Amidst the blistering heat of the desert kingdom, an interesting weekend is about to unfold. The big stories following from China were Pascal Wehrlein’s shape and form, Valterri Bottas’ performance, Fernando Alonso’s Indy500 announcement, and the team dynamics at the scarlet outfit. Ah and yes Mr.E’s arrival in the paddock.
On Wednesday Fernando held a press conference announcing his drive for the Indy500 race which will clash with Monaco GP. The Spaniard’s absence at the race in Monaco means Jenson Button will be substituting in his place. When asked in the FIA press conference on Thursday he said, Zak Brown being American was pushing for an Indy500 drive while Eric Boullier being French was pushing him to drive at Le Mans. The double World Champion’s frustrating stint at McLaren seems to have lead his team to pacify him in other ways, so that he doesn’t quit by the end of 2017. The issue highlighted the bigger problem within McLaren, trying to pacify Fernando to stay even if it means him missing a race for Indy500. The debate that has sparked post the announcement has been would it be safe for him to drive in the dangerous race or would a drive at the 24 hr Le Mans been better. A point highlighted was, had Zak Brown’s predecessor Ron Dennis been there, he would have not allowed participation in either event.
Pascal Wehrlein’s statements on his injuries have caused a stir in the pressroom over the German’s attitude. His form and fitness levels have been questioned as drivers in previous years have driven with cracked ribs (Webber/Alonso), or a pneumothorax (Alonso) or even worse. However the point made by some in the paddock is that either Sauber is not ready to reveal the extent of his injury, or even if he has recovered from it, his fitness levels are a question mark. A German journalist romped in saying he is the future Vettel, while a British one just wrote him off saying, his future is a doubt and we’ll know by the end of the season.
Similar to Pascal, another driver’s future in parody is Valtteri Bottas’ in Mercedes. If Bottas’ performance does not match Lewis’ by the end of the year, it might mean an Alonso and Lewis pairing for next year. However, the form of the Finn is questioned due to the number of mistakes made by him. With the best car, and reliable engine on the grid, he hasn’t been able to make full use of his opportunity at Mercedes, which brings us to the question whether he really has it in him to fight for a title with any team at all. Since its early days in F1, with a long season ahead, a neutral stance would be to wait and see, but his critics have started writing him off.
If it couldn’t heat up anymore at the desert circuit, adding heat to the paddock gossip has been Mr. E/ now Chief Emeritus, Bernie Ecclestone’s arrival in Bahrain today. The 87 year old former CEO of F1, arrived here on Thursday evening, and his arrival in the paddock meant a few hand grenades to be hurled at the sport, teams and the works. Known to make an entry he was seen sitting at Red Bull chatting with Niki Lauda for most of the practice session afternoons. An alarming statement he made was F1 should reduce race fees, a statement coming from the man who increased them to impossible rates in the first place. Grenade number 2 was at Alonso, saying if he owned the team, he would have not allowed the Spaniard to pull any Indy stunts till his contract end. Hmm, two grenades for the day, lets see how many more by Sunday. The funny sight was him walking in the paddock with an entourage of people, and followed by cameras to press while Chase Carey seemed to be walking alone, an ironic reversed twist to the scenario from Singapore GP last year (when Chase Carey made his first appearance).
The scarlet outfit’s renewed form might have made the season interesting but drama never leaves the Italian outfit. The non-stop media lockdowns, where their drivers are unavailable to answer the press, and the constant public statements from Ferrari CEO, Sergio Marchionne on Kimi’s form, have been the highlight of the weekend. With only two race weekends done out of 20, to question the Finnish World Champions form and make statements in public is premature and unfair to the outfits last WC. However, Bahrain being a race track that is KImi’s strongpoint, one can only hope the Finn manages zipping a few mouths with his performance. In free practice, if my commentary box friends’ statistics are correct, Kimi”s long run pace on the supersofts was impressive and better than the Mercs, which might put him in a sweet spot for Sunday.