Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturday: Alonso Out; On to Bahrain

This weekend, Formula 1 makes its second stop of the season. Hopefully by then people will have stopped thinking about the series’ 2016 debut long enough to pay attention, still the topic of discussion following a major crash whose footage found its way around the world.

After a rather wild race in Australia, everyone in the paddock enjoyed the ability to catch their breath, examine their data, and move along.  Perhaps no one is more appreciative of that idea than Fernando Alonso who is lucky to be alive but will not be racing at Bahrain.  (More on Alonso below.)

In Melbourne, Ferrari blasted off to take the first two positions which looked like a sign that they had maybe, truly, caught Mercedes.  It turned out to be a fleeting belief; the prancing ponies had neither the speed nor the strategy to match the silver arrows. Australia’s race, then ended in the form that most of them have for the past two years with Mercedes taking the top two spots.

It seems that the one area Mercedes has not mastered is the start; otherwise, they seem to be rolling right along.  If it’s going to be a battle between teammates for the championship, Nico Rosberg began the season in fine form by besting defending title winner Lewis Hamilton.  Thus far, Rosberg has backed his win by taking the top spot in both free practices already held in Bahrain.

Rosberg last season saw his championship hopes erode during a summer stretch when it seemed that everything that could go wrong did. However, it’s possible that the frustration from that period may be something that makes him a better driver this year.  Hamilton has seemingly cruised to race wins at times while Rosberg has eked them out.  Starting the season with a victory, then may be the confidence builder Rosberg needs while also allowing for some of the pressure he may feel to dissipate.  

But hey, it’s only one race and there’s still a whole season of ups, downs, and outs to travel through before reaching the finale.  No one, however, would argue against a more compelling championship battle than what has happened for the last 4-6 years.  

Odds & Sods

– Fernando Alonso will miss a race for the second straight season following his Australia accident.  Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren’s rookie reserve driver, will be taking his place in the race after getting the call from the team.  This opportunity is a big one for Vandoorne and his showing in free practice two, when he posted the 11th-best time, indicates that he might be able to handle what is expected of him.

For Alonso, being removed from the race is prudent.  The doctors stated that he had recovered from his partially collapsed lung but that his ribs were still cracked.  Should he have endured another crash, and more specifically one that affected that area, the ribs could have pushed into any one of his vital organs.  Whether or not he’ll make the Chinese Grand Prix in two weeks may be up for debate but then again, it’s still rather remarkable that he’s even here still standing after his horrific crash.

Kevin Magnussen will start from pit lane after he failed to weigh in during practice.  The Renault driver did not heed the the red light displayed for him to bring his car in and get inspected.  Having to start from pit lane for such a minor infraction seems a bit harsh. The team certainly thought so, arguing at length for a lighter penalty but on this one the stewards stood firm.  The funny thing about this incident is that it came during practice, during a time when a car’s weight really shouldn’t matter all that much. It’s rather impossible to gain any sort of advantage by running light.  

– The much-derided qualifying format that debuted in Australia will again be used for Bahrain.  After the new format failed to produce the expected outcome of more cars being on the track at the same time, the powers-that-be scrapped it.  All good, right?  Nope.  Instead, because everyone involved could not settle unanimously on what format to use the series reverts to the most recent iteration.

If anything is an indication of how F1 both functions and continues not to function, this qualifying absurdity highlights it.  One would think that reverting to the qualifying format used for the past few years would be fait accompli but of course that’s not what happened. 

– One of the big stories being touted is that Las Vegas is in play to hold an F1 race.  The city is already set to hold a Formula E event so bumping up to F1 is not a huge stretch in thinking.  The race, should it be added, would be in addition to the USGP in Austin, Texas.  While it’s great to think that North America might get another F1 event, this potential decision seems peculiar.

The USGP claims that they are already struggling and there was talk prior to the season began that it might not be on the schedule.  With the Mexican GP taking away some of the fans, adding Las Vegas would likely do the same and be a death knell to the race down in Austin.  Hence this maneuver, at least to me seems like one to get a city in California to move more quickly toward securing an event. It could also be a sign that in a couple years, likely when any race in Las Vegas would be held, the USGP won’t exist anymore anyway.  

Romain Grosjean may struggle to duplicate his success at Bahrain. (credit: Getty Images)

– After scoring one of the most unlikely sixth-place finishes in the team’s F1 debut, Haas-F1 looks to build on that momentum.  The team spent much of free practice one and two just logging laps, looking to shake down the cars of Esteban Guitierrez and Romain Grosjean and gather as much data as they could.  Guitierrez, who was involved in Alonso’s wreck finished the second practice in 12th, while Grosjean, who scored the sixth-place finish without ever managing a traditional pit stop, ended up 14th.  It seems the team is rolling along pretty well.

Sebastian Vettel suffered an accident that brought out the safety car in the latter stages of FP2.  He had complained that something was not right with the car and his assessment proved correct when his wheel came off.  It looks like an unsecured wheel nut is to blame.  Vettel escaped unharmed but the incident is sure to be reviewed by both the team and F1 safety directors.  

The Race

The first race held in Bahrain came in 2004 with Michael Schumacher taking the victory.  Though the track was reconfigured at one time it is back to its original layout, which is 3.3 miles in length and features 15 turns. Although the track looks flat, it’s actually a bit of deception with surprising elevation changes.  The hills make discrepancies in fastest lap a bit intriguing, similar to the statistics for the Shanghai circuit, as in 2004 Schumacher ran 1:30.2 while last year the fastest lap, posted by Rosberg, came in at 1:37.0.  The trend this year is for the cars to hit a pace a bit faster than last year, though.  

Fernando Alonso is currently the most successful driver at the circuit, having won three times, but Vettel and Hamilton (the 2015 winner here) are nipping at his heels with two victories apiece. 

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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