Today was a real vindication of the decision taken last summer by Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali to stop development of the 2009 car and throw everything at the 2010 model.
The Ferrari was the best car overall this weekend in various conditions. It was quick on the single lap, quick on the soft tyre at the start of the race when the car was heavy and quick on the medium tyre in the second part of the race as the fuel load lightened.
The Red Bull may have been quicker in the soft tyre parts of that, but when the hard tyres went on Alonso looked ready to attack. Would he have got Sebastian Vettel had the Red Bull’s exhaust not failed? I asked Fernando that in the unilaterals room and he said that he was planning to attack in the closing stages and had measured his pace up to that point.
And that illustrates the difference between new style F1 and what we had up to last season. Patience is suddenly a real virtue in a Grand Prix driver, whereas before it was all about dividing a race into three short sprints.
Before we get carried away in negativity about the new style, we should remember that in the years prior to the re-introduction of refueling in 1994 the races were about being cagey, especially in the turbo era and Alain Prost made an art form of it.
It seems that Alonso has that ability too. He did not go after Vettel on the opening lap when the German opened up a two second lead, pushing his tyres hard. The Ferrari didn’t manage the supersoft tyres as well as the Red Bull and by lap 13 he was losing between half a second and a second per lap. So he pitted on lap 16, when he was five seconds adrift. By the time Vettel had made his stop and rejoined, Alonso had the gap back down to three seconds. He lowered that to two seconds and then started reeling Vettel in. It was at this point that Vettel’s spark plug failed and he started losing power.
“I had some pace in the pocket at that time of the race but I was concentrating on managing the tyres,” said Alonso. “We knew that we had to do 35 or 36 laps with the tyres. I was waiting the time to attack Vettel, maybe waiting for the last 10 or 12 laps. But suddenly he had a car problem and he was dropping and we had the chance to overtake him a little bit earlier than expected.”
The Ferrari had speed to spare on the hard tyre. Once past Vettel Alonso drove a measured pace with laps in the 1m 59s but then on lap 45 he suddenly threw in a 1m 58.287 – the fastest lap of the race by over a second.
Felipe Massa can be pleased that he has made a successful comeback from injury to finish second, as he said, his best start to an F1 season. He also had problems with overheating in his engine, which meant that he had to run it rich and that sent his fuel consumption figures up. The only way to manage that situation was to go slower, which he did once past Vettel.
I asked him in the TV interview what his engineer Rob Smedley had been looking at when he pointed to the car on the screen and then later leaned over the pit wall to inspect the car. Massa had no idea what I was talking about, but I checked with Smedley and he said that the telemetry was showing an sudden aero inbalance which led the team to believe that part of the floor had come away. He radioed Massa to ask if he could feel anything, but Massa said no.
Massa’s problems meant that he would not have beaten Alonso even if he had stayed ahead on the opening lap, but the fact that he didn’t is probably the most crucial “take home” for the Brazilian from this weekend.
He outqualified Alonso and was well aware that the start was critically important and yet he couldn’t hold him, as the Spaniard eased his way around the outside, which gave him the inside line for the next corner. It was a beautifully weighted move.
Moments like this are very significant. It is like the pass Hamilton made on Alonso into Turn 1 at Melbourne in 2007, on his debut he boldly passed his world champion team mate and that set the tone for the season to follow.
Here it is obvious that there is an intense competition between the two men and only one of them can win the title. Massa was slightly faster than Alonso until Sunday, but winning races is about more than being fast.
Massa can point to fuel consumption problems, but he knows that next time he will have to keep Alonso behind him.
BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX – SAKHIR CIRCUIT – 49 LAPS
1. Alonso Ferrari 1h39:20.396
2. Massa Ferrari + 16.099
3. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes + 23.182
4. Vettel Red Bull-Renault + 38.713
5. Rosberg Mercedes + 40.263
6. Schumacher Mercedes + 44.180
7. Button McLaren-Mercedes + 45.260
8. Webber Red Bull-Renault + 46.308
9. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes + 53.089
10. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth + 1:02.400
11. Kubica Renault + 1:09.093
12. Sutil Force India-Mercedes + 1:22.958
13. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 1:32.656
14. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth + 1 lap
15. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth + 1 lap
16. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari + 3 laps
17. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth + 3 laps