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15 Apr 2018
Trumpets race report - China

Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale casts his ever watchful eye over the Chinese GP and dissects all the action in only a way he can.
Eventual victor, Daniel Ricciardo stays calm ahead of the race
Ambient 18° Track 37° Humidity 23% Wind 2.1 m/s

Prelude

Another day, another dollar or so the saying goes. Funny how 24 hours after Mercedes' seeming display of dominance at FP1 and FP2, a singularly poor qualifying session has the world writing them out of the championship and Ferrari ascendant. I mean, granted Ferrari locked out the front row at a track generally thought to favor Mercedes, but if we walk back just a week, we find that, well, Ferrari locked out the front row. I guess if you say it like that, you might very well have a point. Still, the damage is as much psychological as real this early in the season, although that might matter more in the long run if the racing gods continue to kick a certain team repeatedly in the teeth. Still, it's in adversity that legends are formed and with any luck, this will be a season long talked about.

The day dawned warmer, the leaden skies around Shanghai were significantly brighter, temperatures much more along the lines of Friday  which had to be a small consolation for Mercedes fans, along with the fact that T1 and carnage go together like biscuits and gravy (well, those things go together on this side of the pond at any rate). Less excitingly, the wind was still whipping through the circuit, which Perez reckoned yesterday caused more mischief than the temperatures did. In other news of cruel fate, Ericsson was dinged 5 grid spots for speeding under yellows. On the bright side, his penalty was for going too fast, but having qualified P20, no practical difference for the Swede who was no doubt still hungover from scoring his first ever championship points.

Red Bull, starting on the UltraSofts, were committed to a 2 stop strategy while directly ahead of them Mercedes and Ferrari were on the Soft tyres, and certainly Mercedes looking to one stop (though Lewis was dubious of that possibility) so yet again strategy will be a cruel and fascinating focus at the sharp end. But as Lauda pointed out, it's all down to how the teams do with the tyres. If they can't get them into and keep them in the operating window, it's going to be a long day, regardless of where you qualified.

Kmag with fresh tyres at the start will be one to watch, and frankly, the entire midfield now that Force India have rediscovered their strong pace from last year. Sadly, the lengthy straights are likely mean that Toro Rosso won't be repeating their stellar performance from last week, but points will be a tantalizing possibility for the team this round...

Summary

Lights Out!!!! Out of the sheer madness of T1 it was Verstappen with a fantastic start. Raikkonen onto Vettel but Seb chopped him a bit and it was Bottas sneaking by Kimi. Verstappen nipped a spot from Lewis Hamilton and Raikkonen locked up bringing Ricciardo into play. Vettel, Bottas, Raikkonen, Verstappen and Hamilton led the way. Further back, Carlos Sainz had jumped his teammate, but Nico was not pleased and retook the position. Stroll gained the most, up to P12.

Lockup into T14 for Kimi, but Hamilton was unable to take advantage. Perez was the big loser, having dropped to P14. At the front, Vettel was crushing it, having rocked up a 2.2 second lead at the start of lap 4. On replay, it was the pinball effect of Raikkonen being passed by Bottas, as he had traction loss with a bit of a wiggle that forced Hamilton off the inside line to avoid and opened the door for Verstappen.

Lap 7 and Ocon regained the spot he lost to Stroll as Ricciardo was already saying his race was leaving him. A bit of fratricide at HAAS as Magnussen took Grosjean to the cleaners, up to P9 and prompting a bit of yelling from the Frenchman's cockpit.
11 laps on the Ultras and it was Alonso now onto the gearbox of RoGro, having a go into the hairpin but there was yet enough life in the tyres for the HAAS and for the moment he was able to fend off the attack of the Spaniard.The presence of Verstappen in P3 was beginning to seriously affect the arc of the race for Raikkonen and Hamilton as he was unable to keep pace with the leading duo. Almost 11 seconds off the lead was Hamilton and he was on the radio with the team, looking for a way to stay in touch. But it was Kimi doing the real damage as he was hanging a full 2.5 seconds off the stern of Verstappen.

Hartley was first in, out onto a set of Mediums but likely needing a second stop before his day was done. T6 and Alonso was at it again, but RoGro with some robust defense held onto his spot going side by side out of T6 and then taking the inside of T7. Ocon was in and out with some Softs and Sainz answered the call, but with a set of Mediums the following lap, the 14th go round.  

Hulkenberg in the next lap and out on Mediums as well, quickly by Gasly and Leclerc, off in search of Sirotkin. Where Hulkenberg was quickly round Gasly, Sainz found himself stuck behind and had to do some hard work before rocking by with DRS down the long backstraight.

Lap 17 and it was the undercut for Hamilton to get round Raikkonen, but not till he had cleared Kmag from his pit window. RoGro was in for his set of and RB brought both runners in, no stacking involved though such was the brutal efficiency of the RBR pit crew. Mediums for both cars and this drew an immediate response from Merc. Hamilton in and out with Mediums and just ahead of Kmag.
Bottas followed suit lap 20, out on Mediums and into P3, forestalling Verstappen's chase. Ferrari stayed out with both Vettel and Raikkonen and lap 21 it was Vettel in, and out BEHIND Bottas with the Mediums. Some slick ass calculating from the boffins on Mercedes' pit wall and it was Raikkonen now, still out and having effectively lost the position to Hamilton once he pits. To be fair, Mercedes and the Medium have long had a love affair and they took full advantage of their favorite tyre to stick the knife in deep to Ferrari.

