Bahrain GP Debrief: Rosberg Waltzes as Hamilton Falters in the Desert

Another dismal start from Lewis Hamilton gave Nico Rosberg the opportunity he needed to extend his early championship advantage in Bahrain

It might not be quite where Nico Rosberg left off in 2015, but with two wins in two races, it’s safe to say the German will be pleased with his start to the 2016 F1 season.

Conceding pole once again to teammate Lewis Hamilton, Saturday’s setback did nothing to hinder Rosberg’s Sunday performance, as the German lead into the first corner and never looked back on his way to a dominant victory. It was a comfortable drive that flew in stark contrast to that of his teammate, who was doomed from the start after a collision with the Williams of Valtteri Bottas, fighting back to finish third behind Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari.

So as the F1 circus heads to China with Rosberg enjoying an early 17-point championship advantage, the German must be starting to believe that this could be his year. Read on for a break-down of the early title fight, as well as some of the other big stories from the 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix.

Hamilton his own worst enemy as Rosberg romps to victory

For all the change supposedly coming to F1 in 2017, it might be easy to overlook the winds of change already blowing in 2016. A new team on the grid, new regulations for team radio, tyre choice and start procedures, and a new qualifying format to complain about (more on that later) – Nico Rosberg is hoping to add a change at the top of the driver’s standings to that list.

And while it’s definitely premature to list the German as the championship favourite, you could argue this is the best championship position he’s ever found himself in. In 2014, Rosberg had an 18-point lead over Lewis Hamilton after two races, but had split the victories. This year, he’s 2-0 with a noticeable advantage in one key area – race starts.

Because for as much as the story of Hamilton’s race is highlighted by his first corner incident with Valtteri Bottas and subsequent stellar recovery drive to third, there’s no mistaking that just as in Australia, this was misfortune of his own doing. He was decisively beaten into the first corner, never getting even a wheel alongside Rosberg. Forget Bottas, we’ve seen the advantage a Mercedes leading out of turn one can have over its sister car time and again, and so crash or not, Hamilton’s alarm bells should be ringing. Twice he’s had pole, and twice he’s thrown it away.

Of course, there’s still a long way to go in what will be an especially long season, but don’t underestimate the importance of confidence for both drivers. Hamilton will undoubtedly see the biggest obstacle to regaining the initiative in China as himself, but at the same time, this isn’t a two-race outlier, but a five-race trend. The Rosberg who lost the championship so easily last year might as well be a different person, and the difference is clearly showing.

Vandoorne delivers in Grand Prix debut

It’s a rare occurrence in life when expectation is matched by reality – Stoffel Vandoorne just gave us one of those occurrences.

In a debut that’s been a long time coming for the 2015 GP2 champion, the 24-year-old Belgian was right at home mixing it up with the big boys, as he scored McLaren’s first point of the season with a tenth-place finish. Starting 12th after out-qualifying teammate Jenson Button, he showed some real racecraft in moving up the field, with a lovely pair of moves on the Force Indias in the early going, before settling into a battle with the Williams’ that belied his Honda-powered car.

Whether we see more of him in the coming races depends either on Fernando Alonso’s fitness and/or Ron Dennis’ ability to growl at the FIA doctors into letting him race, but if this is the only time we see him all year, it will serve as proof enough that he should’ve been doing this full-time ages ago.

Vandoorne (or King Stoffrey, as I like to call him) has had to sit by and watch many of his less-accomplished peers get drives up-and-down the grid in the past few years, but he seemed almost instantly at home in the MP4-31. He clearly deserves a spot, and he looks set to get it, as Jenson Button probably makes way for him next year… well, unless Johnny Herbert actually is onto something.

Qualifying drama continues – once again just not on track

Oh, boy.

Much like the Kardashians, skinny jeans and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, when it comes to F1’s new qualifying system, the only question left to ask is “how is this still a thing?” As if Saturday in Australia wasn’t bad enough, fans were given a second dose of the format that no one wanted in the first place. Surely, twice is enough? Well, maybe not.

