By Sean Kelly, C4F1 Statistician
Eight months before Channel 4 originally went on the air in November 1982, Renault’s 27-year-old phenom Alain Prost was on a roll after winning the first two races of the year in South Africa and Brazil.
Fast forward 36 years, and Sebastian Vettel held his nerve on less-than-ideal tyres to take an enthralling victory in Bahrain, giving Ferrari their first back-to-back race wins in nearly eight years. Not since Fernando Alonso won the 2010 Italian and Singapore Grands Prix have the Scuderia celebrated consecutive successes.
Prost and Vettel have much in common. They are tied on four world titles apiece – none of which being won while driving for Ferrari – and until Sunday they were also tied on race starts (199 each). They now have 100 grand prix victories between them, with Prost leading 51-49. They both have eight hat-trick wins (a win from pole with the fastest lap), and they’re also very close in podium finishes (Prost leads 106-101).
Sebastian Vettel won from pole position for the 30th time in his career today, surpassing Ayrton Senna's career total. Only Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher (40 each) are ahead #BahrainGP— Sean Kelly (@virtualstatman) April 8, 2018
Yet, it’s the one area in which Vettel will NOT want to emulate Prost that brings us back to 1982. Despite back-to-back wins to open that season, the French driver failed to go on to win the championship. It remains the last time someone has won the first two races without landing a title.
There’s one additional Prost stat that Vettel will want to avoid. The German has won the season-opener in the past two years. The last man to do that without winning the championship in either of them was … Prost, in 1987 and 1988.
Vettel joined Michael Schumacher, Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton in winning his 200th grand prix start, but only just. His winning margin of 0.699s was the closest in the history of the Bahrain International Circuit.
VETTEL WINS THE BAHRAIN GP— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) April 8, 2018
Ben: "Vettel holds on and wins by 0.6s! What a result for Vettel, he takes his first back-to-back victory since 2013!"
What. A. Race!
Time for a lie down after such excitement #C4F1 #BahrainGP pic.twitter.com/a3pN76RPAQ
Mercedes were again Ferrari’s chief arch-rivals, but on a day when nobody seemed entirely sure about strategy, Valtteri Bottas fell just short of a fourth career win, but still clinched his best Bahrain finish in his 99th career grand prix. Bahrain is one of Bottas’ best circuits in F1, and he has never been out-qualified by a teammate in six visits to Sakhir, winning pole there in 2017.
His teammate Lewis Hamilton was starting his 100th grand prix for Mercedes this weekend, becoming the first driver in F1 history to start 100 races for two constructors (having already made 110 starts for McLaren from 2007-12).
After receiving a five-place gearbox penalty, a storming drive (at one stage he passed Fernando Alonso, Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Ocon on one straight!) earned him P3, for his 27th consecutive points finish. That ties the all-time F1 record set by Kimi Raikkonen back in 2012-13.
It was only Hamilton’s seventh career podium in 31 starts from outside the top eight on the grid.
The top three had a familiar look but, behind Ferrari and Mercedes’ private battle, the star man of the weekend had to be Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly.
In only his seventh grand prix, the 22-year-old Frenchman started fifth after Hamilton’s demotion and then finished fourth, both career-best marks. Toro Rosso celebrated only their seventh top-four finish in 228 grands prix since the team’s 2006 debut in Bahrain.
What made that even more special was that it was also the best performance for Honda since returning to F1 racing in 2015, meaning Toro Rosso have taken just two races to eclipse the best result McLaren scored with the Japanese engine supplier in three full seasons.
It may therefore seem that McLaren were wrong to ditch Honda and that perhaps the lack of competitiveness was more to do with the chassis than the power unit, but by dint of back-to-back finishes in both Australia and Bahrain, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso is now fourth in the championship, his highest position at any time since leaving Ferrari.
It appears the McLaren-Honda divorce has been a win for all concerned, even though this was the 100th race weekend since the British team’s last win (Brazil 2012) and 150th since their last 1-2 (Canada 2010).
