The major surprise of the Bahrain Grand Prix was BMW’s effective eclipsing of McLaren Mercedes: far from running a bit light and then falling back in the race, BMW put up a strong pace and left the McLarens behind. Perhaps like McLaren managed in 1997, BMW could become semi-regular contenders for wins in the second half of the season.
But the dominance of Ferrari is complete, for the moment: could this year turn out to be like 2004, where the Ferraris were sufficiently strong to be the default winners, and it took a highly unusual combination of events, a small number of times in the season, for them to be beaten? If so, there is at least one consolation: unlike in 2004, Ferrari are allowing their drivers to race each other.
It’s worth reflecting just how remarkable Ferrari’s performances over the last then years have been: from 1997 they have been serious title contenders in every season bar one (2005). In 1997 and 1998, despite slow starts to each season, they took the title to the last round; in 1999 they would surely have won both titles were it not for Michael Schumacher’s broken leg; and more recent seasons do not need further comment. In that time, Williams, McLaren and Renault have come and gone as the main opposition.
But returning to today – had he not won in Australia, Lewis Hamilton would surely be getting a very rough ride by now. He seems to have struggled to adapt to the loss of traction control, and his role as team leader: to lose seven places off the start is diabolical. His win down under is making his problems less obvious.