Lance Stroll in Azerbaijan. And fourth placed positions were also hard to come by. Perez (Force India) and Sainz (Toro Rosso) were the only two outside the ‘big three teams’ to get one.
The cars are now en-route to China. Like Bahrain the circuit was designed by Herman Tilke so the spectacle on offer is ‘point and squirt racing’ meaning low speed/gear corners and long straights. Last year’s race started in wet conditions and required safety car intervention as it has done five times since the race made its debut in 2004.