The 999th Grand Prix in the history of the Formula One World Championship took the travelling roadshow to the extremely windy desert of Sakhir, Bahrain, as our intrepid hero, Duncraig Daniel Ricciardo, left Austraia having had his first race for Renault ruined by hitting a ditch at the start of the race and eventually retiring while a lap down, and even in practice he was still languishing in the midfield behind the usual suspects.
Dan qualified in 11th (Yet again), which became 10th after Romain Grosjean was bumped down the grid for impeding McLaren’s Lando Norris during qualifying, while Charles LeClerc took his maiden pole position for Ferrari, with Sebastian Vettel alongside and the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas right behind them.
As for the race, with no ditches in the pit lane side entrance, Daniel was in the Top 10 by Lap 1, and after running in a comfortable 7th throughout the first stint, the Renault pit wall went with a one-stop strategy for Ricciardo, whereas the other drivers were being put on two-stop strategies.
While it did have Ricciardo briefly leading the race on Lap 15 (LeClerc and Hamilton overtook him), in the long run, it went about as well as Sir Joh’s run for PM in 1987, as Dan’s worn down carcasses for tyres saw him being swallowed up by drivers on fresh rubber, and eventually by the time he did pit on Lap 25, he rejoined in 13th on a set of medium tyres, which despite being significantly younger than other cars, would leave him a sitting duck by the end of the race.
Eventually our intrepid hero did move back up to 6th, but when Renault teammate Nico Hulkenberg ranged up to pass him on Lap 39, they touched at Turn 1 when Ricciardo locked up, which caused minor damage to an end plate on Daniel’s front wing, and he was slowly but surely dropping down the Top 10, and on his old tyres, was eventually clinging on to 10th in the closing laps as Raikkonen and Gasly flew past.
Throughout the race, it was very annoying that David Croft (For the uneducated, he’s the race caller for Sky F1) couldn’t tell the difference on track between Nico Hulkenberg and Duncraig Dan. Then again, Crofty seems to have trouble telling apart any driver that isn’t Lewis Hamilton.
But it wasn’t that hard to tell the Renault pair apart at the start of Lap 55, as Hulkenberg’s engine suddenly let go on the pit straight, sending him into retirement from 6th place, while only a few metres up the road, Ricciardo, who had just inherited 9th, retired after a sudden loss of power, bringing out the Safety Car and for all intents and purposes, ending the race.
In just a few seconds, the French team had gone from a double points finish, to nothing.
Fair dinkum, if Renault manage to score a podium this season, it’ll be a feat of mechanical engineering on par with NASA firing Neil Armstrong & Buzz Aldrin onto The Moon. Say, that happened 50 years ago this year, approximately the last time Renault scored a podium as a factory team.
Although, if Renault’s race was awful, then Ferrari, despite the results showing a 3rd and 5th placed finish, had it even worse.
After seemingly sorting out their issues from Melbourne (Where they were beaten into submission by Mercedes), Charles LeClerc dominated practice and qualifying, and as I said earlier, scored his maiden Pole Position, the 99th driver in F1 history to start on Pole, and the 2nd youngest of those 99.
The youngest is none other than his teammate Sebastian Vettel, who started alongside him on the front row.
After Vettel had the better getaway and took the lead to begin the race, the teammates had the early advantage over the Mercedes pair, though eventually after some near misses, LeClerc showed the pace that had put him on pole, taking the lead and stretching clear, while Mercedes undercut Ferrari in the pits, allowing Hamilton to pass Vettel into the 2nd on Lap 15 after their first stops, though Vettel would eventually retake second on Lap 23.
So it went on until Lap 38, when, after being put under pressure by the Silver Arrows for several laps prior, Vettel spun trying to defend 2nd place from Hamilton, creating vibrations (Not the good variety) in his tyres that ultimately caused his front wing to detach down the back straight on the next lap, sending him back to 1985 after he hit 88 miles per hour.
Anyway, it destroyed Vettel’s chances of a podium, and he eventually fought his way back to finish in 5th.
With only 10 laps to go, the body blows continued when LeClerc notified the pit wall that he was losing power, which was initially ‘rumoured’ to have been a failure in his MGU-H energy recovery unit (Similar to Daniel at Monaco last year) that caused a severe loss of horsepower, although Ferrari have said it was caused by a “miscombustion” in one his engine cylinders.
It left the Monegasque driver a sitting duck for Hamilton, who passed him on Lap 48, and Valtteri Bottas easily made up 25 seconds against the wounded Ferrari and passed him on Lap 54, giving Mercedes yet another 1-2 finish.
LeClerc was almost a certainty to get mown down by Max Verstappen’s Red Bull, but the Safety Car ensured he at least salvaged a podium from yet another frustrating race for the Prancing Horse.
In the podium waiting room afterwards, Lewis, who did recognise how unfortunate LeClerc had been to miss out on his maiden win, was full of praise for him.
And if there was any further consolation, LeClerc was named Driver of the Day, and thanks to his fastest lap on Lap 38, he took the bonus point for the race.
100 years ago, the Allied Powers were being smashed by the Germans in the trenches during the Great War. These days, they’re fighting on race tracks and there’s less bloodshed… but they’re still getting smashed by the Germans.
NEXT UP IN A FORTNIGHT: THE 1000TH FORMULA ONE GRAND PRIX IN SHANGHAI!