Previewing the Bahrain Grand Prix we look at Kimi Raikkonen’s chances as he inches closer to Sebastien Vettel, the thrilling rookie battle at Toro Rosso and whether Nico Rosberg can do anything about Lewis Hamilton.
Return of the Iceman
Kimi Raikkonen has been making very positive noises about his chances in Bahrain. With a superb record there – 6 podium finishes and counting – it is understandable.
Raikkonen has a Ferrari that is much more to his liking and has been back on form on race day, evidenced by his overtakes in Shanghai. Ferrari’s success in Malaysia has been put down to the lower wear rate on their rear tyres. A tyre-caring Lotus nearly gave the Iceman wins in Bahrain in 2012 and 2013. His biggest challenge however still remains qualifying. Getting on terms with the on-fire Sebastien Vettle on Saturday will give him a fighting chance of a podium behind, inevitably, the Mercedes.
Max vs. Carlos
With the sharp end of the field fairly uneventful until we get to the press conference, there is more racing intrigue in the Toro Rosso driver partnership. Rookies Sainz and Verstappen are all square on points after three races, with Max holding a slight edge on qualifying 2 to 1.
Considering Verstappen is so young, with only a handful of seasons under his belt and had no experience of the first three circuits visited this season, his achievements to date are impressive. Sainz’s route to F1 has been longer but equally he has not raced on any of the opening circuits either. By picking up points in any of the opening races suggests at this early stage that both are more in the style of Vettel or Ricciardo, and less Scott Speed and Tonio Liuzzi.
Verstappen is a raw talent that does not seemed phased by anything – the characteristics that helped him get the nod over Sainz in the first place. Sainz possesses a much greater depth of experience and in faster machinery thanks to his time in Formula Renault 3.5. His race performances in Australia and Malaysia were characterised by a calm efficiency that was spoiled somewhat by his rookie mistakes in China.
Bahrain represents another circuit where both drivers will be first timers. After his mistakes in China and Verstappen’s impressive progress through the field, Sainz will start on the back. When F1 returns to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix it will start a run of races where Sainz’s circuit experience will be superior to his Dutch team-mate. How that shifts the intra-team battle will be particularly interesting to watch.
The race for third place
With Ferrari busy chasing down Mercedes the up and down battle for best of the rest continues. Williams seemed to regain some of their mojo in China but across the three races to date, Red Bull, Lotus and even Sauber and Toro Rosso have at times looked like the leader of the mid-field pack on pace.
As has been the case all too often in F1, the battle for the mid-field places is far more unpredictable than for race wins. It is genuinely hard to predict who will come out top behind Mercedes and Ferrari in Bahrain but I’d look out for the increasingly rejuvenated Lotus.
Lewis vs Nico
Bahrain was the spark that ignited the season-long Mercedes feud last year. Ultimately the tone for the season was set when Hamilton out-muscled Rosberg. Nico then struggled to know how to approach future confrontations, ultimately leading to the incident in Belgium.
Rosberg has to reverse the status quo at Mercedes and he still can. He was less than a blink of the eye away from pole in China, a result that would have set him in a better position for the race. He has been quick around the circuit but most importantly, to halt the tide, he has to be strong against his team mate in the smart way Lewis was last time out in Bahrain.