Martin Brundle: Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton give Valtteri Bottas a bloody nose in Bahrain
Sky Sports F1's Martin Brundle reviews the Bahrain GP, how Mercedes v Ferrari is shaping up, Hamilton's penalty, and Ferrari's new Mr Grumpy...
Last Updated: 20/04/17 12:55pm
This season is shaping up nicely, at least for us, Seb Vettel and Lewis Hamilton.
The Mercedes is marginally faster over a given lap but a well driven Ferrari can beat it over a Grand Prix distance, providing the race strategy is aggressive and the pit-stops faultless.
Vettel could so easily have won the first three races rather than two. Equally, Hamilton could have won them all too. It's that close.
Valtteri Bottas found out what's it's like to get in the ring for 94 minutes with two multiple champions. They are brutally and relentlessly fast and he left Bahrain with a bloody nose.
Nonetheless I believe it was still a good weekend for him, breaking through the glass ceiling of his first pole position and leading the first 14 laps.
Apparently his tyres were over pressured from the start, but he still didn't have enough rear grip and pace after two pit-stops and fresh boots. He will keep improving, learning and growing in confidence and I believe he will win a race or two this year.
Vettel beats penalised Hamilton
Ferrari driver takes lead in the title race after second win of 2017
Lewis was given a penalty for impeding Daniel Ricciardo into the pits during the Safety Car because he had to be stacked up and wait for Bottas to finish his pit-stop. That's the priority service which pole position and getting a good start buys you.
The regulations prevent you from blocking and 'holding the shirt' of others because your team has decided to pit both cars close together. It's not fair, so the penalty was. Whether that five-second penalty and waiting behind a slightly delayed Bottas prevented Hamilton from winning we'll never know, it would have been extremely close but I suspect Vettel had it covered up front despite the Safety Car once again negating some of his early pit stop advantage, just as it did the week before in China.
Although I doubt it thrills him much on this occasion, Hamilton moves past Alain Prost into second place for F1 career podiums with 107 appearances, although it's still some way to Michael Schumacher's 155.
It's so refreshing to see Ferrari on the front hoof when it comes to forcing the race strategy. Well for one car anyway, Kimi Raikkonen appears to me to be second priority, not helped by his poorer grid position, starts and pace compared to the championship leader in the sister car.
Kimi sounds and looks frustrated, and he's taken over Vettel's role as Mr Grumpy on the radio. With some public admonishment from his bosses he's going to need to turn this around in the next few races if he wants a team shirt for 2018.
Surprisingly, Mercedes look a little flustered by Ferrari seizing the initiative in strategy and having the more comfortable race car.
I mentioned in last week's column that drivers are learning to attack like crazy in the opening couple of laps, and we can add after Safety Car restarts to that too. This will become ever more intense and it reminds me of the days when I was driving such that your best chance to make places was on the opening lap.
After that the DRS is keeping them in touch but now an overtake is going to need a lunge on the brakes or a tactical switchback and power through in a corner or series of corners. Much more satisfying to witness and the type of racing these kids grew up doing in karting and junior formulae.
Bottas's over-inflated rear tyres (do Mercedes really only have one way of adjusting tyre pressures on the grid especially when their cars are side by side?) backed the pack up and it really did seem Red Bull were in play for an epic six-way fight.
Sadly, Max Verstappen would have a brake failure not long after a pit-stop and he told me on Sunday night that he was so surprised he forgot to take his hands off the steering wheel on mild impact with the barriers, which can soon wrench your wrist or even break your thumbs.
The relentless pace up front also left Ricciardo a distant fifth at the end. Red Bull teased us again but, like them, we have to patiently wait for the B-spec upgrade. It'll need to be good.
Felipe Massa comfortably won the OAP class with another stylish performance to sixth place for Williams. What a warrior he is.
Sergio Perez also put in a fine performance to charge through the field from 18th to 7th with pace and committed moves. Ably backed up by Mr Consistent Ocon, the Silverstone Pink Panthers have moved up to fourth in the constructors' table. Further confirmation that you can paint F1 cars any colour you like, it's all about the team members and the wheelsmiths, although no doubt the sponsor money contributes significantly.
As you will know I'm a big fan of Carlos Sainz but his weekend frustration boiled over on Sunday evening and his grid penalty in the next race in Sochi for T-boning Lance Stroll into T1 when exiting the pits was probably lenient.
Renault need to find a way to be kinder to the tyres in order to translate their qualifying pace into more points. They are in reverse in the race at the moment.
There was just enough degradation in the tyres again to have an initial question mark over one or two stops which usually generates a better race, and we must remember that Shanghai and Bahrain have been good overtaking tracks in recent years. But it all bodes well and we need to patiently learn to enjoy a train of cars all the way through the pack knowing that somebody will launch an attack at any time.
I'll take that, and I hope you're enjoying it too.