Al Hilal Publishing & Marketing GroupPO Box 1100,
Kingdom of Bahrain
Click here for Contact Details
For the F1 officianado there is always something exciting to monitor, even in a race that has effectively been won on the first bend.
Sebastien Vettel launched his red rocket ship off the line and then Lewis Hamilton scything his way through back-markers kept the crowds entertained for the first 20 laps.
Having passed the flying Dutchman, Max Verstappen, on the 59th lap, a stunning podium place looked his for the taking although an error on the first turn while pushing hard on the next lap meant he did not have as many opportunities to pass Kimi Raikkonen as he needed.
Bahrain fans would have also been particularly excited to see Fernando Alonso’s McLaren, partly-owned by sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat, running as high as fifth at one stage in the race.
Massa, like a punch-drunk heavyweight boxer returning for one last pay day, waved farewell to his home crowd – again. He finished a respectable seventh and enjoyed a heart-warming moment on the podium with his son.
Yet for many casual fans the season is already over with Hamilton having won the drivers’ championship and his Mercedes team having wrapped up the title for constructors.
As with the 2015 season when he won the title with three races to spare, Hamilton appears to, metaphorically at least, taken his foot off the gas, making his first major error in qualifying that arguably cost him the race last weekend.
He needs to be careful that this lethargy does not continue into next season as it did in 2016. Perhaps the proximity of the Scuderia Ferrari and Red Bulls will provide him the motivation in the off-season that past performances suggest that he needs.
The Ferrari has made strong starts all season and with the Mercedes seemingly finding it difficult to maintain optimum performance when trailing, the Grand Prix in Brazil must have left those in Maranello wondering what might have been if they had not imploded in Asia.
It is, therefore, refreshing to see F1, even under new ownership, revert to finding ways to stay in the headlines.
The team members of the Mercedes pit crew being held hostage is not earth-shattering news as, pointed out by the world champion himself, it seems to happen every year. However, Hamilton is correct in asserting that more needs to be done to protect all those participating in the race weekend.
To heighten the disparity it is also intriguing that no one appears to be calling for the termination of this country as a racing venue, despite it historically being the most problematic race on the calendar.
Of course, Hamilton can always escape trouble on his private jet; the red Bombardier Challenger, that made the news this week. It was the financial arrangements behind it that helped Britain’s most successful driver to legally avoid millions of pounds in taxation!
In an effort to maintain the competitiveness of the racing the F1 hierarchy has returned to discussing one of its two favourite subjects. With the saga concerning tyre degradation and manageability now seemingly having been resolved the arguments concerning engines have resurfaced.
Besides the spat between McLaren and Honda having been resolved with an agreement reached that the outfit will switch to Renault, this has left the French engine supplier facing suggestions from Torro Rosso, an existing customer, that something is wrong with their engines. That does not bode well for Alonso who is desperate to find a competitive race seat.
Of greater concern throughout the paddock this week has been new proposals drawn up by Ross Brawn on behalf of the sport’s owners, the Formula One Group, in association with governing body, the FIA.
The proposal by FIA and F1 is to retain the current engine architecture of a 1.6-litre V6 turbo hybrid but simplify it by removing the most complex part of the hybrid system - the so-called MGU-H, which recovers energy from the turbo - and impose restrictions on a number of parts.
The intent is to make the engines cheaper and louder and, therefore, more attractive for new engine suppliers and fans.
Companies such as Cosworth and Ilmor, which have supplied F1 in the past, welcomed the possible changes although still acknowledged that they would require additional financial assistance.
However, the reaction from existing suppliers was not so favourable with Mercedes and Renault both expressing concern that the changes would require them to completely redesign new power units at considerable expense.
This would also draw F1 away from a previously stated aim to develop technology that could be transferred to road cars and ultimately make them as efficient as possible.
Of course, the one key component that is common throughout any discussion is that of money.
How can F1 achieve greater parity between the teams? Central to this is the historical annual payment of $68m made to Ferrari in recognition of their value to the F1 brand and continuous longevity in the sport. Ferrari are the only team to have been present in every world championship since the first race in 1950, although they have threatened to quit the sport at regular intervals.
Williams chief technical officer, the well respected Paddy Lowe, complained that there are effectively two different events being witnessed every race weekend. He argued that you can tweak the regulations all you like, but if you don’t allow teams to compete on a more level playing field then there will always be huge gaps.
The success in driving the F1 brand and generating income for the sport is now threatening to divide it and alienate its supporters.
While it can be acknowledged that tighter racing is always preferable, F1 has always done well at creating its own drama that keeps it in the news and fans happy. However, that’s not the real issue – it is not the historic fans that are the main worry, rather the ability to drive F1 into a new era and attract new ones.