Back-to-back races, from Tilkedrome A to Tilkedrome B, means no time to waste, pack immediately before and during the race and catch a flight Sunday evening from Shanghai straight to Bahrain. Getting there is easy, some flying Emirates or Qatar Airways, making a quick transfer in Dubai or Doha, followed by a short flight into the Kingdom of Bahrain.
Landing at Muharraq Airport, an island within the main island of Bahrain, the only thing one can see around is sand. Inside the terminal, reminiscent of those with much gold and aluminium, like those of the late 70s, a special immigration line for F1 personnel awaits. Functional with friendly, no long queues, special treatment from local authorities, much appreciated after long flight from China and early dawn airport connections. Bags are collected, straight to pick up rental car and easy drive south to Manama, capital district of Bahrain. Sun is up, it’s hot, it’s humid and being early Monday morning, with not much to do before F1 action begins. One has the feeling it’s going to be so different in every sense of the word to what we had last week in China. Bring it on!
Moving around Bahrain is pretty easy, flat sand island, a bit rocky in the central part of Sakhir, location of the Bahrain International Circuit, and one main highway connecting it all. Fuel is incredibly cheap here too, for less than 15€ get a full tank from state-owned Bapco. All across the island, there are clear road indications to the circuit. You can easily drive and get to know the entire place in less than a day. Other options incorporate hanging around the Ritz Carlton Hotel, where most of the drivers are staying.
During our journey to Sakhir, time to reflect how much this event, during its thirteen editions, has contributed to place this country on the world map and developed industry around. Next door to the circuit an industrial park, which contains a state of the art karting facility, and the new Bell Racing Helmet factory, where high tech carbon lids are produced for all of its F1 users, including Fernando Alonso.
Speaking of the Spanish champion, walking into the Paddock, news of Alonso racing in this year’s Indy 500 welcomed everybody. Surprised? Actually not, with such uncompetitive F1 machinery at his disposal, and being so ambitious, he is frustrated and looking elsewhere to show again his talent. Has anybody mentioned how much money he earns since he left Ferrari for McLaren?
In any case, for a long time the Spaniard has been saying he will aim to make triple crown wins at Monaco, Indy 500 and Le Mans. We love the challenge and the idea of seeing him race around the legendary Indianapolis oval, same as all-time greats Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Nigel Mansell did during their day. Can’t wait to see him wheel-to-wheel next to Juan Pablo Montoya once again!
Coming back to the Kingdom, Bahrain being the first race staged closer to Europe and having the “first race of the season” with a busy Paddock, makes it one of the favourites for celebrities to attend. For many years, the Bahraini royal family has kindly hosted many European royals, most notably former King Juan Carlos of Spain, receiving accommodation and lavish treatment at the different and lavish palaces located around the island. Sir Jackie Stewart and Gerhard Berger would also never miss Bahrain, enjoying royal treatment too.
Bernie Ecclestone made his first F1 Paddock appearance of the year and first since selling control of the sport to Liberty Media. The 86-year-old Briton, who of course receives head of state treatment by the Bahraini Royals, spent much of his time keeping cool inside the Royal box. Everybody wanted to hear any remark from of the little man, who expressed being happy seeing Ferrari on top again, however hoping for Red Bull to make a step up, joining Ferrari and Mercedes in a three-way fight for the championship.
The newly-branded FIA F2, former GP2 Series, finally made its debut during the Bahrain GP weekend. In the course of a spectacular initial race, Russian veteran Artem Markelov used his experience to dominate hot and much degradable conditions to conquer Saturday’s Feature Race over initial leaders Norman Nato and rookie, and Ferrari Development Driver, Charles Leclerc.
But during Sunday’s F2 Sprint Race, after pushing very hard, Leclerc used his understanding of 2017 Pirelli rubber to his advantage, and mastered conditions to win dramatic race in the wake of pole man Matsushita failing to take up his position on the grid and eventually starting the race from the pitlane red light. RUSSIAN TIME driver Luca Ghiotto and DAMS’ Oliver Rowland rounded off the podium.
This Formula 2 exercise was a perfect warm-up for F1 proceedings later during the evening. Only a week after Shanghai, Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel clinched his second win of the 2017 season, and 44th career win, after outfoxing Lewis Hamilton from the start into turn one. The German driver prevailed over the field after a safety car deployment caused by the collision between Sainz and Stroll, which this time benefitted Ferrari charge, unlike the week before in China.
Without the Safety Car deployment, Lewis Hamilton would not have pitted during the same time his team-mate, and pole man, Valtteri Bottas did, where the Englishman blocked Daniel Ricciardo as both entered the Pit Lane, and received a five second penalty as a consequence for this driving offence.
In any case, Vettel and Hamilton continued their duel well into the race, with the German beating conditions and pushing hard on any given tyre compound. Red Bull driver Max Verstappen had a race to forget, after jumping team-mate Ricciardo at the start, the Dutchman was stuck inside a gaggle of slower cars. Ultimately, a brake problem would halt the frustrated Dutchman’s race, crashing quite hard into the tyre wall.
Three times inside the points out of three races, it was another superb drive by Sergio Pérez. Competitive as it gets, in stark contrast to three DNFs out of three races for Fernando Alonso, retiring into the McLaren garage with only few kilometres to go, avoiding embarrassment of finishing dead last. The passionate Spaniard bursting his frustration via radio to his team, claiming he has never driven such an underpowered car during his career. Car to blame or not, let’s hope Indy goes better for him than this!