How Sebastian Vettel lost the race (Bahrain Grand Prix start analysis)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

The Bahrain Grand Prix got off to a hectic start
The Bahrain Grand Prix got off to a hectic start

Before the Bahrain Grand Prix started Sebastian Vettel was favourite to win – with 64% of us on the live blog picking him to come home first.

But his chances evaporated in a frantic first lap where he slipped from third to fifth behind Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton. Here’s how the first lap unfolded:

Bahrian Grand Prix lap one position change (click to enlarge)
Bahrian Grand Prix lap one position change (click to enlarge)

Three of the best starts belonged to KERS-powered cars: Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen and Nelson Piquet Jnr. Fernando Alonso might have done better had he not been squeezed off the track on the run towards turn one.

Button, crucially, pounced on Vettel while the Red Bull driver was being passed by Hamilton. Vettel was pinched between Hamilton and Button at turn one and had to back off. He made a stab at re-passing Button on the run towards turn four but there was no way through.

That was the first moment that cost Vettel the race – the second came on the following lap when Button scrambled by Hamilton – but Vettel wasn’t able to replicate the move.

Raikkonen had made up five places at the start but was passed by Rubens Barrichello halfway around the first lap. Similarly Hamilton briefly got ahead of Jarno Trulli for second but couldn’t keep the Toyota behind.

Both the BMWs broke the right hand sides of their front wings on the first lap, and as they dropped back they held up a string of other cars and allowed Mark Webber to make some useful progress from 18th.

51 comments on “How Sebastian Vettel lost the race (Bahrain Grand Prix start analysis)”

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  1. The biggest problem for Vettel and Red Bull is that the Brawns so far have been consistant, and reliable. Button has had three victories and a third place, consistency that, if it continues, is without doubt
    championship form.
    Red Bull need to score maximum points, with the Brawns having a couple of DNFs, in order to get their noses infront.
    I recall Renault at the beginning of 2006, scoring a huge points haul at the start of the season which gave Fernando Alonso a huge advantage. Even though Michael
    Schumacher and Ferrari stormed back to the front towards the end, it wasn’t enough to stop Renault and Alonso.
    Its certainly not impossible, but the Brawn cars are
    without question the most robust and reliable machines on the 2009 grid.
    What struck me the most, not being a particular fan of KERS, was the lack of overtaking once the race settled down from the opening five or so laps. To be brutally honest, I ‘HATE’ KERS and any device that deflects from the drivers’ skills behind the wheel.
    Call me old fashioned, but the battle between Piquet Jnr and Barrichello showed the usage of KERS to devastating effect. Also with some drivers running KERS and others not, how can we deduce who ‘really’ performed better during the race.
    Anyhow, a couple of drivers today notably had horrible races. Felipe Massa was one offender, the biggest for me hands down was Heikki Kovalainen.
    I have savaged Piquet Jnr in recent weeks for his poor performances, but Kovalainen’s performance today was
    beyond embarrassing.
    We all no that the 2009 McLaren is a dog, but the difference between Hamilton’s drive and Heikki’s to me showed a lack of desire rather than a lack of talent on Kovalainen’s part.
    I like to see drivers giving their all, and I don’t see it in Kovalainen. Piquet Jnr, probably with Briatore burning his eardrums on the radio, drove his best race since last years German Grands Prix. He showed determination and spirit, something Heikki did not!
    As for BMW Sauber, I am speechless. I had them pegged as potential constructors champions this year, with Robert Kubica as a potential drivers champion. Their lack of performance is certainly more eyebrow raising than McLaren’s or Ferrari’s. Atleast they have to excuse
    of last years bitter title race to fall back on.

  2. I personally thought that vettel was not pushing enough. He seemed like he was happy to sit behind Trulli and conserve his machine while his target was on Prime tyres. I was rooting for him to pass Trulli and chase down Jenson for a grandstand finish.

    Maybe he was managing his race? He was probably happy to get the 8 points. Red Bull are confident they can mount a serious title push this year, and Bahrain was proof that they would rather manage their engines, not tax it too much in the very demanding heat and dust.

    Things may have been different if he had got a better start. If he was third going into the first corner, he would have picked up the win..I’m quite sure of that.

