Formula 1 Insight

Bahrain GP 2009 - The Race

Strategy, tires and luck all played their parts in Button's well deserved victory in Bahrain but perhaps the most important factor was Lewis Hamilton. His excellent start vaulted him into third behind the Toyotas and, had Button not managed to get by him on lap 2, the race would have been Trulli's. Jenson's pass became the pivotal moment of the race, enabling him to stay with Jarno and Timo while Lewis kept the rest behind him.

Jenson Button
Jenson Button

Toyota helped by choosing a fuel strategy that forced them to pit a little early, dropping them into traffic that inevitably affected their progress. Glock had the worst of it, emerging back into the race just behind the bunch following the leaders, and the decision to take the hard tires for the second stint did him no favors as well. His chances at the podium ended right there and he finished in a disappointing 7th place.

Trulli was luckier in that he was able to stay just ahead of the second group and he wasted no time in setting up the Trulli train. Meanwhile Button was building a lead that he would keep for the entire race. Vettel had too few laps after Hamilton's first pit stop to close the gap to Jenson and, after his own stop, he emerged exactly where he did not want to be - just behind Trulli.

And there he stayed until Trulli went in for his second stop, the performance difference between the Red Bull and the Toyota being insufficient to allow Vettel to pass. The young German was able to leapfrog Jarno during the second stops but by then Button, on the same tire strategy as the Red Bull, had a comfortable gap that he kept to the flag. Meanwhile Trulli, now on the soft tires, caught Vettel but found it impossible to pass.

It looked like luck, so much depending on the traffic around each driver after his first stop, but strategy was the real decider. Toyota managed to shoot themselves in the foot again, the decision to run the hards in the second stint proving to be a grave error. Throughout the second stint, Trulli and Glock were defending and could not think of improving their positions.

Button was the man who got the timing right and one has to credit Ross Brawn for much of that - the old fox got it right again. Jenson drove well enough to take advantage of the strategy, however, and the victory was his as much as Brawn's. It is good to see what he is really capable of, now that he has a good team and a competitive car.

Barrichello had a busier afternoon with traffic, a product of his lower grid position, but again he stuck to the task and was rewarded with fifth. Hamilton remained ahead of him, however, judicious use of the KERS button making up for the McLaren's lack of downforce. He seems the best at making the most of the system and must be an increasing threat to the front runners as the team improves the car in the next few races.

Perhaps because the boss was watching, Raikkonen decided to give of his best at this race and duly claimed Ferrari's first points of the season. On heavy fuel he stayed with the group chasing the leaders and came in sixth, about as high as it was possible for a Ferrari to get in this race. Massa had an extra stop to replace a front wing after the first lap and spent the rest of the race battling to get places back. His fastest race lap was over half a second quicker than Kimi's, however, and he has reason to feel that luck has been against him so far this year.

Alonso grabbed the final point in eighth, his racecraft and aggression unable to lift the Renault any higher, and Rosberg disappointed yet again in ninth spot. An unnoticed bright spot lower down the order was that Bourdais at last had a trouble-free race and finished well ahead of Buemi. Whether 13th is enough to save him, since his car is essentially the same as the Red Bull RB5, remains to be seen, however.

And so to BMW. The car is desperately in need of new updates and the team's decision to run long stints backfired when both Kubica and Heidfeld needed new noses after a messy first lap. The best that can be said is that the humiliation of finishing behind Toro Rosso and Force India might at least spur the engineers on to introduce a new diffuser as part of the improvements planned for Barcelona.

The race may not have been the most exciting this year but it was fascinating to watch the influences of strategy and luck unfold. The leading cars are so close in performance now that apparently minor things can make all the difference. And Brawn may have been caught by Toyota and Red Bull in terms of sheer speed, but they still have one unfair advantage - that man Brawn on the pit wall, doing his calculations and pulling the strings. Brawn GP is truly a team effort.


Number 38
I had $5. on Button and William Hill bookmakers paid 5:1 so it was a good day for me too. You mentioned "The Trulli Train" but I'm glad to see you didn't get derogatory about it as some others have. There's little doubt Vettel has a larger fan club than Trulli but he "ain't there yet" ......... in my book. There's no doubt the Trulli/Vettel dicing was the race of the day but, Vettel was unable to even attempt a pass on Trulli in the early stages nor could he run away or even open a small gap in the later stages. It was a perfect race decided by a better placed PIT STOP, just like the old days!
Glock starting "light" ..... how many times do they have to make this mistake before they learn? And with a heavy fuel load on the "slower" tyres......Toyota should have switched him back to "faster" tyres in a NO FUEL stop (he was already loaded) and got him back to speed. A splash and dash at the end would have earned him at least a place, maybe two. Still Glock has scored points in every race. He's a talent in hiding. And Button's years of agony at Honda are finally paying dividends. And old man Barrichello ......
I'm preparing next years contract. A darn sight better than rolling the dice on a rookie!
Date Added: 26/04/2009

