Discontent lingers over some of the most substantial overhauls of Formula 1 regulations in its history. But the team adjusts to their new cars. They put on a spectacular show in Bahrain this weekend.
Lewis Hamilton and his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg finished 1-2, with Sergio Perez of Force India (also using a Mercedes engine) making a surprising appearance on the podium in third place. This was the first time in five years that Force India has earned a podium spot.
In what was easily the most exciting and competitive F1 race of this early season, with some fans calling it the best race they’ve ever seen, a number of sub-plots developed over its course.
Hamilton and Rosberg battled the entire race. Rosberg earned pole position at the start, with Hamilton sitting in the number two spot. Hamilton jumped out early, and had what he thought was a comfortable nine-second lead over his teammate toward the end of the race. However, a nasty accident that saw Sauber driver Esteban Gutierrez go airborne after being hit by Pastor Maldonado at lap 40, brought out the safety car, neutralizing Hamilton’s advantage.
Rosberg continued to attack his teammate for the rest of the race. Mercedes made a strategic decision to let the two go toe-to-toe, but implored them to just “bring both cars home” and avoid any crashes.
Mercedes has now won all three races in the circuit this year, with Hamilton winning his second in a row. At this early juncture, Mercedes looks to be the strongest team of the season, and the other teams struggle to catch up. Mercedes engines owns four of the top five spots in the points race so far this year, and seven of the top ten.
While top two spots were being decided, an equally compelling race for points developed–particularly at the last half of the race. Perez, Force India teammate Nico Hulkenberg, and Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo staged their own fierce battle for third place. In the end, Perez held off Ricciardo for third, with Hulkenberg locking down fifth place.
There was a good deal of off-track intrigue as well, which traces back to the struggles of some teams and promoters trying to come to terms with the new regulations.
First, Toro Rosso driver Jean-Eric Vergne disclosed that he was admitted to the hospital following the Australian Grand Prix due to complications from a strict weight-loss regiment he had been following.
Vergne, struggling to meet the minimum weight regulations–cumulative of both racer and the car–said, “I did a diet this winter but you get to certain limits that the body can no longer take… I was in hospital between the grands prix in Australia and Malaysia because of a lack of water and a little bit of lack of everything. I was very weak.”
Vergne would like to see the minimum weights raised, because, he says, bigger racers are at a disadvantage. “Frankly, the situation is stupid,” opined Vernge. “Some lighter drivers want to keep their edge, and we have not reached a solution. Formula one cars are very difficult to drive and we need all of our skills. Being forced to lose weight is not good.”
Vergne did not finish the Bahrain circuit due to accident damage.
Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo continues to lament the new fuel restrictions for this year’s cars. Di Montezeolo says, “We cannot have an F1 that is an energy/fuel economy formula. The public doesn’t like a taxi driver that has to respect the fuel; this is not F1.” Montezemolo is pushing for the 100kg fuel limit to be raised by 10kg. Montezemolo left Bahrain before the race ended. His team finished in 9th and 10th place.
Bernie Ecclestone, long the face of F1 racing, has been very vocal in his distain for the new regulations, particularly the quieter sound of the engines, saying, “I don’t think the way things are at the moment are acceptable to the public.”
Jean Todt, President of FIA, the governing body of F1 racing, says in response, “Do you hear [championship leader] Nico Rosberg complaining? Did you hear [world champion] Sebastian Vettel complaining last year? Those doing well aren’t complaining, those that aren’t, are.”
It is certain that some rule changes to address these issues will take place next year, if not sooner. However, if other teams can make a mid-season push to crack Mercedes’ domination out of the gate and racers provide the nail-biting finishes and drama that we saw this weekend, it’s unlikely fans will be going anywhere.