Lap 23 and it was KMag and Alonso playing the long game, the only runners aside from Raikkonen without a stop on the board. Well, Sirotkin and Ericsson, but they were well out of the points. 2 laps later Kmag blinked and was back out in P10, presumably with Mediums as the app, in a fit of pique, had stopped delivering tyre data.

Lap 26 and it was redemption time for Bottas, now being held up by Raikkonen. A cautious first look for the Finn resulted in no real damage but that was but a feint, as Bottas went round the outside into T1 and Raikkonen was unable to close the door on him. But it was enough of a job as Kimi let his teammate slip by and it was now Vettel right on the gearbox of Bottas, looking at DRS on lap 27. Just a touch too far back and Vettel continued the chase down the start/finish, as Raikkonen rolled in for his new tyres, out onto lap 28 and well behind Ricciardo at this point, P6.

Leclerc had a bit of an off, finding the only gravel left on the circuit seemingly, but able to get going again. Then lap 31 it was Gasly, from way too far back, super hot and right into the back of his teammate into the hairpin, turning his teammate Hartley right round and necessitating a new front wing for Gasly. The onboard from Gasly was gruesomely incriminating and the resulting mess brought out the Safety Car lap 31.
Red Bull took full advantage and ran both cars through the pits for a pair of new Soft tyres and to the surprise of no one, it was an investigation into the contact. Verstappen had quite the move on a Toro Rosso on entry to the pitstop which allowed Red Bull to get both drivers in and out without delay. The Safety Car came out after Vettel was by the pits and thus it was that both Ferrari and Mercedes chose track position and it was clear that Red Bull was betting it all on getting a good jump on the front runners on old and cold Mediums.

Further back it was KMag inheriting P7 and RoGro P9 as HAAS chose to leave their cars out whilst Renault brought theirs in. Lap 35 and the SC was coming in and Hamilton was betraying a high level of anxiety about the temps inhis tyres. Good start from Bottas and Verstappen was all ove Lewis. Lock up by Vettel and Lewis was onto his gearbox. Alonso had a tilt at Rogro and stole the position away, wheel to wheel. Hulkenberg got Kmag as he went wide on the restart and Ocon was up the inside on Vandoorne. +10 seconds to Gasly, his dramatics on the radio apparently not convincing to the stewards.

Lap 37 and Ricciardo was wailing up the rear wing of Raikkonen into T14, and up the inside Danny Boy went sailing off in search of his teammate, running in DRS of Hamilton. Both Red Bulls were significantly faster than the Mercedes on their old tyres. Into T7 Verstappen went round the outside and with a big snap of oversteer along with a stout defense from Hamilton and he was onto the grass, and Ricciardo was by and into P5.

The defense took him well outside the DRS of Vettel and it was Ricciardo on the run from far back into T15 and smoothly taking P3. Vettel was next up for the Aussie as Verstappen was just completing the job of catching him up. Definitely a missed opportunity as Mercedes could easily have brought him in for a fresh set of tyres.
Lap 42 and into T13 Ricciardo easily round Vettel for P2 as behind the carnage for Lewis continued, with Verstappen finally getting the job done. The laptimes were telling the story though, and Danny Ric was now 0.5 seconds a lap faster than Bottas and then the impetuous Verstappen tapped the side of Vettel trying to get by on the inside of T14 and sent them both into a spin lap 44. Almost a repeat of the Gasly incident in T14, and having to avoid it Lewis went wide off track and Raikkonen was by in a flash on the inside, into the last podium spot, Hamilton T4 and Verstappen again off in search of Lewis Hamilton's gearbox.

Lap 45 and Ricciardo had finally gotten the back of Bottas and into T6 it was a jink by Bottas in the braking zone, but too late as Ricciardo sailed by into the lead, sweet, sweet free air ahead. Vettel was the biggest loser, likely with floor damage and resulting loss of downforce, circulating in P7 and jammed up behind Hulkenberg. The short and efficient investigation into the contact that put him there resulted in a 10 second time penalty for Verstappen, matching the one handed to Gasly for more or less exactly the same thing.

Into T6 on lap 48 Verstappen finally got the job done, but with 8 laps left he needed 10 seconds on Lewis to actually own the spot, a big ask. 2 laps later and it was just 1.5 seconds as Verstappen chased Raikkonen. But it was Bottas, under pressure from Raikkonen with 6 to go and the Finn with DRS with the serious job to do.  

Lap 52 and it was 4.3 seconds from Hamilton to Verstappen but it was crucially barely a second from Verstappen to Raikkonen. Not the best of friends those two and the defense from Raikkonen took the pressure off Bottas. 2 laps later and the only change was the delta to Verstappen, up to 5.5 seconds. Alonso had caught the back of Vettel in P7 lap 55  and sensing the opportunity the Spaniard stuck the knife in deep, forcing Vettel off the track on the exit of the turn after putting it up the inside and wresting the position from the Championship leader.