Hum.. hello Clive
I am missing a nice remark on Piquet's drive today especially his defensive drive on Webber. I can not help but remember his snide remarks on being as good if not better than Lewis only to wake up in deep trouble after his first six outings with Renault and me laughing. But, I think the poor fellow has been punished enough now. Also would you have any idea how to compare Alonso's and Hamilton's drives so far (2009)? I mean in light of the fact that both are driving "weak" cars both are considered to be the best in current F1 plus they both seem to land rather close to each other in qualification yet Hamilton seems to be pulling the better results. Your fav team the beemers must surely be running down into their basement on a daily basis just so that they can cry in peace and quiet. Of all the teams they were the loudest YES KERS NO RULES CHANGES and now it's ... at least the have the decency not to blame everyone else but themselves.

all the best
Date Added: 26/04/2009

Steve Ellis
No wonder Toyota has yet to win a race with their fumbling attempts at strategy. I wonder what the Toyota board will think about their latest failed effort.

Button had a great race. His passing of Vettel and Hamilton was rewarded with a well deserved win. He's really dominating that team now. If Barrichello can't turn it around, it should be the glue factory for him next year.

Hamilton had a strong race. It seems like it's only a matter of time before McLaren are at the sharp end of the grid, at least with Hamilton. Kovalainen is the pits. Next year they someone who can support Hamilton.

My man Vettel was swamped at the start, being sandwiched between Button and Hamilton. He made the smart move to back off and not cause an accident but it cost him dearly. I thought Hamilton might pass him with KERS but Button's move really put him on the back foot. Getting stuck behind Hamilton then Trulli cost him any chance of winning. Red Bull might not be at the front in Spain so they need to make hay now.

Which is something Williams have failed to do and now they will drop down the grid. This team is in a terminal decline and I can't help but thinking it will go the way of Lotus, Brabham and others.
Date Added: 26/04/2009

Wow, a race without any problems!

Dull as the circuit may be at least we finally got a good clean race. Driver of the day had to be Hamilton as he was squeezing every last bit of performance out of that Maclaren and when he went for a push he was close to getting Vettel. Unfortunatley he was hampered by the same problem that Vettel was with Trulli, that of not having enough more speed to overtake on a circuit that requires either mistakes or a large performance advantage in order to overtake. The FIAs so called track design guru is poor in my eyes.

Kimi seems to have woken up a little and put in a good solid performance in what is clearly a very poor car, I thought Kovilinen was a little unlucky to get a bruising in the first corner and therfore putting him well down the order and he seemed to drive well after that, although Lewis is showing what an amazing talent he really is. I am really happy for Brawn and Button as again they have been rewarded for good decision making and good honest driving. But all the drivers should be congratulated for fully earning their saleries having to drive in such ridiculous temperatures! So too must the engineers be congratulated for producing cars which can run in those conditions (only 1 retirement is unbelievable).
Date Added: 26/04/2009

How is it that with Raikkonen, Alonso etc the fault for less than stellar performance lies with their cars, but it is Rosberg who is disappointing, not the Williams? Especially since he has been outspoken about the team simply making themselves look better than they are by using low fuel loads in practice.
Date Added: 26/04/2009

Nick Goodspeed
This was the first race I have watched this season. I don't mind getting up at 7am Sunday morning but staying up all Saturday night is out of the question. I thought I was yawning because I was up so early but then realized how boringly dull a venue Bahrain is. The stands were just about empty and there was little or no fanfare outside of Ecclestone doing his best to ignore Jackie Stewart (at least I think it was Sir Jackie, although I can't understand why he'd bother to be there). The fake grass and slicks gave the overall impression of a video game. I was pleased Button won and it was nice to see Raikonen back in form although I can't see that racing is any better than last year. The aerodynamics are better for passing perhaps but the magic Kers button seems to do a great deal toward nullifying that advantage.
I think the poor old Bavarians need to improve their cloaking device or develop an afterburner.
Date Added: 27/04/2009

Arun Srini
Who would you rate the best driver Clive? Mine's alonso (for this race_
Date Added: 27/04/2009

Number 38: I am going to look at some of the team strategies in more detail tomorrow and a consideration of Toyota will be included in that. As you say, this was a race where the timing of the pit stop and tire strategy was all important - well worth a careful study, therefore.
Date Added: 27/04/2009

Michael: I will be having a look at Renault's race in detail tomorrow and Piquet will be an important part of that. There are reasons for his poor performance in the first three races and I agree that he has had a poor press so far.

The differing styles of Alonso and Hamilton in less than competitive cars are quite interesting to watch. Alonso is so obviously giving it everything, the car twitching in the corners and on the edge of disaster continually. He is wonderful value for money and the best thing Renault have going for them at the moment.

In contrast, Hamilton still makes it look easy, even though his car should really not be as fast as he makes it. Just occasionally one end or the other breaks away but he catches it without drama and continues on his serene way. To be fair to Alonso, I think the McLaren is now a slightly better car than the Renault but Hamilton's ability to take it up amongst the leaders shows how good he really is.