An emergency meeting on Sunday did nothing to resolve the issue, with the FIA and FOM remaining firmly against a return to 2015-style qualifying, with reports stating they feel it would be too confusing for the fans.

Another meeting is set to go ahead on Thursday, with rumours of a proposed two-lap aggregate system being put on the table. This would seem pretty counterintuitive if the purpose of any change from the current system is to simplify things further for the fans, and watching a lap in real time would be much less exciting as sector times wouldn’t really mean much until the two laps are completed.

If there’s any positive to be taken away from this whole debacle, it’s that it’s brought into the spotlight just how badly F1’s governance needs reform. Few decisions will ever be as open-and-shut as the teams’ unanimous vote to revert to the old system, and yet Bernie and co. still found a way of shooting down that proposal. For all the talk in recent years of getting fans back into the sport, it’s ironic that what has done the most to kill viewership is something solely of their own doing. Maybe there’s another format out there that is the answer, and that’s okay. By all means, try things out, but what we saw in Bahrain was not that, it was failure on purpose, and it’s unlikely there’s much more of that the sport can take.

Who’s the form man between Rosberg and Hamilton? How would you rate Vandoorne’s debut? Do you trust the sport’s power-brokers to fix qualifying before China? Sound off in the comments below.
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Williams has been losing positions now ever since other teams have managed to catch up and Massa is still better than Bottas ;)
bottas's penalty was bulls*** f1 clearly dont want racing. they runin the cars a little more every year and penalize those who try to overtake (or maybe they just enjoy sucking Lewis Hamilton's d*** cause he can clearly do whatever he wants and get away with it like a spoiled child).
Bottas' penalty was fair. He was out of control at turn 1 and did compromise a few other cars with that.
Yeah, Bottas penalty was suitable, if you going to come from that far back, you need to be able to back out of it. You can't rely on the driver in front to move out of your way when you come from 50 metres back.
Alonso putting Herbert in his place for suggesting he sould retire.

Poor Alonso! When you have to seriously fight off demeaning comments from the likes of Herbert, you know you're out of luck. He may be past his prime, but he doesn't deserve to get remarks like these thrown in his face from a guy who has admitted to wetting his driver's suit before almost every F1 race he has been in.

My opinion: Herbert should retire as a commentator as I cannot see him recovering from this blow:p
It is clear since Monza last year and probably even before that Mercedes has a "start problem".
In the last race Niko Rosberg was clever and used a little trick to save his clutch when he started the outlap. The trick was to engage second gear almost immediately after engaging first gear. That way the system remained intact while Hamilton suffered from the usual problem. Regarding the Botas overtake that is commonly known as a "dive bomb", that move is most seen in sim racing.
Rosberg had a great start and additionally did a fine job controlling Lewis through turn 1. By doing that, their speeds were both compromised which opened the door for Bottas to attempt an inside move on Lewis. I would imagine just about every driver on the grid would have made the same move. Just poor situational awareness on Lewis' side if he didn't see that coming. That combined with his inability of getting a good start out of a car which is clearly capable of it left Lewis looking like quite the amateur. No worries though, all he has to do is adjust the dials of his engine a bit and is able to get himself back into the race.

And how about that Haas team. Any podiums for them this year?
The form driver at present is Rosberg. Hamiltons confidence will drop soon unless he can keep finding excuses. "Nico is very good here like he is at Interlagos and some other places",
BuT hang on! didn't Nico score his and MBenz maiden win (since 1955 anyway) at China? oh well I guess Sochi at round 4 is where it will all start to happen correctly again.

Van Doorne did very well.
and HAAS, where can I get some team kit?

