Andrew Davies on the best team-mate battles he’s ever seen
I just about managed to watch the Bahrain GP on Italian television from a hotel room in Venice (contractual obligation). The broadcast on RAI was free, the hotel a lot more. What we saw in Bahrain was possibly the best team-mate grand prix in the last 30 years, maybe of all time. Certainly since the early 1980s there has never been so many close intra-team battles going on in one race. There is often one set of team-mates close together in a race but often they’re quite polite and just follow until the pit-stops. Last year we had Button vs Perez providing some action; ‘Checo’ (or as Three Times Le Mans winner Allan McNish likes to call him, Chico) getting his elbows out at Sakhir with Vettel and Webber separated by a grid penalty after Malaysia 2013 had ratcheted up the anticipated friction.
This year we had Hamilton vs Rosberg, Ricciardo vs Vettel, Hulkenberg vs Perez, Bottas vs Massa and the lurking potential of an Alonso vs Raikkonen right at the end of the race. Keeping track of the battles through multiple pit-stops via an Italian commentary and with on-screen graphics that only give the position at the end of the lap (i.e. what you see on screen mid-lap isn’t the current position) made it tough to follow.
We also had the benefit of Pastor Maldonado and his cartoon accident which helped close the field up. But that just added to the whole package of incident and accident. It was “taxi-cab racing” at its most glorious.
Nico Rosberg 0 - Lewis Hamilton 3
Lewis looked particularly determined on his drag down to Turn 1 and was not going to give the place up lightly. It set the tone for the whole afternoon, the background of which was that Rosberg had absorbed every bit of data as to why Lewis was faster than him in Malaysia and the three free practice sessions in Bahrain.
Which is no different to teams up and down the pitlane where team-mates are told where they can improve. But what has slightly rankled with Lewis is the forensic detail in which Mercedes are showing Rosberg how to match his team-mate, not just braking and acceleration points, but fuel and tyre management. This all comes down to nought when you have two cars on track giving it 10/10ths in their ultimate desire to beat the other driver but not do anything (too) stupid.
What we saw at Sakhir was the ultimate team-mate battle, two drivers at the very top of their form, balancing DRS, boost and tyre wear as they go-karted towards the finishing line in sheer ballsout racing mode.
What was particularly impressive was that Mercedes had only ever scored a single 1-2 finish since the 1950s and with one slip their commanding advantage and a certain 1-2 would be gone. It would be Webber vs Vettel in Turkey all over again. Every corner you thought, ‘well, this is going to end in tears’ and it didn’t. And we should be thankful it didn’t either, because in a season where Mercedes will be uncatchable by anyone except Red Bull, having the two leading drivers go at it hammer and tongs will keep the interest up. Toto Wolff was asked how long they were going to allow that kind of racing and he said until they lost a front wing. Let’s hope they don’t.
Daniel Ricciardo 2 - Sebastian Vettel 1
Ricciardo qualified in front of Vettel, but the hammer blow of a 10-place grid penalty denied him the chance to grab his second podium and the first one without a fuel sensor problem. Dan showed all the virtues again; great qualifying, reasonable start, patience behind other cars, steadily picking up places, and not afraid to attack his team-mate.
Fernando Alonso 3 - Kimi Raikkonen 0
Race: AlonsoWhereas in 2013 the Ferraris were quick at the start and likely to move forward on the opening lap, these days it’s a question of crossing your fingers that they at least hold position as the red lights go out. Neither Alonso or Raikkonen had races they’ll recall with much fondness, though it was fun to hear ‘The Iceman’ doing one of his familiar rants on the opening lap.
Jenson Button 2 - Kevin Magnussen 1
Button got the better of his rookie team-mate in qualifying and maintained his place at the start. Which he needs to do if he’s going to make it past 267 races. Mercedes have shown the big wins you can have by designing the car round the engine and getting the blueprint of the engine early (ie much earlier than their customers). McLaren already have their Honda engine spec and will be working away on 2015. Unless Magnussen has a melt-down, that second McLaren seat is going to be a glittering prize and so Button knows he needs to impress.
The RAI equivalent of Lee McKenzie grabbed hold of Jenson Button on the way to the grid.
RAI interviewer: “Jenson, how does it feel to do your 250th race?”
