By Neil Leverett
- Round Two of the 2019 Formula season rolls into the Middle East, as Sakhir hosts the Bahrain Grand Prix
- Valtteri Bottas holds early Drivers’ Championship lead after 1-2 in Australia, ahead of the Mercedes teammate and defending champion Lewis Hamilton
- Ferrari and chasing pack seek immediate riposte, as Schumacher legend evolves with Mick Schumacher set for test drive
SAKHIR, BAHRAIN – After a McLaren-Mercedes procession in Melbourne, can the chasing pack respond or will Valtteri Bottas make it two from two in the new season?
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McLaren-Mercedes’ Melbourne marker
As the Formula 1 roadshow rolls into the Middle East this weekend, McLaren-Mercedes will look to build on their dream start to the 2019 campaign, having broken the Ferrari stronghold on Australia, finishing with a 1-2 at Albert Park in Melbourne a fortnight ago.
Britain’s Lewis Hamilton would have perhaps been the favourite to usurp Sebastian Vettel and Prancing Horse debutant Charles Leclerc as reigning two-year champion, but Valtteri Bottas had other ideas.
The Finn, who has played second fiddle to his more illustrious teammate Hamilton for the best part of two years now, pulled out a stunning drive after stuttering start from Vettel off the grid, to race away from the pack and finish ahead of the Briton Hamilton by over 20 seconds.
Mercedes’ marker could make for ominous signs after just one race, but could we now have a genuine title race not just across the paddock, but in particular within the Swiss team itself? Setting aside fears of another two-horse race for the World Drivers’ Championship once more, what will Sakhir hold this weekend?
Just like in Australia, Ferrari have won the previous two trips to Bahrain with Vettel coming out on top, but despite the Italian red boasting faster times and a more reliable engine, could Round Two be a case of history repeating itself?
Ferrari seek riposte
Indeed, after pre-season testing the hopes for Ferrari of a more consistent season with a better hope of taking the fight to Mercedes took an early hammer blow last time out. Those whispers that the Italian manufacturer could have been ‘holding something back’ for race day in Australia fell by the way side, which sees this weekend’s events as vital even at such an embryonic stage in the season.
Whilst both Ferrari finished off the podium – with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen sandwiched between the Mercedes duo – the debut drive of Leclerc would have been encouraging with just a second separating he and his Germanic number one. Two top five places was clearly short of Team Principal Mattia Binotto‘s hopes, but a consistent and even performance across the team may yet have raised a small eyebrow.
Again in Sakhir – like Melbourne – early signs have show exceeding promise for Team Ferrari. After first practice, both drivers were close to a second faster than both Hamilton and Bottas, with Leclerc clocking a time 0.263 of a second ahead of Vettel.
Having finished not just a second but a minute behind their constructor rivals two weeks ago, the signs will give more than a hint of hope for this weekend’s race but knowing that those same notions must convert to at the very least a top three finish.
Schumacher pearl waits in Bahrain wings
As the battle come race day will be as fevered as ever, once the pomp and ceremony has left Bahrain, perhaps the greatest step in F1’s evolving history will take place on Tuesday, as the legacy of Michael Schumacher returns to the track with the motorsport’s great’s son making his first test drive for Ferrari and also Alfa Romeo later this year in May.
As a third-generation Schumacher to drive in F1, 20-year-old Mick Schumacher takes his place in the driver’s seat for the first time. Making his debut in Formula 2 over the weekend, the German will then race for the Italian giant after the weekend.
Schumacher will no doubt have many eyes on him in Sakhir, but is staying humble.
As quoted by BBC Sport, Schumacher states:
“I am obviously more than excited and would like to thank Ferrari for giving me this opportunity. I am really looking forward to what I’m sure will be a great experience.
“But for the moment, I am consciously putting all thoughts of the test to one side, because I am also very much looking forward to competing in my first F2 race and would like to focus 100% on the weekend to come.”
Dad Michael won five of his record-breaking tally of world titles for Ferrari, and the vast majority of his all-time record 91 Grand Prix victories. The 50-year-old, who retired from F1 for a second time at the end of 2012, has not been seen in public since suffering severe brain injuries in a skiing accident in December 2013, but could now see his protege return his own legacy back to F1 in the very near future.
The 2019 Bahrain Grand Prix takes place in Sakhir, Bahrain, with race day on Sunday, start time 4.10pm UK time
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