AN AGGRESSIVE tyre stop strategy and sheer pace propelled Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to his second win of the year in Bahrain – lifting the German back to a clear seven-point lead in the world Formula One championship.
“This was a team effort,” exclaimed the victorious Vettel. “Right after the start I thought ‘yeah, we’re quick’.”
The Easter hunt was on.
Yes, folks, the Ferrari win in Australia in the opening round was no mere aberration; the 2017 championship looks like a genuine dogfight between two drivers and two teams.
The Mercedes challenge in Bahrain faltered with pole man Valtteri Bottas unable to carry his stunning Saturday one-lap pace into Sunday while his team-mate Lewis Hamilton irreparably hurt his chances by incurring a five-second penalty by unnecessarily slowing down Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull at the entry to the pits during the first round of stops.
It wasn’t smart and it wasn’t subtle and it may have cost him the race.
The start was hectic with pole man Bottas jumping clear of Vettel and Hamilton, while Max Verstappen rounded up his log-jammed Red Bull teammate Ricciardo through turn one.
What was obvious was Vettel’s pace but also how the Red Bulls were also staying in touch with the leaders.
The favoured strategy for the 57 lapper was two stops. Vettel and Ferrari acted first, pitting on lap 11 to attempt the undercut. Versappen followed one lap later but rear brake problems put the young Dutchman off the track and into the barrier.
More action followed immediately when Carlos Sainz’s Toro Rosso clouted lance Stroll’s Williams soon after exiting the pits, putting them both out and bringing on an investigation into the Spaniard’s driving.
The subsequent safety car intervention encouraged many others to head to the pits for fresh rubber. This is when Hamilton, double stacking behind his teammate, thought he’d try to prevent Ricciardo from overtaking him by dawdling on the pit entry road.
Ricciardo struggled to bring his tyres up to temperature and at the restart lost out to Hamilton and then Williams’ Felipe Massa. Vettel though was in control, especially with Bottas fighting oversteer everywhere.
Fifteen laps from the end, Hamilton made his second stop, also serving his five second penalty.
Hamilton rejoined in third and then, reeling off some fastest laps, moved to second when Bottas was instructed to let his teammate past.
He carved into the 12-second gap to Vettel but the laps ran out.
Bottas was third, from Kimi Raikkonen, Ricciardo, and Massa.
Only 13 cars of 19 starters got to the chequer.
Ricciardo had an odd race, losing out to Verstappen at the start but then easily keeping up to the bum-sniffing chain of Bottas, Vettel, Hamilton and Verstappen in the opening stint.
“For me it was a race of two halves really,” the Australian said. “At the beginning of the race I genuinely thought we had a chance to win. That stint was looking very competitive and I could see Valtteri was struggling. I was at the tail end of the front pack and I could see everyone else in front of me.
"They were sliding and looked like they were struggling more. It was quite easy for me to stay there and I was looking after my tyres, so at that point I was thinking it could be on today, not only for a podium but for a win," Ricciardo said.
“The safety car worked for me in that we jumped up to third but it wasn’t so good for our tyres and that’s where we lost a lot of ground. Even once we settled into a pace and the chaos settled we fell back and I was struggling with grip at the front and rear. We never really got that tyre working for us today.”
It’s looking like a title fight between two – Vettel and Hamilton. Bottas may have become the sixth Finn to claim a F1 pole the previous day, but on Sunday he simply didn’t find the blinding pace needed to dominate a grand prix.
This year, too, Raikkonen has been missing in action. In Bahrain, he did recover okay from a poor start but would consider fourth unsatisfactory.
Searle, Morris and BMW take Bathurst Six-Hour thriller
Luke Searle and his good mate Paul Morris stole a memorable Hi-Tec Oils Bathurst Six-Hour enduro at Mount Panorama on Sunday, overtaking defending winner Chaz Mostert’s Ford Focus RS in the closing five minutes to notch the win.
The Roadchill Express BMW M135i chased down and passed Mostert and Nathan Morcom’s Ford Focus RS after an enthralling fight throughout the closing half-hour.
Mostert had fought like a tiger to repel Searle’s withering attack before ultimately succumbing in the closing five minutes when the BMW slipped by at the inside of the Chase.
Both cars broke the lap record as their ferocious duel for the victory entered the closing four laps. Each raced faster than they qualified, Mostert ultimately claiming the record on the 110th lap.
The classic Bathurst Six-Hour outcome landed Morris’ name in the record books as the first driver to win the three biggies at Mount Panorama, yesterday’s effort joining his previous successes in the Bathurst 12 Hour and Bathurst 1000 races.
The result also delivered Searle and his long-running family racing team their biggest-ever racing result.
“I don’t know where that little Ford found its legs at the end there,” remarked Searle after delivering the drive of his life in the concluding laps. “Chaz was driving the wheels off it; we were driving the wheels off it. Someone said we were in the 25s. Wow… I have no words,” Searle said.
“I had to get him. I was putting it all on the line, so I had to get him. I wanted Paul to get the triple, it was always in my mind…get him the triple. I was up the inside of him and I started looking around for yellow flags because it was too easy, so I started looking around for yellow flags. He lost sixth gear or something, so that’s a shame.
“Paul was phenomenal in the middle stint; he didn’t put a foot wrong. I can’t say anymore.”
The veteran drive-anything Morris said he was thrilled to add the Bathurst Six-Hour crown to his CV – especially the chance to do it with a family friend.
“To do it with Luke is really cool,” Morris said. “I’ve been friends with their family a long time and I rate him as probably one of the best drivers Australia’s had – but he’s just slipped through the net. You could put him in a GT car or any car and he just goes. He was the right man to have at the end of the race, that’s for sure.”
Defending winners Mostert and Morcom hung on to finish second, fighting their way into contention after starting only 16th.
