F1 Business Diary 2016: the Bahrain Grand Prix

Another Mercedes one-two in Bahrain, where the German team and unpopular qualifying rules continue to dominate the sport.

The excellent form of Nico Rosberg continued at the magnificent floodlit race at Bahrain, which extended his stretch of unbroken victories to five. The race weekend followed a similar pattern to the previous one in Australia – Lewis Hamilton qualified on pole but after an opening lap error, which was capitalised on by championship leader Rosberg, it was the German that took home the 25 points.

‘I can’t get no satisfaction’

Bernie Ecclestone recently described Formula One as being “like the Rolling Stones without Jagger”. This weekend did nothing to dispel that.  

Along with a perception that money is ruling the roost in terms of decision making, the brand has staled a little of late with Mercedes’ total formulaic dominance of the last two seasons. 

Formula One’s dynamic duo, FIA president Jean Todt and  Ecclestone, have unsuccessfully attempted to shake up the grid by instigating a controversial new qualifying system. Far from increasing the excitement and changing the faces of the winners, the Teutonic Mercedes have filled the front of the grid and won both of this year’s races – as they have for 19 of the last 24 races.  

It is no exaggeration to say that the new system, which has routinely seen cars sat in their garages and the racetrack completely empty for the final minutes of Q3, is equally scorned by drivers, fans, and team principals alike. Farcically, and despite pleas to return to 2015’s more orthodox format, a meeting to send the plans back to the drawing board succeeded only in gaining agreement as to the date of another meeting. 

Ecclestone, who admitted to a few teething problems in Australia, is now enthusiastic in his praise for the system – saying that he “loved” the qualifying in Bahrain. 

The FIA, Formula One Management and Pirelli couldn’t find an agreement ahead of Bahrain and will apparently put two options to a vote in the coming days – stick with the current format or adopt a modified adaption of it. This fine-tuned version will apparently keep the existing Q1 and Q2 but the final qualifying round will return to the 2015 structure.

For the sake of the once lofty reputation of Formula One, one hopes a solution is put in place before China, in two weeks’ time. 

Will Haas’ excellence create green eyed monsters? 

Apart from the usual banqueters at Formula One’s top table, one of the most heartening sights has been Haas’ tremendous start to the season. Romain Grosjean’s excellent drive to finish fifth – which builds on his sixth place in Melbourne – has placed the Frenchman in fifth position in the drivers’ standings.

Unfortunately Mexican Esteban Gutierrez s is yet to trouble the scorers but the American outfit are fifth in the constructors' standings.

An outwardly content Grosjean, who many believed was committing career suicide by moving to the untried team, crowed after the race, “It was fun to be able to overtake Williams, Toro Rosso, Red Bull and have some good battles. It's an amazing performance for all of us. Sixth in Australia was a bit of luck but fifth today with a normal race, this is quite crazy. ”  

The longer the teams’ Ferrari-supplied VF16 engine allows Haas to pass the cars that Grosjean listed, there may be more questions about their legitimacy as a constructor – especially whilst they rely so heavily on Ferrari for as many parts as possible. There is no question to say that they aren’t playing well within the rules but as Ollie Barstow points out on crash.net, ‘interestingly, from the back-slapping of the opening race, there was a touch more bitterness to be found when discussing Haas amongst some rivals come Bahrain’.

The Ferrari-powered Haas, the first American-led team in Formula One since 1986, have a close relationship the Italian constructor and will hope to be scoring regular points with their help. Team principal Guenther Steiner believes that this is a distinct possibility. “I don't think we can go for fifth every time, that's a little bit high,” he said post-Bahrain, “but I think we will try for points every time.” 

Hamilton is a Snap-prat 

Three-time world champion and part-time fashionista Lewis Hamilton arrived on Sunday morning looking regal in a traditional Bahraini ‘thobe and ghutra’ outfit with the president of the Bahrain Motor Federation, Sheikh Abdulla bin Isa Al Khalifa.

However, Hamilton’s weekend, which began excellently when he posted the fastest ever lap  at Bahrain, 1:29.493, to achieve his 50th career pole, went downhill on the first corner on race day and it could be bookended with a large fine. 

Hamilton, a prolific social media user, has of late got into the habit of using the photo sharing app 'Snapchat' to offer his legions of fans behind the scenes videos over the race weekend.   

The 'Snapchat' video summary posted by Hamilton on Friday shows him arriving at the track, walking in the paddock and inside the team garage and caused an irate Ecclestone to contact Mercedes. 

“The team got a message and told me to stop,” said Hamilton in Bahrain. “You have to pay money for that and I accept that.”

However, his apology appears to have been mere lip-service as, according to the Sun and the Mirror, Hamilton’s very next move was to whip out his phone and begin filming himself in the paddock again.


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