    On another note. Good drive by Lewis. His car seems to be getting better. Kimi was brilliant for me, he drove a great race, pity what happened to Massa. Ruebens may be a tad disappointed, and Glock too has every reason to be upset. Fernando Alonso managed to wrestle his truck into the points again, the Renault did show some pace early on, but never quite enough. Hopefully Catalunya would prove to be a better race for them, especially with Fernando in from of his home crowd.

    Disappointing race for the BMWs and Heikki in particular. I’ve always had a soft spot for Heikki, but I think its wearing thin, he needs to pick up his performance this season. Does anyone know if he has the same new bits on his car that Hamilton got?

  3. interesting comments about vettel holding out and not overtaking on more than one occasion BBC took crossovers from the pits telling drivers when the guy in front was pitting no point to have a go if he’s coming in the next couple.I only saw one massive dive and that was by rubens as for brawn reliability at the moment they are running out front in clean air maybe when there buried in a pack and having to stress the engine and gear box we could see reliability rear it’s ugly head.On running close I dont think they can Brundle made the comment in the commentary “they’re running closer but still not close enough” even glock never had a real go at kimi in the first laps when they were close he didn’t send a hail mary down the inside. Remember lewis last year he had a reputation for it and never flinched yet jenson telegraghed his move and lewis waved him threw Ithink they are so scared of damaging the front wing they just don’t bother live another for the kers they say now that there are circuit’s that suit it others that don’t but they haven’t got there head’s around it yet so if they figure out how to run it on the unsuitable circuit’s what’s going to happen at monaco our hungary if the first three row’s are filled with kers cars what’s the point of anyone else turning up.

    1. I like to think Jenson got past Lewis on merit alone. Lewis as any F1 driver doesn’t like to be passed.
      On second thoughts though it was possibly a practical decision to not fight the pass. Lewis knowing maybe that keeping Jenson behind would compromise his full race. Possibly taking too much away from his tyres in the long run which would ultimately have Jenson getting past anyway.
      Normally I would have expected Lewis to hold the defensive line on entry to the 1st corner, but he jinked hard left back onto the normal racing line, as if almost opening the door for Jenson to go up the inside.
      Just a thought.

    2. Button had the corner at that time. If Hamilton tried to defend, his exit would have been compromised and he might have lost more positions to the guys behind Button.

      From the post race interviews, Hamilton was of the opinion that the Brawn was just so much faster and that he could follow Hamilton through all the corners. Probably not much sense in fighting a car that is so much faster and able to attack all the time. Again, defending the position would have cost him more than just letting Button go.

  4. What I found ridiculous was Vettel saying Hamilton just pressed his magic button, as if to imply he was cheating, to go past him. Redbull have an option of fitting KERS to their car, but choose not to do so. Vettel can have his magic button too and watch his car balance and rear tyres deteriorate.

    1. What I found ridiculous was Vettel saying Hamilton just pressed his magic button, as if to imply he was cheating, to go past him.

      I didn’t think he meant it that way. Or at least, I didn’t take it that way. To me, he was stating it in a good-natured way, smiling while he was doing so. He seems like a “good guy” to me, and I don’t sensed any malice in any of his interviews.

  5. I agree BMW are really disappointing, I just have a feeling they were depending too much on KERS and forgot they needed to design a car around it.

  6. Toyota have blamed their strategy for missing out on a win

    In 2004 when Button got his first pole and podiums with BAR Honda, despite having the second fastest car at the start of the season they didn’t manage to get a win yet both McLaren and Williams got wins later on in the season even though they started with relatively poor cars.

    I remember reading an article which said some other teams had done an analysis of Honda’s strategy decisions throughout the year and the conclusion had been if they had chosen the correct strategy they could have got a couple of wins.

  7. Thank you Rubens for your crazy driving, very exciting. All over the place but brilliant to watch,. I know people like to be seen liking the smooth drivers – ie Button but give me the rallycross guys anytime. A fantastic indian summer for a driver i never really thought got going during a slightly underperforming career. more please!

    1. In the end it’s the result that matters though.

  8. LH was the driver of the weekend – period! He beautifully extracted every ounce of performance out of that Mc even though it lacks the pace of the Brawns, Toyota’s and the Redbull. His performance was very brillant!

