The Silver Arrows claimed a double podium in a breathtaking Bahrain Grand Prix – but it was Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel that took top honours under the lights.
Silver Arrows seal double podium
After claiming a superb maiden F1 pole on Saturday, Valtteri lead away cleanly off the line, while Lewis lost out to the fast-starting Vettel into Turn 1. Despite struggling with his tyres after a generator issue on the grid forced him to start with higher pressures than intended, Valtteri soaked up intense pressure from the Ferrari throughout the opening stint before Vettel made an early stop on Lap 10.
This call played into Ferrari’s hands when a clash between Carlos Sainz and Lance Stroll prompted a Safety Car, which subsequently forced the team to double-stack Valtteri and Lewis in the pits. To compound the situation, a wheel gun issue then cost both Silver Arrows time and handed Vettel the lead.
From there, things went from bad to worse for Lewis, as he found himself landed with a five second time penalty for hindering Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull on pit entry. Fired up to fight back, the Brit went on a charge with his new Soft tyres, passing first Ricciardo and then Valtteri as he closed in on the leading Ferrari.
After a brief stint in the lead following Sebastian’s second stop, Lewis header for the pits, serving his time penalty and bolting on a second set of the Soft compound Pirelli rubber – which had proven in the previous stint to be the more effective compound for the W08 on the night.
Lewis: It’s been a challenging weekend
The game was set and Lewis fired in a series of new fastest laps as he slashed the deficit to Vettel from 20s to just 6s. But ultimately, the charge just wasn’t quite enough to catch the Ferrari, who claimed his second win of 2017.
Post-race, Lewis was kicking himself for his mistake in the pit lane. But, on a tough day at the office, the triple World Champion still came away with P2 in the race and the same position in the Championship after three races – just seven points shy of Vettel.
“It’s been a challenging weekend,” said Lewis. “The start of the race was OK but Sebastian was in my blind spot so I didn’t know where he was and I lost a position there. It was really hard to follow but we generally had similar pace.
“Under the Safety Car, I just misjudged it myself the situation; that was my fault, so my apologies to the team. I had good pace in the second and final stints and we honestly thought we could catch Sebastian. But the five second penalty made that twice as hard.
“I believe it was the right choice to go with the Soft in the final stint. I think that was the best call as I still had a long way to go. Our guys have been making good calls all year so far. I tried my best to recover from the mistake but it wasn’t quite enough. We still come away with good points.”
Valtteri: Not a good day
After the high of his first Grand Prix pole on Saturday, Valtteri was understandably downcast to come home ‘just’ third after a tough race.
“Not a good day,” said Valtteri. “We had an issue with the tyre pressures at the start. I don’t know what it was but I could really feel it in the first stint and was sliding around as early as Lap 2.
“The pace wasn’t good and Sebastian put us under real pressure. I tried to extend the first stint but I couldn’t keep up with the pace. The second stint was better but I was still struggling with oversteer and then I couldn’t get the rear end to work in the last stint.
“Under the Safety Car at the first stop there was a problem and we lost some time in the stop; maybe otherwise I would have just been in front but I know that the team will investigate the issue. I had some good racing with Sebastian after the restart but unfortunately it was just for a short moment.
“I’ve not had the race results that I’d been hoping for so far, but will be targeting a strong weekend in Sochi.”
Toto: This was a day of marginal losses which cost us the win
Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport Toto Wolff drew positives from the performance of the car in Bahrain – but remained mindful that the team has work to do as the battle intensifies with the prancing horse.
“Today’s race reminded us once again that we are in a very different competitive situation this year, racing against Ferrari – and I am confident that this is a challenge we will rise to as one team,” said Toto.
“After a winter of massive regulation change, we have been in the hunt for race wins at every weekend and that is the big positive for us. But today was another reminder that we need to get everything right in order to deliver. That’s a challenge we relish as sportsmen and women.
“Ultimately, this was a day of marginal losses which cost us the win – however, as we saw particularly with Lewis, the pace was there in the car at the times when we were able to extract it.
Toto: We leave Bahrain with a lot more learning and still more work to do
“Our first loss came on the grid when a generator failure left Valtteri with too high starting pressures; that limited his pace in the opening stint, meaning we could not open a gap to the field and, with Lewis running behind Vettel, our strategic choices were pretty limited. We were on the back foot and then Ferrari played the undercut perfectly to come out ahead.
“We got lucky with the Safety Car which gave us an opportunity to recover but a problem with the wheel guns meant we lost time and positions with both cars. With the cars running different tyre compounds, we had to make the tough unpopular call for Valtteri to let Lewis pass; it’s not something we like to do but, when the moment comes that the race win is in danger, we will always do what we need to in order to get it.
“After that, we offset Lewis’ strategy as much as possible to give him the chance of closing down Sebastian in the final laps, but after he had served the five-second penalty, it left him with too much to do. We leave Bahrain with a lot more learning and still more work to do, in order to perform at our best and convert the car’s speed into race wins.”
James: The important thing is that the pace is there in the car
It was a frustrating race for Technical Director James Allison. But he too drew on the positives – principally that, underneath the small setbacks, the W08 is clearly a fearsome Grand Prix car and capable of more wins.
“It’s always disappointing when you don’t convert your grid positions into a result,” he said. “We had a handful of small setbacks which collectively cost us. In a season where the battle is very close on race day, these errors meant that we didn’t manage to convert our opportunities into the victory that we’d hoped for.
“But the important thing is that the pace is there in the car and now we’re just looking forward to getting to the next race in Russia and the opportunity to make good on what we didn’t manage to achieve tonight.”
It’s not quite time to wave goodbye to Bahrain just yet though, of course. With two important days of testing on Tuesday and Wednesday, the crew have a chance to crack on with putting the necessary pieces in place to mount a serious assault on the rest of the season – in a fortnight’s time, as the show rolls on to Sochi. Bring it on…