Jenson: “I don’t know, I haven’t started it yet.”
Valtteri Bottas 0 - Felipe Massa 3
When Felipe got his bullet starts in a Ferrari last year it was easy to assume that it was the Ferrari’s great traction combined with sophisticated Scuderia engine mapping. Now that he’s produced (or likely to have produced) the Start of the Year in two successive seasons for two different teams, you have to believe it’s something to do with Felipe’s right foot. When they replayed the in-car footage from Jenson Button’s car it was like Massa was driving a car from a different formula.
But clearly that traction comes at a price and both Bottas and Massa suffered rear tyre problems through the race
Jean-Eric Vergne 1 - Daniil Kvyat 2
Kvyat is giving Magnussen a run for his money in the most-promising-rookie department. Kvyat outqualifed JEV again and raced like a seasoned pro.
Nico Hulkenberg 2 - Sergio Perez 1
Hulkenberg should have qualified better and he knows it, because a higher place start might have got him much closer to the front. Perez showed why he won in Sakhir in GP2 and why he was strong in pre-season testing. Force India have quite simply done a better job than McLaren with their customer Mercedes engine. Ron won’t be happy…
Romain Grosjean 2 - Pastor Maldonado 1
Maldonado’s three penalty points were probably half of what he should have got. His accident with Gutierrez was the kind of cartoon bash you get in lower formulae. A loony toons, Acme Hammer of a bash. You expected to see cartoon stars above it. There was no guilty tyre smoke as the Venezuelan realised he’d made a monumental mistake as he headed for the apex and stood on the anchors. No, instead there was a thunderous meeting with the wholly innocent Sauber. It had Andrea De Cesaris written all over it. At a very rough estimate he probably did upwards of $500,000 to the Sauber and gets one more penalty point than Sauber’s Adrian Sutil got for being a bit stroppy in Qualifying.
Esteban Gutierrez 2 - Adrian Sutil 1
Sutil is really struggling in qualifying compared to his lighter team-mate. Sauber usually start off a season with a good car that is gradually out-developed by its better-funded competitors, but this season looks like it’s headed for the same fate as Williams in 2013. The fact that Adrian’s duelling with a Marussia in races tells you all you need to know.
Marcus Ericsson 1 - Kamui Kobayashi 1
Kamui’s Caterham used too much fuel and had to back off in the closing stages, while Ericsson disappeared on Lap 34.
Max Chilton 3 - Jules Bianchi 0
Jules got involved in another needless tussle with Adrian Sutil and sustained damage that put him back to P16, whereas Max made it through to a slightly fortuitous P13 and gave Marussia back their 10th place in the Constructors’ table.
Star of the race
Daniel Ricciardo 1, Lewis Hamilton 1, Sergio Perez 1
Overtaking Move of the Race
Valtteri Bottas 1, Daniel Ricciardo 1, Lewis Hamilton 1
Sat on the Naughty Step
Christian Horner 1, Kevin Magnussen 1, Pastor Maldonado 1
Watching the race in a different country with a different commentary team and style is interesting. You would think that the Italian commentary team, including former Ferrari driver Ivan Capelli would be voluble and excitable, not necessarily “Mamma Mia!” but the kind of Italian Fernando Alonso uses over team radio. Instead it’s more like the calm, modulated race tones of engineer Andrea Stella.
When Maldonado almost T-boned (I saw it written in a serious motorsport publication as ‘clipped his right rear tyre’ - clipped his right rear tyre?!) Gutierrez the commentators weren’t too fussed. While we have come to expect the Murray Walker treatment of all such accidents - the voice speeds and goes up an octave at the very least - the RAI team were more like, “oh, look at that then, ah, that’s unfortunate isn’t it - where are the Ferraris?”
It’s also intriguing to see which drivers and race personnel can speak Italian. Niki Lauda, having been a Ferrari driver in the 1970s was good for a quote in Italian on the grid, Nico Rosberg spoke good Italian, Eric Boullier stuck to English as did Clare Williams, but Paul Hembury was articulate in Italian if a little lacking in accent. As he works for an Italian company it’s hardly surprising he knows the language*. More hand gestures Paul.
*BTW: There is no Italian word for ‘downshifting’.