We’re two races into the 2017 season and already the feeling is positive – we’ve got a two driver, two team battle at the front, overtaking is difficult, yet incredibly entertaining, and storylines are developing off the field that are compelling as they are unlikely.
Here are a few key stories to follow in the build-up to this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
All eyes on Kimi Raikkonen
With Sebastian Vettel taking the challenge to Lewis Hamilton, Ferrari are reaping the rewards of organisational restructuring and a well-developed car. However, if the team is to challenge the dominance of Mercedes in regards of the constructors’ championship then the sister car of Kimi Raikkonen needs to be performing just as well, and so far the Finn has delivered what they need.
While China’s poor performance can be explained away by the pitwall’s stubbornness to bring Kimi in for a second tyre stop, Australia saw Raikkonen finish 22 seconds behind teammate, and victor, and 11 seconds behind fellow Finn and key rival Valtteri Bottas.
With Ferrari management starting to sharpen the axe, what can the 2007 world champion produce a result like 12 months ago and secure a place on the podium?
Werhlein is back on the grid
Antonio Giovinazzi had two of the most contrasting weekends a Formula One rookie could have at the start of a career; the positivity surrounding the Italian in Melbourne was quickly smashed aside in China, much like he managed with his Sauber in two near-identical incidents.
With Pascal Werhlein declaring himself fit enough to return, Sauber have their new signing ready and raring to go. But it’s not only Kimi Raikkonen who will be under scrutiny this weekend – Wehrlein has to start turning around a reputation damaged by negative feedback from a season at Manor, being overlooked for Mercedes and Force India seats and criticism for skipping the opening two races through deciding his fitness wasn’t as high as he needed to compete.
A solid weekend at Sakhir would dispel all that.
The Title Fight – Round 3
If the first two races of 2017 are anything to go by, we’re in for a humdinger of a championship battle this season. The Lewis Hamilton-Sebastian Vettel rivalry has never had the opportunity to develop past a few races in the last 10 years, but now it’s plain to see it’s going to be the main plot thread of the year.
The heat of Bahrain may prove to be the deciding factor in this round of the contest – the increased heat, according to Hamilton, will play into the Scuderia’s favour, which has been the case in recent holdings of the race.
If this is the case then we might not see the two contenders going wheel-to-wheel for the win like we all want, but be prepared for the same to-and-fro qualifying sessions, and strategical intrigue, which is proving to be great entertainment.
The deposed king returns?
It’s been a few months since Bernie Ecclestone’s reign at the top of Formula 1 was ended, but sources are suggesting that this weekend in Bahrain will be his first appearance in the paddock since Abu Dhabi.
While this might not prove too significant – Bernie negotiated the move to the Middle East a decade ago and has strong relationships there – there is also the rumour that Interlagos might be Ecclestone’s next purchase, putting himself back into the cauldron of F1 politics.
Alonso’s American adventure
Ironically, the main story of this weekend’s Grand Prix will be the participation of one of F1’s most high-profile drivers in the upcoming Indy 500, skipping the Monaco Grand Prix in the process.
With McLaren, Honda and Fernando Alonso all competing in the American showcase event it’s a throwback to the 1960s and having a cross promotion of racing globally. But questions will be asked; can F1 survive a name like Fernando not being at Monaco? Is F1 now a second thought for McLaren? Will a Le Mans challenge follow suit?
The determination of Alonso to establish a legacy in motorsport, which now won’t happen in Formula 1 without adding to his two world titles or being in direct competition with Ferrari or Mercedes, has seen him move abroad to do so. Whether it affects F1 in the long term, we’ll have to see.