The Bottas penalty was wrong. In my view it was a racing incident. Hamilton left the door wide open as he was too focussed on getting a better exit to T2 than Nico, to manage that he turned very hard right after an early apex to T1. Meanwhile Bottas had created a big overlap.
The biggest hint is that the cars were side by side and it was Hamiltons barge board that took the hit. An "ambitious lunge" (see "Maldonardo overtake" in wikipedia for full explanation) results in front wing hits rear Diffuser/Wheel/ wing. Bottas was in the corner and had the right to some racing room. Hamiltons acute angle denied him that. If it was "standard" driver rather than Hamilton it probably would have been called a racing incident.
and HAAS, where can I get some team kit?

Seriously. The story of the year, if not the ONLY story that's not fueled by politics, money, or both. (As this fine website noted earlier). The Haas pathway should be much more common, much less politically hostile to "outsiders" and allowed much more latitude to test or gain basic knowledge. The dirty little truth is, F1 needs Haas much more than Haas needs F1 right now. If you do a little digging, it's really a spectacular achievement, considering how mucked up F1 is these days. This is how it should be done, this is how decisions should be made, and this should be able to be performed by many more people.

The other story nobody seems interested in Kimi. Sure I'm biased, but this formerly "washed up" (like Alonso :rolleyes:...feel bad for him now...he's a superior talent that's being literally wasted away) driver would be leading the points right now (or Vettel) if his car had not blown up. Ferrari is coming, Kimi is coming, and Vettel can beat anyone, in any car that runs, anywhere.
Firstly, Haas has been incredibly impressive considering how much mid-pack competition there is. Hopefully they can keep it up but Grosjean has proven that he's matured and developed into a driver who deserves to be in the top half of the grid at the very least.

I'd also mention Kimi, who after a dreadful start had probably the second best performance of the race behind Rosberg, and actually started catching up to him in the final laps. But it does feel a bit bitter sweet with Vettel dropping out during the warm up lap. If the Ferrari can find the durability they need they can probably take it to Mercedes more than they did last year at least.

The Bottas incident I'm torn on. I do feel he was a bit greedy with his move, but I also feel that if he had done that to almost anyone else he would've been given the room he earned, especially since Hamilton left the door open for him. When one driver has nowhere to go during an incident I'm not sure how you can penalize that driver? But it definitely wasn't dive bombing or the like, as Hamilton clearly gave him enough room and then cut over in front of him leaving Bottas with nothing to do. I mean, do you want these guys to race or just back off because someone decided to take a different line? Especially on turn one of the opening lap people are going to be aggressive because that's where they can move up the most.
The Bottas incident I'm torn on.

Not me. I'd have let it slide when Bottas got hit in Mexico (for the exact same maneuver in the exact same circumstances) as a racing incident, and would give Bottas the same benefit of the doubt in Bahrain. If you think Mexico was penalty-worthy, you must believe Bottas is guilty also in Bahrain.

It's the same basic age-old question -- Does the Apex "belong" to the lead driver until the trailing one is "along-side" him (whatever that means), or should the lead driver be aware of a car he may not even see, but should reasonably anticipate would claim the inside lane of the apex (whatever that means) at some point during both drivers' turn in? A: Yes.

In a real auto accident, there is the "last chance" doctrine. Which says "the guilt falls to the driver who has the last clear chance to avoid the accident." I think you could argue either, in the above circumstances. Therefore, it's a wash. Clean up and go home guys. And be careful if you are in the others' shoes.
If you watch the Bottas onboard the first moment he is alongisde Hamilton is only just before the apex and Hamilton had already comitted to taking it.

Yes if you are alongside, you deserve space, but you have to be alongside soon enough. If you are going to blame Hamilton for this crash you might as well blame Gutierrez for his crash with Maldonado two years ago.

I can understand a racing incident opinion but Hamilton is definetly not to blame
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Let me clarify, I wasn't attempting to solely blame Hamilton at all, but put more blame onto him than was solely given to Bottas in his penalty for this incident. As I feel both are near equal to blame for the incident.

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