Last lap and Raikkonen and Verstappen were giving it everything they had. Both in DRS of the car ahead as Ricciardo swanned it across the line. Nothing doing though and they crossed the line status quo ante, Bottas Raikkonen, Verstappen and Hamilton, with Verstappen having just enough time on board to hold onto P5 ahead of Hulkenberg and Hamilton being promoted to P4. Alonso P7 and then a brutally savage P8 for Vettel, the racing gods having decided that a closer championship was in order. Not that it was Hamilton's day either, as he was, ummmm, shall we call it slightly less than happy about the pit strategy under the Safety Car. Once the dust settles, perhaps he will calm down and count his chickens, but P2 was potentially on offer had he pitted with the Bulls, instead he finished behind his teammate yet again, in addition to being twice outqualified.  

Hulkenberg was the class of the midfield, which is by far proving to be the closest and most vicious of the fights. Alonso with a P7 will make Macca happy, and perhaps the thrill of passing a Ferrari, even a stricken one,  will keep them in the fight. Kmag kept HAAS in the points, barely, and the intrateam rivalry at HAAS is going to be something that Gunther Steiner will have to work hard to keep from boiling over. Toro Rosso retired Hartley shortly before the end of the race, which qualifies them for a new gearbox, and it was hero to zero for Gasly, who was apparently too busy winning things last year to see the Force India debacle play out, although this was more of a friendly fire incident, as the plan was on for Hartley to let him by in that turn.

But it was high class work all the way around from Daniel Ricciardo that dominated the race, and a well deserved win for Red Bull. 2 winners, 3 races and it's a shame that F1 is broken. Off to Azerbaijan where nothing ever happens.....
Discuss!!!

And remember to play nice in the comments!!
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14 Apr 2018
Trumpets qualifying notebook - China

Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale delves into the minutiae of qualifying for the 2018 Chinese GP, unraveling the details that you may have missed whilst transfixed on the action.

Ambient 12° Track 14° Humidity 79% Wind 1.9 m/s

Prelude

When it rains it pours, and in China it appeared that it might be more than metaphor, the wind whipping leaden gray skies into an angry visage, foliage dancing in the violent gusts that coursed through the paddock.
FP3 saw the spectacularly terminal failure of Daniel Ricciardo’s PU, flames bursting forth from the rear of the car as his turbo decided it was going to have no more and lunched itself. A not entirely assembled backup PU sent Renault scrambling, and as the seconds ticked down his car looked far from assembled.
Red Bull wasn’t the only garage on red alert as down at HAAS, all those years of complaining about his Brembos had caused the brake gods to smite RoGro with an actual Brake-by-wire failure. At least his car was in fully assembled condition as the start of qualifying loomed, unlike the Red Bull of Ricciardo. Iit was Mercedes though, with the most to worry about , not merely on the back foot, but apparently flat on its keister at the savage change in conditions, unable to get the tyres into the window in FP3 and thoroughly unsettled by the vicious thrusts of wind howling round the circuit…

Summary

Green Light!! Sirotkin was first out of the gate, followed by Leclerc and Stroll. Hartley and Ericsson followed on as little time was going to be wasted with the uncertain weather hanging overhead, a veritable Sword of Damocles waiting to smite those unlucky or unfortunate enough not to get a lap time in the bank.

The tightest race was for Ricciardo though, whose gearbox still lay on the floor of the paddock as the rest of the competitors circulated on their outlaps.

Gasly was the early leader of the midfield, before Raikkonen smashed through timing and scoring, taking a P1 with a 1:32.474. Neither Bottas nor Hamilton could seriously worry that time, going P2 and P3 respectively as Vettel was on his outlap. Mercedes struggle on the Ultra Softs in the cooler conditions continued from FP3 as Vettel took the top spot, going 0.3s clear of his teammate.

10 minutes to go and Verstappen peeled out of the pits, fingers crossed at Red Bull. AS he hotted up his tyres it was Kmag, best of the rest on the Soft tyre, which he had found to be faster, despite Bottas wandering well into his way as he hit the line.

8 minutes to go and the dynamic duo at Force India stepped up, with Perez and Ocon taking P6 and P7. Not for long, though, as Hulkenberg split them . Alonso and Kmag rounded the top 10 out. Leclerc had a viciously lurid slide and it was young Max going P4 amidst the excitement.
Hartley, Ericsson, Stroll, Leclerc and the hapless Ricciardo lolled about in the drop zone with 5 minutes to go, with Sirotkin in the hot seat, as the field turned it around for the final tilt at glory.
3 minutes to go and bad news for the back of the field as Ricciardo tore out of the garage, lighting up the tyres as he rocketed toward the end of the pitlane. Well done to RBR for getting him out and it was fingers crossed as he plunged round the track, getting tires and brakes up to temp in preparation for his only shot at Q2.
Ricciardo was on it, aggressive on the corners and no quarter given, sparks flashing from under the chassis as he crossed the start /finish. The lack of preparation showed as P13 was the best he could do, and Red Bull was left to wait nervously as the rest of the runners completed their runs after the checquers had fallen. Stroll, Leclerc, Ericsson all failed to exit the drop zone and then Hartley went P15, casting Sirotkin into the pit of despair. Gasly just missed, going P16 a tenth off his teammate and Sainz, who had been in danger, pulled his chorizos out of the fire with a P7, just ahead of Kmag, who had wisely opted to switch to the Ultras for his second go. Sirotkin couldn’t get the job done and that was that for that. Off for dim sum went Sirotkin, Gasly, Stroll, Leclerc and Ericsson as the rest got ready for Q2.

