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While the last few laps of the Australian Grand Prix were a Sunday afternoon cruise for Sebastian Vettel, the closing stages of the Bahrain Grand Prix were anything but for the German. The four-time world champion had to fend off Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas on tyres that were well past their best. The fact that Vettel crossed the line first can be considered all the more impressive considering the Silver Arrows run with power unit advantage too. This wasn’t a race handed to Ferrari after a miscalculation from a rival as in Melbourne, this one was earned. A marker was laid down in Bahrain: Vettel is up for the fight.
After a rough weekend a fortnight ago, and no contract beyond 2018, some of the critics were starting to get on the back of Bottas. But the Finn responded brilliantly in Bahrain, placing himself nicely behind the Ferrari’s after qualifying and then splitting them once the lights when green. With Lewis Hamilton having to come through the field this was an excellent performance from Bottas, who may even have taken the chequered flag first if the race had been a lap or two longer. Number twos could once again be crucial in 2018, and Bottas has put himself firmly in the picture to aid the reigning world champion should he need it as the season goes on.
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The best result for Honda since its return to Formula 1 in the hybrid era. And it came from Pierre Gasly in just his seventh start in F1 for Toro Rosso. He may have been a country mile behind the top three, and he may have benefitted from a Red Bull disaster but the young Frenchman delivered a mature drive under the lights in the desert to win the battle of the midfield comfortably to give the Italian minnows their best result since Carlos Sainz’s fourth place in Singapore last year. From the struggles of Australia, this was a huge leap forward.
Quick all through testing and for the first half of the race before a wheel nut fault for both cars, Haas arrived in Bahrain desperate to show they were no flash in the pan. They did just that, or at least Kevin Magnussen did, with a superb drive to fifth place behind Gasly. In what was a hotly-contested midfield battle all weekend long, the American outfit will be delighted to have come away from the Middle East with their reputation from Australia nicely mended. What they’ll now look for is a double points finish, which never looked likely at Sakhir after Romain Grosjean was knocked out of Q1.
One of, if not the most naturally gifted and aggressive drivers on the grid, Max Verstappen knows how to turn heads. He is exciting for Formula 1 and is just what the sport needs going forward. All of the cynics of Formula 1 point to a lack of overtaking and aggression, but that’s not a problem for Red Bull’s whizz kid. The problem comes from knowing when to attack and when to stay patient – something Verstappen again demonstrated a lack of in Bahrain. After crashing in qualifying an early lunge up the inside of Hamilton brought his weekend to dismal end after he suffered a puncture which damaged the car. Talent is one thing, knowing how and when to use it consistently appears to be quite another for the Dutchman.
The Chinese Grand Prix takes place between 13-15 April
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