As if Alonso’s performance wasn’t enough, team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne has also now finished in the points at back-to-back races, the first time McLaren have had a double points finish in consecutive races since the 2014 British and German Grands Prix. It’s put them third in this season’s constructors’ championship
Four years ago, Kevin Magnussen was part of the McLaren driver line-up, and on Sunday he claimed his best finish since that season’s Russian Grand Prix by crossing the line fifth. Both of Haas’ best F1 results have been in Bahrain – Romain Grosjean was fifth there in 2016.
One big stat that I haven't heard used anywhere all weekend: Today is the 600th Grand Prix start for Renault engines. Thought that would get more mileage than it has #BahrainGP— Sean Kelly (@virtualstatman) April 8, 2018
By astonishing coincidence, McLaren were not the only team to reach 100 races since their last win this weekend. The works Renault team shared that distinction on Sunday (having been absent from 2012-15), but they had much to cheer about nonetheless. Nico Hulkenberg finished sixth as Renault also made their 600th grand prix start as an engine supplier.
Back in those heady days of 1982, the works Renault – with the aforementioned Prost – faced off against the works Alfa Romeo, before both teams withdrew at the end of 1985. Renault have been back since then, but Alfa Romeo had essentially eschewed any F1 involvement until now.
This season Alfa are back in at least a naming capacity, writ large on the engine cover of the Sauber team, as the Swiss team attempt to bounce back from finishing last in the constructors’ championship for the first time in their history.
Alonso has muscled his way ahead of Ericsson for P7, as race leader Vettel closes the gap to lap them both— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) April 8, 2018
Ericsson now has Vandoorne behind him. Can the Sauber driver remain in the points? It would be a mega result for the team #C4F1 #BahrainGP pic.twitter.com/PLa4AKvuNL
It appears the early signs are good. Marcus Ericsson finished ninth in Bahrain, being the only driver to run a one-stop strategy on Sunday aside from the three who finished on the podium.
Ericsson ended a 49-race streak without a points finish that stretched back to the 2015 Italian Grand Prix. This is the highest-ever number of starts between points finishes in F1, surpassing the 45-race barren streak of Aguri Suzuki (USA 1991-Germany 1995).
As always, there were winners and losers on Sunday. The two Williams cars were the last classified finishers, on the day chief technical officer Paddy Lowe ‘celebrated’ his birthday.
Russian rookie Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll were eliminated in Q1, and the 19-year-old Canadian was the slowest qualifier for the first time in his admittedly short career. Back to the drawing board at Grove…
This is Raikkonen's 96th race since his last win (Australia 2013). The record interval is 99 races for Riccardo Patrese (South Africa 1983-San Marino 1990) https://t.co/5YKQ9U1fFo— Sean Kelly (@virtualstatman) April 8, 2018
Raikkonen’s departure from the race was not without repercussions. Having been sent from his pitstop too early due to an issue with the green-light system, the Finn ran over one of his rear-wheel mechanics, and to literally add insult to injury, the wheel in question was not attached (the original was still on the car).
It is the third time Raikkonen has retired from a race due to an unsafe pit release in the last four seasons at Ferrari, following on from the 2015 Australian GP and the 2016 US GP. It was a major disappointment for the Finn, who topped two practice sessions on the same weekend for the first time since the 2008 Spanish Grand Prix and had seemed set to win pole until Vettel charged past him.
Ricciardo: "I changed gears and nothing worked anymore. It’s frustrating for everyone. We generally felt like we had a good car." ⚙️— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) April 8, 2018
Confirmation it was a gearbox-related issue that forced Ricciardo to become the first retirement #C4F1 #BahrainGP pic.twitter.com/EPv5IVLvSg
But the biggest disappointment of the weekend was Red Bull’s double DNF, the team’s first since the 2010 Korean Grand Prix. It was Daniel Ricciardo’s fourth retirement in the last six races, and a continuation of Red Bull’s woeful reliability from the 2017 season.
Despite those mechanical gremlins, Bahrain was the first time neither Red Bull had scored in a race since Max Verstappen joined the team and won on his debut at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, ending the longest current points streak for any team of 38 races.
With China just seven days away, there is at least a rapid chance to strike back.