Bottas led the way for Q2, followed by Hamilton, the Mercedes struggling desperately with the low temps. Not far back were the Ferraris, a study in contrast, lapping up the change in conditions with aplomb. But it was shod in Softs for both the top teams, in stark contrast to the rest of the field, a gamble taken due to the rapid degradation of the UltraSofts.

Again a terrible lap for Hamilton, viciously understeering through T9, losing massive chunks of time to Bottas in S2. Neither was in the same league as the Ferraris, with Vettel going P2 and Raikkonen P1 by 0.6s over Bottas and over a second over Hamilton.

Red Bull, meanwhile, had managed to dial in Ricciardo’s car and it was P3 for him, on the Ultra’s though as Hamilton dropped like a stone down the order. P7 as Hulkenberg took P6, only to be displaced by the flying Viking from HAAS, Kmag. P8 and counting for Lewis, now on his second run on the Softs. Verstappen rocked in a P5, on Ultras like his teammate and then Hamilton slammed it home, P6 and bringing it home to get ready for one last charge for the promised land of Q3.
On the outside looking in were Sainz, Vandoorne, Hartley, Grosjean and Alonso. 3 minutes to go and off they went, Lewis leading the way, having doubled down on the Soft gambit. Raikkonen trailed him then Vettel , both on the Ultras. Bottas was a ways back, also on the Softs, and again the strategic die was cast for the race tomorrow. Early advantage to Hamilton, as he set a Personal Best followed by purpling S2 and then S3, to the top and P1. Both Ferraris were giving chase on the softer compound though, and one after the other they dove into the pits.

Hulkenberg to P5, Grosjean to P6 but it was nothing doing for Kmag, who was in the hot seat P10. Ocon was in as Bottas went P2, then out he went, displaced by Perez. Sainz knocked out Kmag by 0.01s seconds and as the dust settled, Kmag, Ocon, Alonso, Vandoorne and Hartley were done like a dinner, off in search of some Tsingtao as the top 10 got ready to joust for the ultimate glory of Q3. Ominously for Ferrari it looked that Mercedes managed to crack the code on getting the tyres into the window, none too soon as the track opened for Q3.
Hulkenberg was out first, chased up the track by Grosjean. Raikkonen and Vettel were next, then Sainz, Ricciardo, Bottas, Verstappen and Hamilton bringing up the rear.

Raikkonen had the early advantage on Vettel, purpling the first 2 sectors, and then BOOM! Trifecta for the Finn going 1:31.2, Vettel 0.2 seconds off. Bottas rocked through P3 and Hamilton followed P4, both 0.4 seconds back of the bar Kimi had set. Verstappen and then Ricciardo made it a Noah’s Ark, 2x2, with Hulkenberg, Grosjean, Sainz and Perez rounding out the order as the field retired to the pits to look for those last missing tenths.

3 minutes to go and Bottas was first out, trailed by Hamilton. Hulk and RoGro were next, then Raikkonen and Vettel. Ricciardo , Verstappen and Sainz completed the order.
Bottas led the way early days, Lewis unable to match his teammate, but further back, Raikkonen was purpling the board. Vettel was fractionally behind him as Bottas rocked across the line but failed to improve his position. Lewis, too, could do no more and bailed for the pits after a mistake in his very ordinary lap. Then it was Kimi across the line, with a 1:31.182, even faster than his first go-round. Breaths held around the circuit as Vettel came into the final turn and it was a purple S3 that put him to the top at the very last moment. Verstappen and Ricciardo maintained the status quo and it was Hulkenberg, Perez, Sainz and Grosjean rounding out the top 10.

With the weather hotting up tomorrow, race pace could be more equal as conditions will be similar to that of FP2. Still, Ferrari have dealt themselves quite the hole card by locking out the front row, as despite the record of overtakes, pole position has been good for 9 out of 14 wins at this circuit.

Perez in a post-race interview added that the wind was equally confounding. Nevertheless, today’s session has revealed the inner diva once more at Mercedes and the vicious undercurrents will soon be stirring if tomorrow’s race brings no improvement. As with last year, the Ferrari appears to set up more easily over a wider set of circumstances, even if the Mercedes is flat out faster. It’s only the third event of the season but the rhythm of the championship chase appears to be establishing itself. Mercedes has the pace but lacks the adaptability of the Ferrari. Once again, the Silver Arrows will be looking to limit the damage while fending off harassment from Red Bull behind and it must be said at the moment that the racing gods appear to be favoring the Scuderia.

Discuss!!

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8 Apr 2018
Trumpets race notebook - Bahrain


Ambient 28° Track 33° Humidity 46% Wind 1.5 m/s

Prelude
The faint gloaming of twilight was just a hint in the air as the cars rocked up to the pitlane exit for their practice start and installation laps. The failing sun still buried the artificial daylight set to descend on the track as the race kicked off.
All eyes on Gasly at the start, of course, with Verstappen and Hamilton looking to make big gains at the start or face a spoiled strategy. Predictions for Supers were a two stop with the thought those on Softs MIGHT be able to extend to a one stop. Stratagery aplenty indeed, with both Max and Lewis running those aforesaid Softs. McLaren also under pressure, but generally Alonso being adept in the race meant a bit of face saving was in order for the proud outfit from Woking.