Mostert’s drive at the end was particularly breathtaking as he manhandled the Focus around at lap record pace – despite dropping fifth and sixth gear at the very end.
“It was probably one of the most hectic races I’ve had around here,” said the 2014 Bathurst 1000 winner.
“Those boys [Searle and Morris] definitely deserve it 100 per cent – they pushed us hard all day,” Mostert observed. “At the end of the day we were second best today.
“But a great effort from the team to win last year, to release a brand new car this year and the lead-up, the practices, the qualifying, all those kind of things where we just had little errors and then to put it all together in the race is just awesome.”
There was a controversial finish for the final spot on the podium with Jim Pollicina and Ryan Simpson taking third after the Duvashen Padayachee/Ben Porter/Rob Woods Mercedes was penalised for an earlier pit stop infringement.
The winners completed 113 laps, while the race featured 11 safety car interruptions following another bruising day on the Mountain.
The tightly contested contest produced 18 lead changes and early safety car interruptions kept almost 20 cars on the lead lap for most of the opening three hours.
The big contenders again fell early, with the pole-sitting BMW M4 of Grant and Iain Sherrin dominating the race’s first 13 laps before a technical issue dropped them three laps from the lead.
They then launched a major comeback drive, remarkably getting back to the lead lap before a puncture again dropped them out of contention in the fifth hour.
An unconfirmed technical issue ruled out the David Wall/John Bowe Mitsubishi Lancer in the second hour, while an enormous engine failure and fire ended an otherwise strong day for the Garth Walden/Craig Baird Mercedes AMG A45 in the final 30 minutes. The car was running fourth at the time.
The CXC Global Racing EVO of Dylan Thomas and Tim Slade was another high-profile non-finisher, out with engine failure after just 20.
Following the penalty to the #29 Mercedes, Beric Lynton and Tim Leahey finished fourth while Karl Reindler and Andrew Richmond completed a remarkable fightback from a qualifying disqualification and rearward grid 59 start to finish fifth.
All of 64 cars started the race, a record field for an endurance race at Mount Panorama, eclipsing the previous record of 63 set at the 1969, 1978 and 1984 Bathurst 1000 races.
The event announced a three-day attendance of 17,487 – up 8.2 per cent on 2016.
HI-TEC OILS BATHURST 6 HOUR – TOP 10
1. Searle / Morris (BMW M135i) 113 Laps
2. Morcom / Mostert (Ford Focus RS) + 9.6s
3. Pollicina / Simpson (Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X RS) + 23.97
4. Lynton / Leahey (BMW 1M) + 41.485
5. Richmond / Reindler (Mitsubishi Lancer EVO X RS) + 43.759
6. Woods / Padayachee / Porter (Mercedes AMG A45) + 55.419
7. Alford / Eddy (Audi TT RS) + 1 Lap
8. Burges / Perkins (BMW 331i) + 1 Lap
9. Abela / Hill (Subaru Impreza WRX STi) + 1 Lap
10. Kavich / Kavich / Pilkington (Subaru Impreza WRX STi) + 1 lap
Toyota scores dramatic WEC victory
Toyota Gazoo Racing took a thrilling victory in the frantic opening round of the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship at Silverstone yesterday.
Drivers Kazuki Nakajima, Sébastien Buemi and Anthony Davidson took the win after a frantic contest which had drama throughout the six hours.
It was Toyota’s 11th victory in the WEC and perhaps its most hard-earned after rain, two full-course yellows and one safety car period bunched up the field in the fourth hour after Jose-Maria Lopez crashed his Toyota TS050 HYBRID at Copse Corner.
With just 12 minutes remaining, Buemi made a move on Porsche’s Brendon Hartley to seal the victory.
The pole-sitting #7 Toyota had led in stages during the first two hours but after one of several light showers, the Argentinian WEC newcomer slid off track and crashed hard into the tyre barriers. Incredibly, the car made it back to the pits and eventually returned to action.
Porsche took the fight to Toyota and filled second and third positions, after the German marque threatened all through the race.
Timo Bernhard, Hartley and Earl Bamber took second in the #2 919 Hybrid as the team tried to maximise its low-downforce package, which was at a disadvantage compared with Toyota’s high-downforce bodywork kit.
But Toyota proved slightly too strong and when Buemi emerged from the pits with fresh Michelins for the final half hour it was only a matter of time before he hunted down and overtook Hartley.
Nick Tandy, Neel Jani and André Lotterer claimed third position after being amidst the lead battle for three-quarters of the race in their #1 Porsche.
Joey Mawson’s solid start to European F3 campaign
Australian Joey Mawson struggled with car set up in cold and sometimes damp conditions at Silverstone but opened his 2017 European F3 Championship account with a strong fifth after starting ninth.
The race was won by Britain’s Lando Norris, from another local Jake Dennis and Germany’s Maximilian Gunther. Mawson was the best performed of the high-profile Team VAR drivers, Harri Newey finishing sixth and Pedro Piquet ninth.
In the second of the three races at Silverstone, Mawson started well from 11th, charged to seventh but slipped back to 11th with graining tyres.
Joel Eriksson (Motopark) won race two from Callum Ilott (Prema) and Jake Hughes (Hitech).
The final race was frustrating too when after a good start, Mawson’s kart didn’t have the pace to progress further, holding eighth to the end.
Ilott became the third different winner in three races, with Eriksson second and Norris third.
VAR will be working hard to determine why the car was off the pace and what will be done to improve it for Monza in less than a fortnight.
“We leave Silverstone disappointed but with 14 points towards the championship,” Mawson said of his weekend.
More positive news is that Mawson has been accorded the status of British Racing Drivers Club (BRDC) Rising Star, and membership of the BRDC.