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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 05: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 05, 2023 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

Parc Ferme: Bahrain GP musings, same, same but different

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 05: Race winner Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 05, 2023 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images)

If you experienced a feeling of Deja Vu last weekend watching the opening round of the Formula 1 World Championship, then it’s hardly surprising, the Bahrain Gulf Air Grand Prix was a continuation of where the 2022 season left off.

That is, apart from a guest appearance by Alonso on the podium in third following a stunning drive.

The Milton Keynes cat unleashed in Bahrain

The award for best pre-season F1 test sandbag has to go to Ferrari. The Maranello-based team kept their powder dry right up to the start of qualifying. While Red Bull did not really bother the top of the time sheets until Q3, they come second due to their massive “tell” – Christian Horner.

The man never ceased smirking from his arrival in Bahrain till the presentation ceremony at the end of the race. It was at this point that his smugness climaxed as he announced there were three Red Bulls on the podium – two new and one old.

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Horner su Aston Martin: "L'imitazione è una grande forma di adulazione" – Rossomotori.it

Blood on the walls

The “old” reference was, of course, about the team that came bottom of the sandbagging contest – Aston Martin. AMR’s great leap forward was probably the worst-kept secret in the Bahrain paddock and anywhere else for that matter, after the pre-season test. It’s here that I have to swallow a large lump of humble pie.

I admittedly lampooned Stroll the elder’s “big numbers” proclamations a few weeks back, so here we go; I was wrong! Now that’s over and done with, I can congratulate him and all those at the Aston Martin sweatshop who toiled for their master and his prodigy throughout the winter months.

I might not like the execution (I think there were a number of them), but I salute what has been achieved. F1 is merciless, and to succeed, you must be equally so.

A shared mission

Nicking the services of the equally hard-nosed Fernando Alonso from under the feet of Alpine was always a smart move.  The two complement each other, and Alonso provides a level of competitiveness and drive that AMR didn’t have previously.

I’m not knocking Sebastian Vettel, but I’m sure he’d agree that he left his innate desire to win at Ferrari. However, the valiant drive by the Spaniard almost didn’t happen as Stroll, the younger, smacked into the back of him at the first corner.

Alonso described him as his hero after he got out of the car at the end of the race. I wonder how he described him when he saw the playback of the start before the Bahrain podium ceremony…

Alonso: Stroll is my hero!

The W14 Bugger!

Meanwhile, Mercedes continued to flog a dead W13. Re-naming it as W14, unsurprisingly, has changed nothing. Last weekend in Bahrain underlined this fact, and I suspect that it will now join the W13 in the Mercedes reception.

I anticipate two placards under each car with the following announcements: for the W13 it will read: fool me once, shame on you. And under the W14: fool me twice, shame on me.  The financial impact of this error cannot be overstated; with contract negotiations now under way with Lewis Hamilton, it will cost Toto more dollars to retain his star driver.

In fact, money probably won’t be a deciding factor here. Hamilton has enough cash to buy almost anything except that elusive eighth World Championship. Top of his demands will be a car that can deliver it! Pick those feet up, Mercedes!

When I grow up…

With the F1 team’s obsession over drivers whose balls have yet to drop or cannot develop facial hair growth beyond a “Dirty Sanchez”. Messrs Alonso and Hamilton gave a timely reminder of what experience and maturity can offer.

Their dice late on in the Bahrain GP was a welcome relief from what was pretty much a foregone conclusion after the first ten laps. Delivering a masterclass display on how to overtake and be overtaken competitively, the two drivers showcased how these rare feats can be achieved without running someone off the road or using blunt force.

Smart Team Principals would also have noted it was done without incurring tens of thousands of dollars in damage! A salient point in the days of budget caps.

Lewis Hamilton, rendido ante el increíble adelantamiento de Fernando Alonso en Bahréin: "Estaba en otra liga" | DAZN News España

Bet you wish your car was hot like moi…. n’est-ce pas

The predicted woes of McLaren became even more self-evident as Oscar Piastri exited after seventeen laps with electrical issues. Possibly a face saver here and a moment to reflect on where Pierre Gasly finished in the seat he could have occupied at Alpine.

His teammate, Lando Norris also fared no better, as he performed the F1 equivalent of the hokey cokey on Sunday evening in Bahrain. A hydraulic problem required Norris to pit every eleven laps to have it re-charged. As he entered the pits for the sixth time, the team gave up the farce with only two laps left in the race! Maybe someone realised that saving the engine would be a better strategy.

A conclusion that would have been more useful had it been reached when the problem first occurred an hour or so earlier. In the words of D-Ream, things can only get better! Bring on Saudi!