And at the sharp end, of course, 2 Ferraris into one corner at the start of the race does NOT always end well, just ask Singapore 2017. Lotsa Raikkonen fans ummm, unhappy to say the least about the amount of traffic the Iceman encountered on his final run in qualifying, though Occam's razor would have us believe incompetence over conspiracy. Still, if it makes ya feel better, go for it....

Some decidedly interesting radio messages regarding balance between Lewis and the team, indicating he was set for a longer stint than Bottas, a bit more front to offset for traffic and harder tyres to his teammate. Entertainment for a damage limitation race no doubt......

Summary

Lights Out!!!! Out of sheer chaos of the start it was Hamilton rocketing up the field. Side by side into T1 it was Bottas taking a slow Raikknen, the dirty side of the track doing him no favours at all. Perez went for a spin as Hartley whacked into him with incidental contact between besties Magnussen and Hulkenberg. Alonso took the advantage from Hamilton, whose early thrust was blunted as he Fernando caught him tiptoeing round the midfield melee. 
Hamilton continued to struggle with his tyre temps and it was Verstappen forcing his way past into the start of lap 2 but not without contact and expensive at that for the Red Bull runner, as he picked up a puncture from going wheel to wheel through T1. In all the fun, it was a dead car for Ricciardo, off the track and race run, frustration boiling over for the Aussie.

AS Verstappen limped it around, he called in a total loss of drive, absolutely not what Red Bull wanted to hear. The Virtual Safety car had already been called so it was a limited loss of time for Verstappen, but still. Gasly meanwhile had somehow quietly maintained his place and was the sudden and delighted inheritor of P4

Restart, contact between Magnussen and Gasly as Kmag attempted to rock on by, but the Toro Rosso laid down a fierce defense and the pace of the Honda suddenly looked very real indeed...

Hamilton meanwhile took 3 cars going into T1 on lap 5, AND MADE IT LOOK EASY!!! Ocon, Alonso and Hulkenberg all wondering what the heck just happened as Lewis was suddenly in P6 and looking pretty. Carrying on, he maintained his momentum and took Magnussen, who was still trying to pry his way around Gasly. P5 and killing it, off went Lewis, the Toro Rosso next in his sites.

Lap 8 job done for Lewis, 10 seconds back from Vettel and the race was on. No action was reported on the Hamilton-Verstappen contretemps, but Hartley was assessed a 10 second time penalty for getting a wee bit friendly with the back of Perez' Force India.

Lap 10 and finally a picture at the sharp end began to emerge, with Hamilton holding an 8 second gap on Vettel, well within his pit window and clearly looking to do one less stop and turn the differential into an advantage. Damage to Stroll and both he and Vandoorne were into the pits lap 11. New nose for Stroll (at least he can afford it) and Williams bookended both those yet to stop with Sirotkin and those already in and out, Stroll with lap 12 headed to the history books.

The only card for Ferrari to play is leaving Kimi out to cover off Lewis, but he was very much on the wrong tyres to pull that off. Magnussen in lap 14, and back out on the Supers, unfortunately behind LeClerc, but fortunately with all the wheels attached. Hulkenberg gave it the push but was not making up anytime and equally important, Kmag stuck it to the Sauber and was off into a serious chunk of free air. Alonso was in and out on Mediums. Magnussen suddenly found himself stuck behind Sirotkin as Hulkenberg was in and out just in front of Alonso on lap 17.

At the sharp end, Bottas began closing up on Vettel to prepare for the undercut while Hamilton continued to chip away. Back to the midfield, Hulkenberg managed to get round the rolling chicane of Sirotkin (a feat already managed by Kmag) and start to shake free of Alonso's grip. Gasly had pulled off a drama free stop in the meanwhile and was back out in front of Magnussen, frontrunner of those with one pitstop under their belts.

Lap 19 Vettel in!!! Mercedes chucked a dummy but the fact of the matter was Seb was losing chunks of time to both cars. Bottas continued to rock in front and it was now Vettel on the fresh Softs 9 seconds back.

Thanks, as always, for stopping by. Lap 20 and Raikkonen was in and out also on the Softs and now 28 seconds back of Bottas and 17 from Lewis. Next lap and Bottas blinked, a slow stop and out in between the 2 Ferraris. His choice of tyre being Medium helps explain the slow stop as likely a front wing adjustment accompanied those tyres. 2 seconds in front of Raikkonen and 5 back of Vettel.

In the midfield, a yet to stop Ericsson had managed to back Magnussen into the clutches of Hulkenberg at least temporarily. Coming around to the DRS zone, the Hulk was all over Kmag's gearbox and they were both looking at DRS down to T1. Kmag managed to fend off the Renault and rock by the Sauber into T1, gapping his on strategy rival and gaining a bit of breathing room, beginning his chase of Gasly, 7 seconds up the road.

