The second round of the 2019 Formula 1 season – the Bahrain Grand Prix – was held over the weekend amidst continued protests at F1’s refusal to acknowledge the island kingdom’s appalling human rights record; a regular occurrence since the 2011 event was cancelled over the excessive use of force by authorities and mistreatment of its citizens whilst in detention.
Protesters believe that the FIA’s own Statement of Commitment to Respect for Human Rights obliges it to act in the face of mounting evidence of Bahrain torturing and killing dissidents, but despite F1 being Bahrain’s primary vehicle for promotion on the world stage, F1 refuses to leverage the position of power it inherits and in doing so is complicit in the suffering of the Bahraini people.
And so the race goes on.
In FP1 and FP2 on Friday, Williams driver Robert Kubica bemoaned the fact that there seemed to be a unexplained but marked difference in the performance of his Williams FW42 and that of his team-mate George Russell that consistently left the Pole about a second a lap adrift of the Briton.
“Coming here we started in exactly the same configuration, both cars, and the characteristic was completely different again” said Kubica.
“The priority is to understand the reason why two cars are so different in behaviour.”
“but we are not understanding the reason.”
For anyone thinking it’s ‘kwaśne winogrona’ (Polish for sour grapes – yes friends, these are the lengths I go to, to deliver a compelling read for fellow Williams fans!), Russell himself acknowledge the difference in the two cars:
“If you looked at the data you’d presume we’re running different wing levels but we’re not.”
“Obviously yesterday it was working very much against him, who knows maybe today it worked in favour of him just because it’s so different.”
“It doesn’t mean his is incorrect and mine’s correct, just there is a difference there.”
FP1, FP2, FP3 and qualifying followed a familiar pattern for Williams in 2019 – Kubica last and Russell second last in all four sessions.
Come the race, both cars got away cleanly and following collisions ahead edged ahead of both Stroll and Sainz, but the two Williams’ drivers main battle, as expected, was with each other – a few nice clean overtakes keeping them interested in a race that largely passed them by.
A number of retirements mid-race meant George finished 15th, again one place ahead of his team-mate Kubica in 16th.
The Bahrain Grand Prix was another race where Williams F1 didn’t really seem to be involved. They were present, just on the periphery.
They’re not troubling anyone, they’re getting on with their own programme while the other teams concentrate on racing.
Throughout the weekend the gap between them and the next best car was just shy of the gap between the quickest car and P18, which is obviously very very bad.
If this is a necessary evil in order for the team to compete further down the line then I don’t have a problem with it.
However, this is quickly becoming the default position for Williams, and the more that hardens, the more difficult it’s going to be for them to return to competitiveness.
Elsewhere in the Grand Prix, it was a masterclass by Charles Leclerc in only his second race for Ferrari before engine maladies robbed him of a certain pole/fastest lap/win combo, the Monegasque driver eventually bringing his Ferrari home third.
Meanwhile it was another horror show for his (more experienced and four time world champion lest we forget!) team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who again threw away big points with a continued inability to race wheel-to-wheel, this time coming a cropper while being passed by eventual race winner Lewis Hamilton, spinning his car around 180 degrees, half a lap later losing his front wing in an incident that could have also taken out Williams’ George Russell who was alongside when Vettel’s Ferrari decided to part ways with its front end.
Lewis Hamilton lucked into the win, but his drive up to second was a strong one and like Brazil last year he’d carefully crafted his way into a position to profit from any misfortune that might strike ahead.
And strike it did to take the Englishman within a point of his team-mate Valtteri Bottas at the top of the table.
But the star of the show was Leclerc, and pundits and viewers – not known to agree on anything – were unanimous in the opinion that he’s going to have many more opportunities to stand on the top step of a Grand Prix podium in future.