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GP Week : Issue 150
studying telemetry in the pit lane – did not make or break the fourth round of the World Championship. You could still be very quick in Bahrain – as Romain Grosjean proved – by using the line of least resistance through Turn 9. Nor was it a matter of merely ‘using a different line’; it was a question of touch and feel on the edge of fifth-gear marbles and then of maximising the braking zone thus enlarged. The variables were constantly changing; it provided graphic demonstration of how today’s F1 drivers differ from one another in a number of fundamental ways. Having said that, there is no doubt in my mind that the ‘Lewis Hamilton’ approach was (a) the best way of living with pressure in the closing minutes of each qualifying session (as Vettel and Hamilton both proved in Q3: it’s one thing to compromise slightly a fifth- gear kink that is followed by a slow left- hander; it is something else to mess up your braking for the slow corner and thus to compromise your exit. The temptation is to brake later when hunting for a quick lap. The ‘Lewis’ approach took that pressure away. That is huge – particularly on a circuit spiced with cross-winds and moving sand); (b) withstanding pressure in traffic; (c) forcing a driver in front into an error that at least will result in a flat- spot and at best a poor exit speed. Lewis Hamilton wasn’t able to parlay his brilliant qualifying lap into a race result due to a couple of sad McLaren pit stop glitches; Michael’s Mercedes DRS system failed in Q1 (causing plenty of smirks from rival teams) which left him near the back of the grid; Nico Rosberg allowed himself only one run in Q3 (the better to save the tyres); and Kimi, looking a bit disgruntled, did likewise in Q2 Out there on Saturday morning on a free road, however, Seb Vettel (whose car at last has some decent grip thanks to much exhaust-flow set-up work), Lewis, Nico, Michael and Kimi just looked to be able to cope with all that could be thrown at them. Everyone else, with the exception of Paul di Resta and Sergio Perez, both of whom seemed to take ‘the central line’ more and more as the weekend progressed, for the most part appeared to be seated on the sharpest point of a very ragged edge. Some – like Mark, Fernando and Romain – looked pretty comfortable there. Others, like Jean-Eric Vergne and Kamui Kobayashi – looked less convincing. And then there was Jenson Button, hating the cross-winds but nonetheless making “terrible oversteer” look as though the rear tyres were superglued to the surface. And so, on Sunday, the differences converged. Rosberg went backwards at the start; Romain Grosjean and Fernando Alonso sliced beautifully through the first-lap traffic. From the pole, Seb Vettel had been superb; behind his young team-mate, Kimi could only think of those extra new Pirellis in his garage. Seb received no early threats; on the contrary, he revelled in the Red Bull’s grip level and maximised it. The Red Bull on this day found the sweet spot in the Pirellis that McLaren had had in Melbourne, Sauber in Malaysia and Mercedes in China. In qualifying, Lewis had been beaten by...grip. And so it proved in the race. Even as he watched the Red Bull ease away, Lewis could feel his yellow-band Pirellis beginning to fade. McLaren’s would be a day of damage-limitation. And, from the high-midfield, Kimi rose, for the Renault E20, too, had found its nir vana. He nursed his tyres and used that valuable set of new softs early in traffic in his second stint, to help with some passes. Just after half-distance, when he was on Pirelli hards and Seb on his second set of softs, Kimi had the advantage. He closed the gap to the Red Bull’s rear wing. He looked superb. He looked to be a winner. So, too, did Seb. Under intense DRS pressure from Kimi, Seb perfectly- positioned the Red Bull and braked at exactly the right place and moment, and at exactly the correct pedal pressure, for five consecutive laps. So let no-one say that Seb Vettel doesn’t know how to race. All that remained, then, was the section of road – the only section of road in Bahrain – on which one driver can be more creative than another. Kimi began to size up Turns 9 and 10, the better to push Seb into some kind of error. It was on lap 35, when he was close enough, that Kimi first saw the move that would win Seb the race: he saw that Seb Vettel, in a very nice racing car, was doing what he, Kimi, was also doing naturally through the Turn 9 kink, marbles be damned. He saw that – barring the usual variables – the door was shut. Artists often beat the merely Great; artists very rarely beat their kind. So it was that Seb Vettel won his first race of 2012 and that Kimi Raikkonen, returning from rallying and NASCAR trucks, led a momentous Lotus-Renault two-three finish, for Romain had stayed on the edge for most of the afternoon until finally he could relax a little and could bring the car home. Overall, Barhain produced the fourth different winner in four different races; over at Turns 9 and 10, though, the winners were no surprise. No surprise at all. For more of Windsor on F1 watch The Flying Lap live every week on http://smibs.tv 23 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: F1 >>> BAHRAIN SO LET NO-ONE SAY THAT SEB VETTEL DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO RACE. " "