Lap 25 and Vettel's fresh tyres had paid their laptime dividends as he had closed up to within a second of Hamilton. Ericsson in and out. Lewis covered off a vicious attack from Vettel T11, but the DRS into T1 was the end of the battle as he basically let Vettel through in defense of his own strategy. During that struggle of titans, a quiet message to Bottas reminded him to watch his tyres carefully, as he was well onto his B strategy, a one stopper.
Lap 27 was the target for the lagging Mercedes and Mediums on for the reigning champ. Into free air and an 18 second gap to the podium. With both Ferraris technically needing another stop it was Mercedes suddenly in the catbird seat.
Magnussen was in and out for his 2nd stop on lap 28, planning to make a pair of Softs last to the end of the race. Essentially, a gambit to undercut the midfield 2 stoppers. Quickly by Perez and running down his teammate, on the Softs at his first stop and a different strategy. Vandoorne reacted quickly as Ericsson took advantage of the earlier stopping Force India.

Too much action as back at the front Bottas was within 5 seconds and Hamilton within 16 seconds with 27 laps to go and Vettel on 11 lap old Softs, only rated to 30 laps. Magnussen dusted Grosjean around the outside, and Grosjean, not recognising it was on, played quite the blocker to his teammate on a totally different strategy. Steiner solved the problem by calling RoGro in, but not before costing him the better part of a second in HAAS 3 car battle for P4, P5 and P6. P8 an off after Alonso was Kmag, but not before displaying his penchant for sarcasm on team radio, congratulating them on a job well done.

Mercedes on the radio told them to target low 1:34's, telling Lewis to get on target as they suspect Ferrari had converted to the 1 stop with Vettel. Lap 36 and in comes Raikkonen for the Supers. Oh NOES, wrong tyres and Raikkonen hit the mechanic!! He was down hard and on replay, Kimi was given the green light before the left rear was changed. IT was a nasty bit of contact and looked to thoroughly break the leg of the mechanic holding the wheel. It was a problem with the left rear which had failed to come loose, and having driven off on mismatched tyres that was the end of his race. He stopped mere metres from his box, banged his head against the steering wheel in frustration, then exited the car and headed back to the garage, as the stricken mechanic lay on the tarmac, still being tended to.

This crushed Ferrari's race plan, and now they had the difficult choice of whether to bring Vettel in or leave him out. Hamilton's push had brought him within 18 seconds of the front as Bottas lingered 8 seconds behind Vettel. In the midfield, both Alonso and Hulkenberg were back in lap 40, and out behind Ericsson who was having a stellar race strategy wise. Magnussen was 3.5 seconds back of Gasly and the Toro Rosso had tyres 4 laps fresher as it was time to grab the popcorn for the best of the rest race.

At the front, the choice to push or not was upon Hamilton's side of the garage, with Merc asking for his TAG mode needed to hit low 34's. Some radio confusion brought James Vowles on to ask him to run TAG 2 and report his lap time. Grosjeans's car seemed to be losing random pieces of body work, but that didn't seem to be keeping him out of the points paid positions, P10 and chasing Vandoorne only 0.3 seconds ahead for P9.

Lap 46 and Hamilton, attempting to lap Perez, had to suddenly lock up to having his race ended by the Force India, locked into his own private battle. Grosjean was in, and a chunk of bodywork was found in the car and it was the blue flag anthem for Vettel as Bottas had quietly upped his pace and was just 5.5 seconds behind the Ferrari. Lap 49 and Ferrari crossed their Rubicon, outside the recommended maximum stint length on the Soft tyres with 7 laps to go....

Lewis passed the last of the lapped traffic and was looking at a big chunk of free air as Ocon took careful aim at the gearbox of Sainz who was P10. The Force India was within DRS of his rival, but it was Bottas who had turned up the wick. 3.5 seconds and a delta of nearly a second on the leading Ferrari lap 52 as it was all to play for at the sharp end. Not to be outdone, Hamilton shaved an extra second of Bottas' last laptime, but too little too late for him. The midfield looked set with Gasly pulling away from Magnussen and Hulkenberg 12 seconds back. Alonso was looking to get by Hulkenberg and was nearly in DRS with 4 laps to go.

Bottas inside 2 seconds as the Ferrari of Vettel was visibly losing traction in corners, the checquers not even a hint in the distance. The Mercedes had over a second on the last lap and coming into the end of lap 54 was just a second back of Vettel. Another lap in the books and it was an agonizing tenth outside DRS. Lap 55 and it was all on. Bottas buried it and into T1 it was Vettel maintaining his lead. Half a second and locked in mortal combat they rocketed around the track. Round T11 and 0.8s back onto the stretch into the inside and cannot get it done into T11, with a halfhearted attempt up the inside. Oh my stars....

That was that for that and Vettel rocked it round in kingly fashion, an improbably win for the Scuderia after they nearly scuppered their chances with the loss of Raikkonen. Hamilton in an equally improbably 3rd, helped by the total failure at Red Bull. But the real winner of this race, had to be Pierre Gasly in 4th, because ZOMG even the Honda faithful had no clue what their new partnership might yield at the start of the race. HAAS and Kmag with a very scrappy P5, but again it was problems for the American outfit as Grosjean lost his points position late in the race with yet undefined problems.
A big face saver for Mclaren, going P7 and P8 for Alonso and Vandoorne. The unfortunate Ericsson had the first Sauber points of the season roundly ignored after a grand strategic race, in favor of the astonishing climb of Toro Rosso. A bit of grace for Force India as well, as with the unexplained and rather disastrous retirement of both Red Bulls as well as Raikkonen, Ocon was able to pick up a solitary point and get them on the board. The lack of a mention of Williams by this point should tell you everything you need to know, but just in case I will toss the word execrable out to describe their performance to this point.
A stonking drive from Vettel extends his championship lead to 17 points, but the loss of Raikkonen closes the Constructors up to 10 points between the top 2, with McLaren jumping Red Bull thanks to the double retirement. Loss of radio hampered Lewis' race, but at the end of the day, he was lucky to inherit P3 and limit the damage. The words Bottas and aggressive with regards to overtaking continue to exist uneasily, as he literally had all the other pieces in place to have a proper go over the last laps. AS to whether that will affect his contract negotiations, well, I'm sure Ocon is hoping that they will...

