Last Time Out:
Once again, testing was proven to be a rather useless indicator as Mercedes emerged from their off-season slumber to dominate the Australian Grand Prix.
Elsewhere headlines were created by the apparent lack of pace in the Ferraris.
Sebastian Vettel started well, he was sat nicely in behind Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas for the race’s first stint. However it became clear that he and Ferrari were not the force I expected them to be.
Success, however, was found in 2/3 recommendations in our preview of the Australian Grand Prix.
Red Bull impressed through Max Verstappen. A first Honda podium since 2008, delivered in their very first race with the energy drink company constitutes an unqualified success.
In the midfield it was the schmozzle we all expected, with Haas and Kevin Magnussen topping the pile by race-end.
Renault, Alpha Romeo, and to a lesser extent Toro Rosso will come away with some degree of optimism based on their relative pace and points scored.
Finally, the extra point awarded for fastest lap became a thing! A thing in the sense that the best drivers and teams fought tooth and nail for it towards the end of the race.
Your winner in both that contest and that of the race, Mr Bottas. Welcome back to the fold Valtteri.
The Sakhir circuit in Bahrain has a couple of things going for it in terms of interest.
The race will commence in the dusk of the early evening and finish at night. As a consequence, the cars look stunning.
On that note, Ferrari’s new matte paint finish is getting mixed reviews. They’ve already changed the paint-job once due to their car looking orange on tv!
They’ll rightly get slammed if they’ve not prepped the red cars to look their best under the 4,500 lightbulbs in the desert.
Beyond the aesthetics, the track has a flowing first sector that can lead to excellent racing.
‘The Dual in the Desert’ between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg comes to mind immediately.
The rest of the track demands a strong engine and good low-speed corner entry and exit. Being strong on the brakes can open up the race for a driver as well.
It’s a good circuit that has been re-worked and re-imagined since Bahrain first paid their way on to the calendar in 2004.
This track has been Ferrari’s banker in recent seasons.
They’ve won it a record six times, and have picked up two of those wins in the last two years.
Whatever the alchemy of the current engine regulations and Ferrari’s design philosophy is, it works in Bahrain.
It is considerably more difficult to support them based on their no-show in Australia.
For the record, Mercedes have also dominated at Bahrain. They won here three years in a row from 2014 to 2016 inclusive.
Red Bull too won back-to-back races in the two renewals before the Mercedes run.
I will make the case for Ferrari first.
They were seven tenths of a second off Mercedes’ ultimate qualifying pace at Melbourne, which is quite a lot.
They were the same margin off Mercedes’ after qualifying last year too. Ferrari went on to win the first two races of the season.
Mattia Binotto’s team are likely to be closer to the Mercs than at Melbourne, close enough to challenge and lead? It would constitute a surprise.
Merecedes are unsurprisingly priced as favourites for this race, all the competitive indicators point towards their car and drivers being fastest.
Superior to all teams in all sectors in Australia, there was only a sliver of thousandths between the two drivers. A revitalised Bottas may represent the best value between the two.
For Red Bull-Honda, this could be a signature race in my opinion.
Honda would have dreaded the Bahrain GP for the last number of years. Their engine was typically humbled in the back of the McLaren 2014 through to 2017.
Pierre Gasly in the Toro Rosso-Honda last year, RBH this year, managed to qualify the car in sixth and race it to a remarkable fourth place come race end.
There’s a great deal unknown about the specific properties of the Honda engine. Mostly because it’s been dismissed for so long.
Mercedes are thought to be the kings of top-end speed while Ferrari are rumoured to be quite creative when it comes to energy regeneration.
Thinking about their strong showings at tracks with low-corner speed, Honda could have a torque advantage. This would aid their corner exit and traction.
They are my value bet this weekend.
Finally for the midfield, logic will follow that I’ll be looking at a strong performance from Toro Rosso. This is based on both them and their bigger sister having the required strengths for this circuit.
2019 SO FAR: RED BULL AND HONDA 🤝
Pre-season testing = smooth 👨🔧
Australian Grand Prix = a success 🇦🇺
Rivals = impressed 🤔
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 25, 2019
Three bets. Three different teams, with three different drivers.
First up, the race win. I’m prioritising recent form over course form, especially based on what we witnessed two weeks ago.
Lewis Hamilton is the market leader at 7/5, his team mate, who was on Hamilton’s pace and beyond, is much more tempting.
Bahrain Grand Prix Winner – Valtteri Bottas at 12/5.
I’m very tempted to back Red Bull and Max Verstappen for the race win this weekend. However this may be a few races too soon to beat the Silver Arrows.
Speaking at Melbourne, Honda F1 managing director Masashi Yamamoto said of the potential for an early season win: “We hope to make it come true, maybe by around the summer. . .Our honest feeling is that we haven’t reached the level of Ferrari and Mercedes as a PU (power unit).”
Maybe not the race win then, but I expect Verstappen to be at the front of the race.
Bahrain Grand Prix Race Top 3 – Max Verstappen at 4/5.
And finally, a nod to the midfield.
Toro Rosso-Honda look to have the chassis to compete with Renault, Alpha-Romeo et al, and I believe the engine will deliver this weekend too.
I’m pitting Alexander Albon against Alpha’s Antonio Giovinazzi in a match bet.
The Thai-British driver is in his rookie season but has impressed in terms of his demeanor and maturity. If he delivers performances of the standard he did in Formula Two, then he’s going to impress many more.
Giovinazzi’s race was badly affected by poor strategy in Melbourne, but he was outpaced by both his team mate and Albon.
Bahrain Grand Prix Match Bets – Alexander Albon v Antontio Giovinazzi, Albon to win at 4/5.