One British driver had a trouble-free Bahrain Grand Prix in which he got the most from his car, gained places from his grid position, and beat his team-mate. Unfortunately for the bigger names at the front of the field, it was Anthony Davidson in the lowly Super Aguri.
Lewis Hamilton blundered away his second-row grid position, hit his former team-mate Fernando Alonso, and apologised afterwards for letting his team down.
Jenson Button and David Coulthard, good buddies off the race track, sported matching first-lap punctures that dropped them near the back of the field, then trashed each others’ nose cones squabbling for position.
Davidson, meanwhile, lapped serenely round the Sakhir circuit, gaining places from others’ misfortunes, before leap-frogging his team-mate in the pitstops and finishing an unruffled 16th.
The victory went to Felipe Massa, who answered his critics in no uncertain terms by beating team-mate Kimi Raikkonen entirely on merit. The BMWs of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld took third and fourth, close enough to pressure the Ferraris as they wound down for the end of the race but too far off to realistically dream of beating them.
Had Hamilton not spent the day off with the Wacky Races he would still have struggled to challenge the winners, as team-mate Heikki Kovalainen was a thoroughly uncompetitive fifth. Jarno Trulli, Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg took the last points-paying positions.
Hamilton had looked questionable all weekend, apart from when he grabbed third on the grid. His weekend got worse still at the start, when he failed to engage the correct engine setting in time, causing the car’s anti-stall to kick in. Before he knew it, he was in 10th position – but worse was to come.
Clinging to the back of Alonso, he failed to react as the Spaniard emerged from a corner more slowly than expected and drove over the back of him. Alonso continued, with a rear wing missing a neat bitemark. Hamilton limped back to the pits minus his nosecone.
He spent the rest of the race hovering between about 16th and 13th, where he eventually finished. Team boss Ron Dennis said: “Lewis’s bad start and the incident with Fernando, which extensively damaged his car, seriously hampered his pace, and we then took the early decision to save the engine for the next race in Barcelona.”
Afterwards, Hamilton said: “I am really disappointed and feel like I let the team down today as I always am the first to blame myself. I have had such a good run in Formula One until now, and it was almost inevitable that at some point things would go wrong.”
He accepted blame for the poor start: “I messed up at the start as I didn’t hit the switch early enough and therefore had not engaged the correct engine setting, and the anti-stall kicked in.
“I lost a lot of places but things were still salvageable at that point. Then I had the incident with Fernando. I was behind him, and I moved to the right, and he moved to the right and that was it – a racing incident I guess.”
His failure to score points cost him the lead in the drivers’ championship to Raikkonen and Heidfeld, while Kovalainen’s efforts were not enough to stop BMW Sauber moving ahead in the constructors’ race.
Honda still haven’t got off the mark in that championship, despite their high hopes following Button’s excellent ninth in qualifying. The Englishman made a good start, was one of the cars that soared past the stricken Hamilton, and then from nowhere found himself carrying a puncture that let the air out of his challenge.
Rejoining the race in 20th, and clearly faster than the Red Bull of David Coulthard ahead of him, he dived for a gap on lap 19 that rapidly disappeared as DC made a late blocking move.
All efforts to avoid the collision failed and Button lost his front wing. That was duly replaced, but the car had also suffered terminal damage to the rear and his team retired him a lap or so later.
He said later: “I caught up with David quite quickly as he seemed to be struggling and I had a go at passing him down into turn eight. I committed early as he hit the brakes, when it was evident that there was a gap where I could get a huge run on him down into the apex.
“Unfortunately he moved back over to the racing line late in the braking zone and I had nowhere to go and couldn’t slow the car down in time.
“We had to retire as there was significant damage to the rear of the car. It’s a very frustrating way to end what could have been a really good race but we will take the positives from this weekend with our first top ten qualifying position and the pace of the car today.”
Ross Brawn, who saw his other driver Rubens Barichello take a solid 11th, drew many positives from the race: “Jenson got a great start but unfortunately the puncture put him out of contention. His early pace was very competitive though, matching the front runners.”
Red Bull scored points again with Webber and team boss Christian Horner was able to sympathise with Coulthard: “Unfortunately for David, things haven’t gone his way this weekend. He got caught up in a first corner incident that damaged his car quite badly and compromised the rest of his race. Other than that his car ran reliably.”
The man himself was less inclined to see the positives: “I didn’t make the best of starts. I really just wanted to get through the first corner and stay out of trouble, but unfortunately I became a bit of a pin ball as a couple of cars bounced off either side of me. That caused some damage to my car – I got a puncture and had to make a pit stop. The car was quite slow after that.”
His account of the incident with Button lacked the level of detail in the Englishman’s version: “I was battling for position with Jenson, who was quicker. We got too close in one corner and had an incident, which took him out of the race and caused more damage to my car. I came into the pits again and changed the front wing. That made the car feel a little bit better, but it wasn’t a great race.”
Coulthard was classified 18th, behind both the Super Aguris. That team was delighted with its double finish – not least for the data provided by the long outing, which offered another chance to catch up some of the disadvantage caused by its turbulent and largely practice-free off season.
Davidson said: “It was an enjoyable race today. To come home with another two-car finish is great for the team. I had a bit of traffic for the first two stints of the race, but then once that cleared I was able to get into a good rhythm.
“It was another strong race for me and I would like to thank the team for all their hard work this weekend.”
He didn’t thank his fellow British drivers for making him look good. But since, at one point in the early stages, he’d led a crocodile of British drivers, line astern and filling 17th to 20th places, he really didn’t need to.
- Felipe Massa (Brz) Ferrari one hour 31 minutes 6.970 seconds
- Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari +3.339 secs
- Robert Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber +4.998
- Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber +8.409
- Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes +26.789
- Jarno Trulli (Ita) Toyota +41.314
- Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault +45.473
- Nico Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Toyota +55.889
- Timo Glock (Ger) Toyota +1:09.500
- Fernando Alonso (Spa) Renault +1:17.181
- Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Honda +1:17.862
- Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Force India-Ferrari one lap behind
- Lewis Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes one lap
- Kazuki Nakajima (Jpn) Williams-Toyota one lap
- Sebastien Bourdais (Fra) Toro Rosso-Ferrari one lap
- Anthony Davidson (GB) Super Aguri-Honda one lap
- Takuma Sato (Jpn) Super Aguri-Honda one lap
- David Coulthard (GB) Red Bull-Renault one lap
- Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Ferrari two laps
Retired: Nelson Piquet Jr (Brz) Renault 40 laps completed; Jenson Button (GB) Honda 19 laps; Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 0 laps
1st Kimi Raikkonen 19, 2nd Nick Heidfeld 16, 3rd Lewis Hamilton 14, 4th Robert Kubica 14, 5th Heikki Kovalainen 14, 6th Felipe Massa 10, 7th Jarno Trulli 8, 8th Nico Rosberg 7, 9th Fernando Alonso 6, 10th Mark Webber 4, 11th Kazuki Nakajima 3, 12th Sebastien Bourdais 2, 13th David Coulthard 0, 14th Jenson Button 0, 15th Nelson Piquet 0, 16th Giancarlo Fisichella 0, 17th Rubens Barrichello 0, 18th Anthony Davidson 0, 19th Takuma Sato 0.
1st BMW Sauber 30, 2nd Ferrari 29, 3rd McLaren-Mercedes 28, 4th Williams 10, 5th Toyota 8, 6th Renault 6, 7th Red Bull 4, 8th Toro Rosso 2, 9th Honda 0, 10th Force-India 0, 11th Super Aguri 0.