The racing again splits opinion - but Sebastian Vettel's win was desert storm
Sky Sports F1's Martin Brundle on why sifting through post-race reaction is an event in itself these days and how the racing was the winner at the Bahrain GP
By Martin Brundle
Last Updated: 25/04/13 9:42am
There are usually wildly differing opinions of how exciting the race was. "One of the best races I've seen in the past 20 years." "It was ok, a little confusing to follow." "I can't stand this fake racing with DRS overtakes, after XX years I will never watch F1 again until they fix this." "Alonso proved you don't need DRS." "I've had enough of these tyres, it's ruining the racing." "I love all this wheel to wheel racing and uncertainty compared with the Schumacher era." And so on.
I guess it's always been this way, it's just that we didn't have an instant internet platform to express our opinions when Michael and Ferrari were cleaning up, or further back still when you could coast home for a sixth place finish two laps behind the winner, and pole position to the back of the grid was separated by approaching ten seconds per lap.
It's great that we have different viewpoints; it's what keeps the world turning. There are very clearly different viewpoints in and around Bahrain too. There was undoubtedly less tension and distress around the place this year compared with last, albeit with a much stronger police presence which some will see as akin to martial law while others would view it as a sensible precaution in the circumstances.
I've been there a dozen times now for TV, and during the Icelandic ash cloud problem in 2010 when we were marooned after the Chinese GP, a group of us were debating were we could go that was close to Europe and a friendly and pleasant place to hang out until the planes could fly into Europe again. Bahrain was unanimously agreed, and there we headed. I like the place, and I very much like the people. When I see some of their facilities compared to the UK I'm jealous, and by and large it looks like a nation calmly getting on with their lives and work. But clearly there are underlying issues and tensions which need sorting out. I sincerely hope that happens.
Sebastian Vettel cleaned up on Sunday in such a dominant manner that even he seemed surprised. I realise that Raikkonen had a poor grid slot, and Alonso's DRS did a back somersault a couple of times which forced two pit stops and for it to be switched off (I wonder why they tried it a second time), and Adrian Sutil had a first lap incident, but I don't think anybody would have troubled the reigning world champion however many 'if, buts and maybes' we dream up. He looked ominously fast and able to manage his tyres.
Yes, Pirelli tyres. We had significant tyre degradation again, but through heat rather than wear, and this may well have caused the three apparent tyre failures we witnessed. Some drivers cruised along reasonably nicely with two stops, others were forced to stop four times, meaning of course five sets of tyres used in a 200-mile race. And they head into qualifying with only six sets available for the rest of the weekend.
Car set up, driving style, and the amount of time spent in traffic or in combat are clearly critical. Some drivers have a technique with the steering wheel and pedals which clearly eases the life of the tyre, especially in the traction zones on corner exit.
Bahrain used to be universally considered as one of the less interesting tracks on race day but it must be said that the combination of tyres, KERS and DRS have brought it alive. The McLaren pair made contact five times in the race with some enthralling action. All credit to the team for letting their drivers race, although Jenson Button putting some manners on Sergio Perez on the apex of turn four on one occasion could have put them both in the pits, one for a puncture and the other for a new front wing.
The bottom line is that Perez was faster on race day but JB didn't fancy relinquishing his team leader role. He's lost the misery of witnessing Hamilton's mesmerising one-lap pace and he appeared to have a passive new team mate he could easily cover. Until Sunday.
I was chatting to Jenson at a party after the race, and rest assured he wasn't sitting in the corner tormenting himself about the race or making contact with his team-mate. He will however be anxiously awaiting the first few laps in Barcelona to see if McLaren have made the car competitive with an update otherwise his championship-winning chance will be over for another season.
Talking to Mark Webber on the plane home he made the point that the additional DRS zone from turns 10 to 11 meant that the KERS energy could be saved when following another car using DRS and used elsewhere to attack. A good reminder that in F1 there's always secondary effects on what appears to be a straightforward solution; and the brilliant minds of F1 will always exploit them. This meant that passing down the pit straight was relatively easy, not least because they were charging into a strong headwind which magnified the effects. Once again though I felt that DRS was simply too powerful and needs reducing.
Some form of DRS use limitation so that it's a tactical attack/defence tool would make it a more skilful device, and generate overtakes which are hard earned and valuable. Fernando Alonso demonstrated that passing with this type of tyre degradation is still possible without DRS.
There was a tense-looking meeting between some teams and Pirelli on Sunday morning and I suspect that the compounds will head towards more cautious territory through the year, and that the hard compound tyre in Barcelona will be back to the 2012 spec. Overall I still think Pirelli have done a great job for F1, and with 700 employees in two race tyre factories, unless Bridgestone or Michelin are coming back, you wonder who else could deliver tyres for 2014. This is especially given the teams will be incredibly focussed on sorting out the new power packs for next year rather than worrying about completely new tyre development.
Stand out driver of the weekend for me outside of Vettel and Alonso was Paul Di Resta for Force India. He needs a touch of 'New Perez' in his defence of track position but he reconfirmed his class and that he's in F1 to stay. And what a great job Force India are doing, marrying Mercedes engines to some McLaren technology facilities and their in-house skills, and doing a better job than both of them in Bahrain with much less budget.