Post Script, Good News of a conditional kind, the stricken mechanic reported to be in OK condition in the medical centre, but most certainly with a fairly savage orthopaedic injury to be rehabbed. 
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Trumpets qually notebook - Bahrain

Brought to you by special contributor Matt 'Trumpets' Ragsdale
Ambient 28° Track 32° Humidity 45% Wind 0.7 m/s

Prelude

Encomiums to the legendary Jim Clark dominated the pre-qualifying conversation, glittering star amongst the constellation of F1 heroes from the glory days of the sport. Meanwhile, back at the nitty gritty of actual current governance, the F1 teams thoroughly trashed Brawn's meticulously crafted proposal to aid overtaking in the short term. No real surprise, with Wolff in an interview on Sky arguing it would be far too expensive with the regs set to change in 2021 in any event. Rather amusingly, he then, in the very same interview, whinged  the proposed 2021 $150 million cost cap for teams was entirely too low,thereby simultaneously complaining that it was too expensive and not expensive enough within sentences of each other. Flexible thinking indeed I suppose, though on reflection maybe they'd be better off spending the money while they still can...

FP3 is always unrepresentative in Sakhir due to the massive temperature change from afternoon to twilight, but it looked clear that the diva had broken loose from her restraints in Mercedes, with neither Bottas nor Hamilton looking as on it as Ferrari and Red Bull. Add a 5 spot penalty for Lewis for a trashed gearbox from Australia (hydraulic leak during race) and the pressure was entirely on Bottas for qualifying, along with the wildy misnomered "party mode" of the Brixworth PU, which is actually just their qualifying mode. Cooler temps should aid Mercedes, but the fact of the matter is that they seemed to be struggling more at this track than at Melbourne. 

The real battle of interest in qualifying of course is the last 4 spots in Q3, with Macca, HAAS, Renault AND Toro Rosso all making themselves seem that they had a real shot at it. Williams managed to look even worse than in Australia, tragically and for a brief moment yesterday, Sauber had a bit of relevance. FP3 also featured a loose and cracked sidepod deflector for Vettel, another moment of instability for the would be team leader. A new floor has improved his mood, but unlike his teammate Seb still seems to be getting to grips with the handling characteristics of his new ride.

As the sun dipped below the horizon the inky blackness of night descended on the paddock and the artificial daylight of the track blazed forth from the desert, a million faceted jewel alight with promise and peril alike as the teams desperately awaited the start of the qualifying session...

Summary
Green Light!! Brave Sir Marcus was first to test the twilight, followed by his erstwhile teammate and squire, Leclerc. Hartley was next to emerge and with 90 seconds already off the clock, it looked that the top teams would be holding fire till the whites of their eyes was the chosen strategy, as lower temps and track evolution would favor those who could start their last lap closest to the chequers.

HAAS were next to take up the challenge, with 4 minutes run off and amongst the earliest it was Hartley that looked to be doing it right till he ran wide and dropped the rest of his lap, leaving Leclerc 0.2 seconds ahead of Ericsson...

13 minutes left and Ferrari was on track with Magnussen lighting the track purple, crushing all the sectors for a 1:30.03. Hartley radioed in a damaged front wing, of the new spec, which was not going to help his cause at all. Tyre strategy for the top teams was Mercedes and Ferrari running Softs, save Hamilton running Supers no doubt to save an extra set of Softs for his race, as with his penalty and running in traffic extra Softs to choose from will be more important for his race strategy.

No surprise, Raikkonen ahead of Vettel ahead of Bottas on the Softs, with Kimi rocking a 1:28.951 to take the early lead. A surprise P4 for Lewis on the Supers, 1:29.396 not at all a good result. As immediately demonstrated by Verstappen outdoing him for P4 on the same compound.


Big mess for Grosjean on his first run, lurid replay on telly while KMag stuck it in, best of the rest in P7 with 6 minutes left. AND THEN VERSTAPPEN PUT IT IN THE WALL. Magnificent error as he has thoroughly crushed the front of the car into the tyrewall. On replay, it looked like a rear suspension failure, between T2 and T3, although that awaited confirmation from Red Bull. Verstappen later clarified that he picked up an unexpected 150bhp boost which spun up the tyres and sent him round. Update on Hartley's wing was a bird strike caused the damage. Shame he wasn't playing in the Masters instead of racing, a bird(ie) there would'be done him a bit more good.
With 5:25 frozen on the clock, it was Grosjean, Alonso, Sirotkin, Leclerc and Stroll in the dropzone with Ericsson in the hotseat. But all the teams wanted that last spot and the track went green to thunderous silence. 3:30 to go, and off they went, Hulkenberg leading the way for Sainz.

