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Stat Wrap: Bahrain Grand Prix

Sebastian Vettel leads the Mercedes duo in Bahrain

By Sean Kelly, C4F1 statistician

Could Ferrari genuinely win the title this year? Our resident stats wizard pores over the team's best start to a season since 2004.

On Saturday night Mercedes were sitting on a first front row lockout of 2017, 0.455s clear of the rest of the field.

Within 24 hours that form had been turned on its head by Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari, for whom a second win in the opening three races significantly raises championship hopes down Maranello way.

Vettel is the first Ferrari driver to take two of the first three since a certain M Schumacher delivered in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2004.  He was crowned champion in every instance, and nobody has lost the title after such a feat since Damon Hill lost out to the aforementioned M Schumacher in 1995. Vettel had only won three of his 40 Grands Prix starts for Ferrari prior to 2017, so this is a significant turnaround.

The Scuderia had not taken a Bahrain win since Fernando Alonso took the last of his three Sakhir wins in 2010 (on his Scuderia debut), and coincidentally, Vettel’s win takes him level with Alonso as the most successful driver in track history.  It was the 44th victory of his career, a number more associated with Lewis Hamilton.

For Hamilton, a 107th career podium was enough to surpass Alain Prost and go second all-time, behind Schumacher’s 155.  He retained his 100% finishing record of 10 Bahrain starts, and has now set back-to-back fastest laps having only set three in all of 2016.  None of this will compensate for losing the victory, but second was at least the best damage limitation after his five-second penalty for blocking Daniel Ricciardo at the pit entry.

As for teammate Valtteri Bottas, it was a race of relative disappointment after what it looked set to deliver.  On Saturday he became the 5th Finnish driver to take a pole position in F1, after Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen, Kimi Raikkonen and Heikki Kovalainen, whose solitary pole at the 2008 British GP was his nation’s last until now.

Bottas did lead 14 laps in the Bahrain Grand Prix, more than he had managed in his entire career to-date (9 laps), but he has now moved onto 11 career podium finishes without a win, two short of Nick Heidfeld’s all-time F1 record of frustration.

Speaking of frustration, Kimi Raikkonen is still yet to finish on the podium in 2017 despite being in the top five at every race.  He already owned a futility-related record in Sakhir, that being his eight previous podium finishes here without ever winning, tied for an F1 record on any circuit alongside Fernando Alonso at Interlagos.

Raikkonen hasn't scored a podium in the last 16 races, but he did at least finish higher than he started this weekend, for the first time in 7 Grands Prix.  The top four finishers in this race were in the exact same order as in the season opener in Melbourne.

After promising early pace, the Red Bull challenge faded away, with Max Verstappen’s brakes failing, and Daniel Ricciardo so distant in fifth that he confessed to singing to himself in the car.  The Australian has finished in the top six in Bahrain for the past four years in a row, but is still yet to get on the podium here.

The ever-consistent Felipe Massa netted another sixth place finish this weekend, his best on this circuit since finishing second back in 2010.  The most realistic target for Williams was to be “best of the rest” as the fastest outside of the big three teams, and Massa delivered exactly that on the 75th birthday of team impresario Sir Frank Williams, who will celebrate 50 of those years in Formula 1 if he is still in charge by the time we reach the 2019 Spanish GP.

After a dreadful qualifying in which he suffered a second consecutive Q1 elimination in Bahrain, Sergio Perez stormed back to finish seventh in the race itself.  Against expectation, he therefore increased his scoring streak to 13 consecutive races, the longest active streak in F1 at present, and restoring Force India to the fourth place in the constructors’ championship that they earned in 2016.  Toro Rosso, who went into this race in fourth place, failed to score for the first time this season.

This is fast proving to be a good track for Haas and Romain Grosjean, and the Frenchman is able to celebrate his 31st birthday with points for the second year running – and his fourth points finish in five visits here.  Haas have now had successive top eight finishes for the first time since Australia and Bahrain last year, as Kevin Magnussen netted the same result in China.

Renault were able to further underline their early season resurgence with Nico Hulkenberg scoring the team’s first points of the year in ninth, after a 2016 in which they only scored 8 points.  They may even be disappointed by this result, given that Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer both reached Q3, the first time the Enstone team had achieved this since Belgium 2015 when Romain Grosjean finished on the podium – the team’s only top six finish in the past 3½ years.

Esteban Ocon is turning in F1’s new Mr Reliable, as the Frenchman has now finished 10th in every race this year.  Other than first place, the longest-ever streak of consecutive finishes in the same position is four in a row (set multiple times in F1 history, most recently by Mark Webber at the start of 2012).  Ocon has also finished his first 12 Grands Prix, although he’s not even halfway to Max Chilton’s record of 25 consecutive finishes to start an F1 career.

 

Special mention to Pascal Wehrlein, who bounced back from missing the first two races – and much speculation about his fitness – to take Sauber’s best finish of 2017 in 11th place, and Wehrlein’s personal best since scoring a point in Austria last July.

Although Fernando Alonso hit the headlines this week for his Indianapolis 500 ambitions, it didn’t affect the Spaniard’s (mis)fortunes in his regular F1 ride, as he pulled into the garage with a handful of laps remaining, having spent much of the previous hour and a half complaining about the lack of Honda horsepower – he was as much as 10mph slower than his rivals in a straight line.

While he didn’t see the chequered flag, Alonso was officially classified as a finisher, meaning that Lance Stroll is now the only man without a finish in 2017, having been the victim of a collision with Carlos Sainz.

Stroll is the first man to fail to finish the first three races of a season since the oft-maligned Pastor Maldonado in 2015, and the first rookie to retire from his first three Grands Prix starts since Vitaly Petrov back in 2010.  With only 14 classified finishers on Sunday, this race saw the 2nd-fewest finishers in Bahrain GP in race history, beaten only by the 13 who got to the line in the 2005 race.

The Russian Grand Prix is next, an event that Mercedes-Benz have never lost ever since it was first held over a century ago in 1913.  With Vettel atop the championship, that record may be in jeopardy.

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