Bahrain 2010: Fernando Alonso Leads One-Two On Ferrari Debut

The opening round of the 2010 Formula One World Championship has been won by Fernando Alonso, driving the Ferrari F10 around the Bahrain International Circuit to great success. Team mate Felipe Massa returned to the sport after eight months off recovering from his 2009 accident with a solid drive to second. The performance from the Ferrari duo wasn’t entirely dominant though and until the Red Bull RB6 developed a problem, Sebastian Vettel looked very good for the victory.

Looking at the entire race, it is still tricky to decide who has the outright quickest car at the moment, but one thing for certain is that the Mercedes MGP-W01 is perhaps towards the bottom of the top-four. The RB6 was very fast when Vettel was in clear air at the front although the young German didn’t manage to haul out a sizable lead with the lap times yo-yoing between Red Bull and Ferrari. However, as soon as Alonso was through Vettel, the double world champion came alive and pulled out a huge margin to Massa in second. McLaren weren’t quite on the pace either, although Lewis Hamilton believes he could have kept up with Alonso had his race run a little better. Opinion though, quite rightly, is divided on this.

The start of the race was always going to be interesting, with so many new teams and drivers. It was an old-hand though who made a minor error, Mark Webber not lining himself up in his grid slot properly. After the lights went out, most the field managed to navigate the first corner without major concern. Alonso just about managed to get ahead of his team mate and Lewis Hamilton started out quite well only to be squeezed over to the edge of the track by Felipe Massa before out-breaking himself, allowing Nico Rosberg to pass. Hamilton eventually got back ahead of the Mercedes driver during the pitstops.

Robert Kubica and Adrian Sutil had a minor coming together, the Renault driver spinning in the process as the pair were blinded by Webber’s plume of smoke coming from an oil overfill. This allowed Vitantonio Liuzzi through to take the lead position in the Force India team. Liuzzi went on to take two points from a ninth place finish. Also not faring too well at the start was Nico Hulkenberg, the GP2 champion finding himself on the sand and experiencing a tank-slapper in a Formula One car. Hulkenberg did manage to get to the end of the race though, albeit four positions down on his point-scoring team mate.

Both Bruno Senna and Karun Chandhok started from the pitlane, but unfortunately for the Indian, Chandhok retired his Hispania on L2. Senna enjoyed a better race than his team mate, getting as far as L19 and completing a pitstop before pulling the car over with a suspected hydraulics failure.

Also retiring early on were the Virgin Racing duo of Lucas Di Grassi and Timo Glock, as well as Kamui Kobayashi in the Sauber and Vitaly Petrov in the Renault. Petrov came in for his first pitstop but failed to leave. A problem with the rear-right tyre caused the Russian driver to be stationary for a long time before the team decided to roll the car into the garage and call it a day.

At the front of the pack, things settled down and Vettel maintained a reasonable margin over the chasing Alonso. Unfortunately for Red Bull though, with a win looking very comfortable for the team, Sebastian’s RB6 slowed and the driver communicated a loss of power over the radio. It wasn’t long before Alonso pounced, quickly followed by Massa and then finally Hamilton. The cause of the decline in performance on the Red Bull was a damaged exhaust, many paddock insiders suggesting Adrian Newey’s radical design causing the rear section of the car to overheat.

Ferrari weren’t immune though, and just prior to Vettel’s problem surfacing, Alonso had been told to back out of the dirty air trailing Vettel because the F10 was overheating. Likewise, Massa faced a similar issue in the sister car. As soon as Alonso overtook the Red Bull though, the clean uninterrupted air improved Alonso’s situation and from here until the end of the race Fernando was simply dominant.

While Lewis Hamilton was able to repair the damage done to his position on the opening lap, Jenson Button couldn’t and eventually finished the afternoon in P7, just one place up on his qualifying result. It wasn’t a good start to his title defense, but Button remained upbeat after the race.

Michael Schumacher remained fairly anonymous on his comeback, gaining one place throughout the grand prix and finishing in P6. Schumacher spent most of his race behind team mate Nico Rosberg.

Of the new teams, Lotus had a great start to the year with both drivers enjoying battles with other drivers, notably Jarno Trulli of Virgin Racing in the opening stint. Towards the end of the race the Lotus duo were lapping to within 2s of the front-runners which is quite astonishing when you consider the length of the lap at Bahrain. Unfortunately for Trulli, his Lotus gave up with just a lap to go, but team mate Heikki Kovalainen managed to get to see the chequered flag.

Both Virgin cars retired early on in the proceedings, Lucas Di Grassi thinking he may have suffered a hydraulics failure while Timo Glock initially lost fourth gear before losing fifth. The German eventually parked the car up and retired it. Sauber too disappointed, especially after running reasonably well in pre-season testing. Both Pedro De La Rosa and Kamui Kobayashi retired, each with mechanical problems.

The opening race was perhaps not as exciting as it could have been, but there was some overtaking and some good battles through the field. One area of concern that FOTA chairman and McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh spoke about shortly after the chequered flag fell was the risk of teams pitting early in the race and changing to the harder tyre to get through until the end of the race. Under the rules as they currently are, this is an acceptable strategy, but today it became blatantly obvious as something that would lead to incredibly dull races. Whitmarsh suggested each driver be forced to complete two pitstops but any discussion on this will not happen just yet and would need the unanimous agreement of all the teams. With Ferrari and Red Bull looking strong, it is unlikely either of these two would agree to mandating the pitstops.

Ferrari leave Bahrain with a very healthy 43 points in comparison to McLaren who sit on just 21. Fernando Alonso leads the driver’s title and is 7 points clear of team mate Felipe Massa. With another 18 races left to run though, the championship has barely begun and there is plenty to play for in the next few races. Formula One will now take a two week break before the Australian Grand Prix at the end of the month.

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