The Italian outfit were never supposed to be the team to beat around the Sakhir track. The Maranello-based squad had triumphed with Vettel in the season opening race in Australia two weeks ago, but only because of a fortuitously-timed virtual safety car. It was Mercedes who had enjoyed a clear edge over rivals at the Albert Park track.
While the German marque had predicted a closely-contested twilit thriller under the floodlights, Lewis Hamilton was still tipped as favourite to make up for the win snatched away from him in Melbourne. “I always said right from the beginning that this was going to be a season where it was going to be much tougher, particularly against Ferrari and Red Bull,” said Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff after polesitter Vettel and second-placed Kimi Raikkonen handed Ferrari a front-row lockout in qualifying.
“I was genuine about it and I meant it, and you could see that on a track like Bahrain with a very abrasive surface and lots of heat, we struggle.”
Until Sunday, Mercedes had won three of the last four races in Bahrain with only Ferrari and Vettel breaking their stranglehold on the event last year. Despite Wolff’s warnings, they were still expected to have the fastest car, even if the four long straights of the Bahrain track were expected to allow Ferrari to edge closer. By Vettel’s own admission, Ferrari’s 2018 challenger wasn’t as strong relative to Mercedes as their 2017 car had been.
“We have enough clever people to know that we are not quick enough yet,” Vettel had said in the build-up to the race. “It’s also a no-brainer that … Mercedes at this stage is quicker.” But by the end of the opening day of practice it was clear that that wasn’t the case, with the Ferraris, led by Raikkonen, putting on a dazzling display under the floodlights.
Hamilton’s weekend, it turned out, had already been compromised by an unscheduled gearbox change, which Mercedes only announced after Friday practice. The Briton was hit with a fiveplace grid penalty as a result.
The highest he would, therefore, be able to start a race never no one has won from below fourth on the grid was sixth. That, only if he set the fastesttime in qualifying. His best effort was only good enough for the fourth-fastest time. “Ferrari didn’t have the pace in the last race for whatever reason, now they are back to normal, maybe,” said Hamilton, who had taken pole by a whopping seven-tenths of a second from Vettel in Australia two weeks ago. “We’ll find out in the races to come. But, what we know is Ferrari has been quick here all weekend and we’ve not been able to match them.”
Wolff, after qualifying, said Ferrari were “clearly the favourites” for the race. But the 57-lap floodlit spectacular wasn’t quite the scarlet walkover qualifying may have indicated. Two competing strategic approaches brought the race alive, as Bottas on a one-stop strategy nearly overhauled Vettel, who had initially planned to stop twice. Drama during Raikkonen’s second stop, when the Finn’s car was released early and tagged a tyre mechanic breaking his leg, probably decided Ferrari in switching Vettel onto a onestop plan.
Vettel now has a 17-point lead over Hamilton in the overall standings after becoming the first Ferrari driver since Michael Schumacher in 2004 to open the season with consecutive wins for the Italian team.
Red Bull still haven’t shown their hand yet, with both Daniel Ricicardo and Max Verstappen retiring within the first five laps, and could still make it a three-way fight at the front. “I think it will be very close,” summed up Mercedes’ Wolff.
Source : https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/sports/mercedes-see-red-ferraris-win-in-bahrain-sets-the-season-up-for-a-an-exciting-formula-1-season/articleshow/63691562.cms