3 minutes to go and the traffic was increasing, with only the top 6 choosing to sit on their hands and watch. Hulkenberg kicked off the fun, with 2 minutes left. PB through S1, but Sainz outdid him by nearly 0.2s. Both Macca's were the slowest amongst their group and it was the Hulk to P10. Sainz to P7 as Vandoorne outpointed Alonso, taking P13 to Fernando's P14. Grosjean still lingered in the background seemingly certain to stick the knife in deep. But it was P16 for Grosjean, saving Alonso's bacon, running the exact same time but later. Leclerc spun it through the last turn and it was Stroll, with an extraordinary effort, finishing P20 (humour of course)...

Done like a dinner, Grosjean, Ericsson, Sirotkin, Leclerc, Stroll, off to sip Virgin cocktails and indulge in their regrets. The rest turned it round for the start of Q2, with Gasly the biggest surprise, going P9 in the first of the qualifying sessions. Hartley was on pace to achieve a similar result till he borked his wing, Honda looking a bit feister than most predicted.

The start of Q2 was a whole lot of nothin', the track devastatingly silent for nearly 2 minutes before Vettel shattered the silence and kicked the session properly off. Sainz, Raikkonen, Hulkenberg and pretty much everyone else followed on. All the runners rocked the Supers, no tyre strategy games save Hamilton who was betting the farm on the Softs, which seemed to have been the better for his car throughout the event.
Just past the 10 minute mark and Vettel threw down the gauntlet, unmatched by Raikkonen, nearly 0.2 seconds off. Bottas had apparently followed Ericsson into the sea as he was 0.65 seconds slower than Vettel on the same tyre while his teammate on the Soft tyre went P2 just a tenth off. Gasly P6!!! Hulkenberg, Magnussen, Sainz and Ocon (the extra spot vacated by Verstappen aiding the Force India) filled out the top 10 with Perez just being on the outside looking in, having run out of ERS before the end of his lap.

Into the garage they went to prepare to joust at the ultimate glory of Q3. 4 minutes left and off went Hulkenberg, again with Sainz behind him, Gasly trailing the pair. Hamilton was last out just in front of Hulkenberg rolling on his hot lap. Supers for Lewis this time.

Hulkenberg to P6 Vandoorne, Alonso, Gasly and Magnussen crossed the line tenths apart, just after the chequers fell with neither Macca making Q3. Magnussen to P7, Gasly P9 and Ocon just hung on by his fingernails to P10. Hartley improved to P11, first of those failing to make Q3 by a painful 0.086 seconds. Perez, Alonso and Vandoorne rounded out the rest, with Verstappen frozen in P15 due to his earlier, spectacular, mishap. Off to drown their sorrows in machboos and muhammar as the rest got ready to have a go at the palmares.

Q3 started with Sainz and Gasly, followed fairly closely by Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull. Sainz to the top first, naturally, as he was first out. Vettel ran wide at the last turn on his run opening the door for Raikkonen who took top spot. Gasly outpointed Sainz, as the rest of the midfield in Q3 remained in the garage for the first runs. Hamilton's best was just P3, a tenth off the 1:28.101 of Kimi on provisional pole. Bottas took P4 and Ricciardo P5 to complete the sharp end. To the pits for the rapid turn around they went, the track falling silent as all the excitement was now confined to the frantic work of the mechanics.

3 minutes to go and out went Hulkenberg, with, quel surprise, Sainz behind him. Ocon and Gasly were next to commit to the joust, then Magnussen and Bottas. 2:20 to go and Hamilton joined the fray, Vettel, Ricciardo and Raikkonen rounded out the order as Hulkenberg rocketed past on his last shot at glory.

Early days Hulk looked to be quicker than Sainz, an advantage he maintained through the first 2 sectors. Then it was all tossed over as the sharp end got it into gear. It was Bottas, who took the first sector by storm, that caused the immediate fuss, purple lighting up the board as the Ferraris gave chase. Vettel up on Raikkonen as Lewis had no improvement Bottas P2 with Vettel taking pole. Ricciardo stayed P5 and as Raikkonen completed his run he failed to do it, but did manage to dislodge Bottas from P2, Ferrari front row lockout giving the tifosi all the feels. Bottas' second run doomed Hamilton to start P9 and his weekend of woe continued unabated.
But it is the staggering run of Gasly (words I did not foresee writing) in P6 that has all the heads shaking. With the penalty to Hamilton, that's the highest start Honda have had for a dry qualifying session since they rejoined the sport. With McLaren bogged down in 12th and 13th, expect the hay to be made soon. And with Renault and Red Bull both there, alternate targets for criticism are looking few and far between. Also making waves with post session comments was Lance Stroll as the dumpster fire at Williams continues unabated. Having apparently taken lessons from Alonso last year, he was brutal in his criticism of the car and its handling.
 
With the weather a nonfactor, it's worth considering that few polesitters have actually won in Bahrain and with Hamilton and Verstappen both starting out of position tomorrow's race bleeds with promise for some entertaining action. With Vettel at the head of the field, it will be on Bottas to maximise his start to try and deny Ferrari points as Lewis chases from far, far away and the long run pace from Red Bull will simply make that task even more challenging. Gasly will be the one to watch, as he will have quite the time with his visit to the sharp end and the race for best of the rest will be riveting with Renault and HAAS all thinking they have the authentic claim to that title....

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