After seeing Sebastian Vettel snatch victory from his grasp in Australia, Lewis Hamilton will be keen to secure his first win of the nascent 2018 Formula One season at this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix (Race: 11:10am ET Sunday).
Hamilton led from pole position in Melbourne and held a comfortable position at the head of the field before the introduction of a virtual safety car provided Vettel with the opportunity to nip into the pits and re-emerge ahead. From there, the Ferrari driver held on for the win.
Kimi Raikkonen came home third in the other Ferrari, while Valtteri Bottas came through from 15th on the grid to finish eighth in the other Mercedes. The latter’s inability to make further progress had more to do with the difficulty of overtaking at the Melbourne circuit than a lack of pace in the Mercedes, which still looks the fastest of this year’s cars.
The manner in which Hamilton dominated qualifying at least gave clear notice that his and Mercedes’ advantage in qualifying remains intact. The sports betting websites have also quickly cottoned on to this, reducing the odds to a level that makes it difficult to suggest backing him for pole position on Saturday as a genuine tip, although the likelihood is that he will get it.
The race win market is also a difficult one to call. Vettel secured victory last year after twice previously doing so during his time with Red Bull, while Hamilton also has two wins at the Bahrain International Circuit to his credit but hasn’t always showed the best race pace there.
The podium-finish market could therefore provide the best opportunity towards the front of the field. Red Bull showed decent pace in Australia, with Daniel Ricciardo coming home fourth and Max Verstappen sixth, and they will hope to be in the hunt for a top-three finish on Sunday.
Ricciardo has qualified and finished ahead of his teammate at the time in each of the last four Bahrain Grand Prix, and while he is yet to secure a podium finish at the event, finishes of fourth, sixth, fourth and fifth in that time show that he has always been close to the ultimate pace on race day. This weekend may finally be his time to take the step up into the top three.
Fernando Alonso’s fifth-place finish in Australia provided McLaren with their best season-opening result since 2014 and also matched the best finish they achieved throughout their three-year partnership with Honda. It was their first Grand Prix with Renault power behind them and a positive weekend was capped off by Stoffel Vandoorne coming home in ninth.
It wasn’t all rosy. McLaren’s qualifying pace was far from stellar, with both cars failing to reach the final stage of the qualifying, while Alonso’s result would not have been as impressive had Haas not suffered a double retirement due to wheel gun issues. But the improvement over previous years was evident.
Alonso is confident that the McLaren-Renault package will only get stronger over the course of the coming races, and the team’s tyre choice for Bahrain suggests they are ready to take an aggressive approach this weekend. Whereas most teams have opted for seven or eight sets of the supersoft compound per driver, McLaren have chosen to go for nine.
The team will seek to compete for another top-six finish on Sunday, and if any of the top three teams encounter problems, Alonso will be ready and waiting to take advantage.
At the Australian Grand Prix, Renault secured their first double-points finish since their return to the sport as a manufacturer team in 2016. Nico Hulkenberg ended the race in seventh, while his teammate Carlos Sainz overcame sickness issues to finish 10th. It was a solid start to the season and one the team will hope to build on this weekend.
There seemed to be decent pace in their package, while after the reliability issues suffered by Renault power units last year, heart could also be taken from the fact that all six Renault-engined cars not only made it to the finish in Australia but also finished in the points.
Hulkenberg has produced some good drives at Bahrain in the past, including one to finish ninth last season, and while Sainz has been forced to retire from each of his three previous races at the circuit, he has generally shown himself to be a reliable finisher during his three years in Formula One to date. Another double points finish should be within Renault’s capabilities on Sunday.