  9. “period” makes it sound like its a fact. So he couldnt make an overtake sti on trulli, he easily got done by Button and he made up one place because Glock went backwards. hmmm, doesnt excite me.

    If i had to choose in car views and watch it again id choose Rubens or Webber.

    1. Is Nelson Piquet your favourite driver? He seems to be involved in a lot of incidents and oversteer moments.

      The fact that your even talking about Hamilton almost overtaking Trulli in the race I think tells you all you need to know about his weekend.

  10. @Chua, I wasn’t implying he said it with any malice. I’m just stating that Redbull have KERS ready to run but choose not to run it. So Vettel can have his magic button too.

  11. “favourite driver” what are you, 12?

    Lewis might well have been outperforming the car but that didnt make it particularly dynamic to watch. btw as a Brit i leapt out of my seat when Lewis won the WDC and i think hes the most talented driver of his generation it was just a fairly lacklustre performance to watch…but sure he outdrove the car. no disputing, look where heikke finished.

    Im sorry if i dont watch f1 like you do or like people watch football. i want to see good close racing, oversteer, slides, risks. whether its piquet on nakajima or Lewis on vettel.. i dont care.

    1. I don’t get how outdriving the car (which he didn’t he brought it home in one piece, tyres and all) can be called lacklustre?

      Lacklustre were Trulli & Glock – both perfectly poised to grab Toyotas 1st victory and both let it slip, in Trulli’s case – again! I figure if Lewis had been in either of these cars he would have taken the battle to Brawn and/or Red Bull and probably won.

  12. you dont know what outdriving means then but if you are right and he just brought it home then how is that outstandng?

    Then you use unprovable supposition to back up your claim!

    Anyway enough; i am of that view and nothing you have said makes me change my mind.

    1. What, and “Lewis might well have…” is provable supposition?

      It wasn’t for backup by the way, it was fuel for the fire of speculation. I thought that’s what we were doing here, enjoying some banter..?

  13. Is there anyone in any capacity in the Toyota team that has been involved in Grand Prix wins at some point in the past?

    As quick as Trulli can be he does not have a clue on how to win a race. Glock still a relative noob so…

  14. The Sri Lankan
    27th April 2009, 22:31

    one more note, they really stuffed it up when they didnt push to get alonso into the team. he wouldhave sweeped the floor with brawns and redbulls with that toyota. now i dont think there’s a driver of race winning calibre available to Toyota anymore

  15. Sadly I agree with Sean’s point above about the racing not really living up to what was promised (hoped?). We’ve criticised KERS for this, criticised the diffusers, but there’s one aspect of the cars that seems to have avoided criticism (in this post at least); the tyres.

    Vettel said in the post-race conference that he tried to attack Hamilton, first, and then Trulli for a few laps, then his tyres went off. This appears to be the case for others as well.

    Call me crazy, but why, at the pinnacle of motorsport, are the tyres that these guys run so fickle? Surely Bridgestone can create a tyre that is grippy and lasts more than three laps in the heat of battle?

    1. It’s worth pointing out that Bridgestone don’t have any competition. No real incentive to develop the best tyre for the job.

      It was different in the days we had Michelin, Pirelli etc. all vying to play the decisive role in a teams success.

      Another cost cutting measure too far?

      Saying that I think tyre management should play its part with drivers having a feel for their chosen tyre and how much they can push it versus how much to keep in reserve. They sort of do that with the engines as it is so another parameter they have to carefully monitor is to me the kind of challenge I expect the very best F1 drivers to make the most of.

  16. Bad luck for Vettel, he was not having a good start, goes down several positions at the beginning of the race. After the first pit stop round, he also “stuck” too long in the back of Trulli. Consequently, he only able to finis second behind Button.

    1. Personally I think this is nonsense. Key here is ‘goes down several positions…’.

      In order to win he needs to overcome this factor – anything else is gifting him the win (or a better position.)

      Stuck behind Trulli, I think “could not overtake Trulli” is a more apt way of describing this situation.
      Don’t get me wrong, Vettel is clearly one of the best drivers on the grid. But the whole package, driver, car + team is not quite there yet.

      Losing positions at the start and not being able to overtake will no longer be required as excuses…

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