Whilst there was a somewhat uninspiring race going on at the front of today’s Bahrain Grand Prix there was also a fair bit of genuine intrigue at the back of the pack. Which of the three new teams entering F1 this year would have the best race? Who’d got the job done over the winter, and who still had a lot of homework to do?
HRT were always going to struggle, with zero testing, minimal running this weekend and two rookie drivers in the cars. Those two both did a good job, all things considered, but it was no surprise that neither made it to the end of the race. Karun Chandhok hit a bump and lost the car just 2 laps in and the resulting crash damage left him out of the race. That’s a total of 9 laps completed this weekend for the Indian. Bruno Senna ran way out behind for 18 laps before mechanical woes put him out. Not really enough running for the team, they’ll be hoping for more tracktime in Australia.
After yesterday’s qualifying Badger suggested that it would a surprise if Virgin got both cars to the finish, so we weren’t too shocked when Lucas di Grassi pulled out 3 laps in to the race with hydraulic problems. Timo Glock was having a great little battle with the Lotus of Hiekki Kovalainen, but his race also ended early. 17 laps in he lost 4th gear, and soon pulled out of the race with a broken gearbox. Overall a disappointing day, but the cars look decent; they just need to get the reliability sorted so as to push on with development.
Technical boss Nick ‘Down With Windtunnels’ Wirth was gracious in defeat, offering “congratulations to Lotus Racing on achieving a two-car finish in their first race”.
So it was Lotus who came off best, and by some distance. Both cars made the finish, with Heikki Kovalainen crossing the line in 15th place, just one lap down on the leaders. His pace improved throughout the race and the car didn’t suffer any technical issues over the 49 laps. Teammate Jarno Trulli came home in 17th, severely slowed by a hydraulic issue but still running nonetheless. The team’s target for race 1 was just to make the finish, so it’s job done for the Lotus boys in Bahrain.
“I’m very proud of the whole team” commented technical chief Mike Gascoyne post-race. Boss Tony Fernandes was also thrilled: “I’m completely over the moon”, he said after the race. Tony’s probably already picturing Richard Branson serving a Bloody Mary aboard an Air Asia flight. Lest we forget, Fernandes and Virgin’s Richard Branson have a bet going this year: the man whose team finishes lower in the championship will have to work as a stewardess, in full drag, on the other’s airline for a day. It’s a great bit of extra fun to add to F1 this season, if a tiny bit creepy.
Back to the racing, the big plus for Lotus is that they’ll have a whole lot more data to work with after completing a race distance, and they’ll understand their new car a lot better. Virgin and HRT didn’t complete anywhere near as many laps as them over the course of the weekend, and will both be in a worse position when the circus arrives in Australia in two-weeks time. Don’t be surprised if Lotus manage to find a bit more speed than their fellow newbies between now and Melbourne.
So one race down, eighteen to go, and it’s Lotus who are looking strongest in the battle of the new teams. Plenty of time for the others to catch up though.