BMW haven't touched the car since Melbourne. Their awful showing in Bahrain is a product of their falling behind as the others make small improvements, therefore, and I can only hope that the upgrades planned for Barcelona make a considerable difference. It will take luck, however, as everyone will have improvements too. As the double diffuser spreads throughout the field, some cars will make a big leap forward, others will be disappointed at their minor gains.

I count on Dr Mario to have used the time between the start of the season to substantially re-design the car around a double diffuser; whatever he may say in public, you can bet they have been working away like mad back in the factory. Without testing, so much depends on the computers and wind tunnels being correct, so luck in getting it right first time will be a decisive factor in Spain.
Date Added: 27/04/2009

Steve: I must be careful not to say too much about the matters you raise or I will end up writing tomorrow's post here! But essentially I agree with you - sadly, in the case of Williams.
Date Added: 27/04/2009

Lee: Agreed with all your points. But give Trulli his due - he knows how to stay ahead of faster cars. It is not for nothing that the Trulli train is famous!
Date Added: 27/04/2009

Hkat: Interesting question. With Alonso, I think it is so obvious that his talent is making up for the shortcomings in the car that there is really no argument there. The guy has driven his socks off since his return to Renault.

Raikkonen is a different case and I think Massa's performance shows that the Finn is not putting his heart and soul into most of the races at the moment. The car is not great but Massa manages to get decent times out of it even so. Kimi seems only to do that on occasion and such times are becoming rarer.

Rosberg is disappointing because he starts well and then fades as the race progresses. I don't think he is helped at all by the team's strategy but he needs to insist on better if that is the case. Quick times on light fuel loads may have some influence on our assessment of the car but it is clearly better than the McLarens and Ferraris, for instance. And the fact that Rosberg is not beating them worries me...
Date Added: 27/04/2009

Nick: Oh come on, Bahrain is a wonderful setting for a race. If you like sandpits, that is... :D

It is not a bad track as Tilke circuits go, just a bit sterile somehow. And the race may have been a bit boring but there are plenty of lessons regarding strategy there. I know it goes against much of what I have been saying lately about strategy being too important in modern F1, but it is the reality we have to deal with and we might as well get what fun we can out of it while it lasts, therefore. If refuelling is really to go next year, strategy will be much less important anyway.

As for BMW, I am counting on the boys from Bavaria to spring a few surprises in Barcelona. Let's face it - they're need them desperately!
Date Added: 27/04/2009

Arun: Driver of the race? For me, it has to be between Hamilton and Button. Lewis was at his best in this race, doing exactly what was required and hanging on to cars that were potentially much faster than the McLaren. Button probably wins it, however, because he showed that he has the ability to win in a car that was not the fastest on the track. He drove a perfect race, aided by well-timed pit stops admittedly, but he never put a foot wrong. And he did succeed in the crucial pass on Hamilton in the second lap...
Date Added: 27/04/2009

Driver of the race. It is clearly Jenson Button. He did everything right together with Ross Brawns strategy.
I think at the moment the McLaren is a bit better that the Ferrari.
Hamilton starts in P5 and ends in P4, a strong race but nothing more.
Kimi in the Ferrari starts in P10 and ends in P6 in a car, I think, is slower. Stronger race than Hamiltons? In my eyes, maybe.
But I think none of them is near the driver of the race.
Date Added: 27/04/2009

Hezla: Good point about Raikkonen - but I think you're right that Button was really the most impressive.
Date Added: 27/04/2009

Steven Roy
I have to admit to being curious about the relative performances of Hamilton and Alonso. I think the difference Clive speaks about is partly due to their diametrically opposed driving styles and the peculiarities of their respective car which ar obviously affected by those driving styles.

I think the McLaren fundamentally is a very good car which only lacks downforce. In terms od balance, handling and driveability it is clearly the best car on the grid. As a result to get the bet out of it the drivers have to be very smooth and if they are at all aggressive with it they simply lose more time. In some ways it is the worst possible set of circumstances for a driver to have. If the car handles badly but has the performance available the driver can make the difference as Massa did with last year's Ferrari. That car had more available performance than the Mclaren but it was much harder to access it.

This year's Renault just seems to need to be pushed hard to access its performance. As a result Alonso can look very ragged at times and in Bahrain he clearly did so much physical work in the car that he almost collapsed at the end. It was like the late 70s or early 80s all over again when the increasing levels of downforce caused drivers to suffer heat stroke as a result of the effort they had to put in, in hot climates.

It seems clear that the problem this year is due to drivers losing weight over the winter. KERS has been blamed for this but the real issue is tyres. The front tyres are too wide compared to the rears and as a result to maximise performance teams have to move weight forward. Narrower front tyres or for that matter wider rears would instantly render it unnecessary for drivers to be emaciated.
Date Added: 28/04/2009

Steven: Very interesting. I had not thought about the tyres making so much difference to the handling of the cars but it makes sense. It would also explain the fact that Bridgestone intend to make the fronts thinner next year. Which will also increase speeds, of course, the frontal area being reduced...
Date Added: 28/04/2009

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