By Neil Leverett
- Defending champion Lewis Hamilton looks to fight back in Sakhir
- Sebastian Vettel took early season lead down under in curtain-raiser a fortnight ago, finishing ahead of Briton
- Haas looking to convert impressive race form from Melbourne before double retirement
SAKHIR, BAHRAIN – Can Lewis Hamilton bounce back in Bahrain after Sebastian Vettel won the first race of the season in Australia a fortnight ago in Melbourne, or will another of Formula 1’s pretender’s stake their own claim to the World Drivers’ Championship?
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Hamilton looking for third win in Bahrain
Two weeks on from Sebastian Vettel’s victory in the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne in the season’s curtain-raiser, Lewis Hamilton will look to get an early dose of revenge at the Bahrain International Circuit, having finished second behind the German.
As defending World Drivers’ Champion, the Briton finished on the podium down under last month, as the sandwich-filler for Ferrari duo Vettel and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.
The Brit has already shown he has the form from pre-season testing and taking pole two weeks ago, but in previous campaigns Hamilton has struggled to get points on the board in the opening half of the season.
That was certainly the case last year winning just four races of ten, but the bigger issue was getting to grips with the Mercedes’ rather problematic mechanics.
Hamilton has not won in Bahrain since 2015, when the Stevenage driver took P1 also in qualifying. With his fastest lap in Melbourne in mind, if the Briton does lineup on the front row of the grid again on Sunday he could take some beating on what is a notoriously narrow track.
Could Raikkonen become spoiler this season?
Whilst many are sensibly tipping both Hamilton and Vettel to lock horns again for an historic fifth title this season, there stands a number of anomalies waiting to spoil the party.
The mild-mannered Finn Raikkonen has been in impressive early-season form to date, and his car is not far off the pace of his team-mate in the Italian red. Indeed in first practice he was third-fastest behind Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo.
There is of course a pecking order to be admonished in the Ferrari paddock, but as the 38-year-old sat in the post-race presser in Australia, Ferrari’s number two seemed like a contented man, almost as if he has accepted his role.
Or is this a master plan from the veteran? If the course of the season runs smoothly, Vettel will be the undoubtedly be the man to beat however, 11 years on from his first and only world crown, Raikkonen has the ability to yet be in the title picture should forks in the road appear.
Haas looking to build on promising start
As both Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen entered the pits in fourth and fifth respectively in Australia, Haas looked set for the best result yet in now their third season in F1.
Two botched wheel changes however, forced both drivers into immediate retirement and would no doubt have had team principal Gene Haas banging his head against a brick wall.
The North Carolinian-based team have courted controversy in pre-season for the use of car that bares the uncanny resemblance of the Ferrari SF70, with the Americans having entered a partnership with Ferrari, having bought parts from the Italian manufacturer at a price that has enabled the minnows to become competitive in recent months.
Whilst Haas’ methods have been deemed legal, the changes in fortune for the team have been eyebrow-raising. After their pit woes two weeks ago, there has been a re-shuffle in the crew so could this latest change prove pivotal this weekend and after impressing there, could either Grosjean or Magnussen challenge for a step on the podium?
The Bahrain Grand Prix takes place this weekend the 7th-8th April, with the race proper on Sunday at 4pm UK time
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