Force India sweeps Bahrain ROTR; Vandoorne edges Wehrlein for IIDOTR
Bahrain saw a dominant show of force from the Silverstone based Indian team, but of entirely the wrong kind. They showed a level of authority in the Reject of the Race vote that deserted them out on the track itself, left clinging desperately to the coat-tails of Sauber and Manor.
It was an incredible reversal of fortunes from merely two years ago, when the the same duo of Sergio Pérez and Nico Hülkenberg finished 3rd and 5th respectively. The drivers put their team on the back foot immediately; entangled in the standard midfield arms and elbows, both required front wing changes within the first two laps. This in itself was not the end of the quest for points, with 55 laps still left to work with, but the team compounded its issues further with poor strategy decisions.
Hülkenberg was the first of the pair to pit for repairs, and initially went for a set of softs, ditching his qualifying supersofts. Pérez conversely stuck with the red-walled compound for his stint, leapfrogging his struggling German team-mate on Lap 7.
The lack of pace on any and every compound was evident, but Hülkenberg’s strategy went even further out the window when his third stint – on the medium tyre – lasted only 19 laps. With the soft tyre having done him no favours earlier, they attempted a 21 lap stint on the supersoft to finish off the race. Their optimism unsurprisingly left them short changed, bringing him in once more with five laps to go for another set of tyres. He was the only driver to make four stops during the race.
They made the same mistake with Pérez, leaving him out for 19 laps on his final stint with a red-walled set. Unsurprisingly, he lost two positions in the final two laps – his tyres having fallen off the cliff entirely.
In the ROTR runner up stakes, Williams were a distant second, with once again much of the angst directed at their strategic choices. Felipe Massa was the only driver to use the medium tyre twice during the race, and it backfired massively for the Grove outfit. Felipe Nasr was also struggling to bond with his difficult Sauber C35, unable to match team-mate Marcus Ericsson all weekend, and took the final ‘podium’ place in the reject standings.
Also receiving a wag of the finger were Bernie and the FIA, conveniently tied for points given their similar influence in the qualifying negotiations fiasco. Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari engine putting on a pyrotechnic display was another aspect frowned upon by some, potentially robbing the race of its best chance to see something other than a Silver Arrow on the top step of the podium.
Full Reject of the Race results
Stoffel Vandoorne was not supposed to be racing this weekend, had Scrooge McDennis possessed the final say in the matter. The FIA blocked attempts to have Alonso reinstated to his own drive, after being barred from competing due to lingering concerns from his Melbourne accident. Vandoorne thus was reluctantly drafted in to replace the double world champion at short notice.
A mid-season début is a scary prospect, one filled with concern of a lack of preparation outweighing any potential talent the débutant may possess. Combine this with the well documented issues with the McLaren-Honda package, and there were alarm bells regarding whether Vandoorne would have the chance to be judged fairly.
Vandoorne not only allayed those fears, but immediately led the onlooking public to question McLaren’s hiring strategy for their race seats. While a 10th place in itself is not particularly spectacular, the situation in which it was secured deserved praise. He outqualified his world champion team-mate on debut, and while Button was not able to put up a fightback thanks to the commonplace McLaren-Honda reliability gremlins, looked assertive and comfortable in his new surroundings, earning him Infinite Improbability Drive of the Race.
The question is not whether Vandoorne has the potential to succeed in Formula 1, rather whether McLaren will allow him to succeed.
Elsewhere, Pascal Wehrlein received a wealth of praise for his efforts in the lead Manor, giving the British team easily its most competitive showing in Formula 1 since Monaco in 2014. If tyre management improves further for the Banbury squad, it may be a case of when, not if, a point is scored this year.
Romain Grosjean once again also received compliments for his run to 5th place in the Haas, but if this run of form becomes a permanent pattern – entirely possible given the relative pace of team-mate Esteban Gutiérrez early in the race – these results in future may no longer be considered improbable.