Power Ranking the F1 Teams After 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix
The 2014 Bahrain Grand Prix was one of the best races of the last 20 years.
Lewis Hamilton won after a nail-biting duel with teammate Nico Rosberg. The two men almost touched on numerous occasions as Mercedes once more proved they're the team to beat.
The fighting down the field was no less spectacular. Red Bull, Force India, McLaren, Williams and Ferrari provided us with exciting battles for every points-paying position.
And towards the rear, Marussia took the upper hand in their perennial dust-up with Caterham.
Looking at reliability, single lap and race pace, here's how the teams currently rank.
Kamui Kobayashi showed some promising pace in Malaysia, but at the Bahrain circuit—a track which rewards a good engine—he and Caterham returned to the rear of the field.
The signs all was not well could be seen as early as free practice, and in qualifying, Kobayashi and Marcus Ericsson could only manage 19th and 21st, respectively.
Once the race got going, Ericsson retired around the midway point with an oil leak.
Kobayashi made it to the end, but it must be a concern that he needed to save fuel after the safety car, when everyone else seemed to have plenty in reserve. The Japanese dropped way back to finish almost half a minute down on Max Chilton's Marussia.
The slow and relatively unreliable combination keeps Caterham in last.
Marussia are in familiar surroundings too.
Jules Bianchi, the man Marussia expect to lead their charge, is having a nightmare start to 2014. He was several laps down before he even got going in Australia, then retired from the Malaysian Grand Prix with a braking issue.
And in Bahrain he proved bad things happen in threes. A clash with Adrian Sutil left his car damaged, and he came home a lap down on everyone else.
Max Chilton has finished all three races, and took the fight to Caterham admirably in Bahrain. Eventually he came out on top, and his 13th place returned Marussia to 10th in the constructors' championship.
The Caterham is probably quicker, but Marussia have greater reliability.
That just edges them ahead.
Sauber are hard at work producing a new, lighter version of the C33, and it can't arrive soon enough.
The current car just isn't fast enough.
Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil were less than half a second ahead of Kamui Kobayashi's Caterham in Q1. It got worse for Sutil when he was given a grid-drop penalty for blocking Romain Grosjean, and he started last.
The race wasn't kind to the German, either. An early tussle with Jules Bianchi resulted in damage to Sutil's car, and he retired after just 17 laps.
Gutierrez lasted until Lap 39, when his race was ended in spectacular fashion by Pastor Maldonado's ill-advised lunge.
The Mexican's car was sent into a barrel roll and damaged beyond repair, but Maldonado didn't cost him a lot—Gutierrez was nowhere near challenging for points.
Big improvements are needed if Sauber want to score on a regular basis.
Lotus had a wretched time on their last visit to Bahrain (for winter testing), but now seem to be making real progress.
The competitive weekend didn't start too well. Romain Grosjean only made it into Q2 by a whisker and started 16th, with Pastor Maldonado one place further back.
But, as was often the case in 2013, the Lotus came alive in the race. The two E22s were only a little bit slower than the Red Bulls on longer runs—with a better qualifying performance, they could have been in the mix for an outside shot at a point.
And most importantly, both cars finished.
With their reliability issues now seemingly conquered, Lotus can focus on developing the pace of their car.
Expect more substantial gains to follow over the course of the next few races.
7. Toro Rosso
Bahrain was always going to be difficult for Toro Rosso. Their Renault engine is down on power compared to the Mercedes, but unlike Red Bull, their chassis isn't good enough to make up for it.
Daniil Kvyat and Jean-Eric Vergne qualified exactly where we would have expected—together on the seventh row.
In the race, Vergne suffered damage on the opening lap after clashing with a Lotus. He fell to the back and, with little chance of a point, the team chose to retire his car.
Kvyat had a slightly better day, but lacked the pace to challenge for points. He spent most of the race lapping at around the same pace as the Lotus cars and came home in 11th.
Toro Rosso are seventh for now.
Fernando Alonso punched the air in "celebration" as he crossed the line to finish ninth, and that summed up Ferrari's weekend perfectly.
If things don't improve, it'll sum up their whole season.
Kimi Raikkonen qualified sixth, while Alonso struggled with a lack of power and could only set the 10th-fastest time. Over a single lap, Ferrari aren't bad.
But once the race got started, their greatest weakness became all too evident.
Ferrari badly lack straight-line speed, and it left them open to attack from behind. Between them, the Ferrari drivers were overtaken more than a dozen times by Red Bull, McLaren, Force India and Williams cars.
The F14T is a decent machine being let down by a lack of power. If the team can find more performance from the powertrain, Alonso and Raikkonen will fight for podiums.
If they can't, the back end of the top 10 is going to become very familiar territory indeed.
After such a promising start to the season in Australia, McLaren are slipping back into the pack.
Their pace in Bahrain was good, probably towards the front end of the "best of the rest" battle. Both cars qualified in the top 10, barely a tenth shy of the second row.
Kevin Magnussen made a poor start and spent most of the race fighting cars he should have been well clear of.
Jenson Button had a happier time of things. He looked after his tyres well, showed good pace and felt he could have challenged for the podium. He said on the team's website:
Only one team were demonstrably quicker than us today—Mercedes.
We were set for fifth place at worst and a podium finish at best, and that would have been a very positive outcome for all of us.
But both cars developed clutch problems towards the end of the race and were forced out.
It was the team's first double retirement since the 2005 United States Grand Prix, and will give them cause for concern.
This was supposed to be the race in which Williams finally showed the world what they could do.
And, to the disappointment of many, that's exactly what they did.
As early as practice, we could see they weren't going to be carrying the impressive pace from winter testing into the weekend. Instead of being the clear best of the rest, Williams looked to be in a tight battle with the Ferraris, Force Indias, McLarens and Red Bulls.
Qualifying followed the same pattern, but hope remained. Race simulation pace had been good during testing, so expectations were high that Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa would progress through the field.
But after a long race spent in the close company of Red Bull and Ferrari, in which they made one more stop than most of their rivals, the Williams duo came home seventh and eighth.
Better than last year, but the early promise is not being fulfilled. They edge McLaren on reliability alone.
3. Force India
Australia was disappointing for Force India, but Malaysia was better and Bahrain represented another step forward. They seem to finally be finding their rhythm and are getting the best out of the VJM07.
Nico Hulkenberg looked impressive during practice and was hotly tipped for a podium finish. But when it mattered, Sergio Perez was the man who stepped up, qualifying fifth to Hulkenberg's 12th.
Both men made good starts, and Hulkenberg demonstrated the car's major strength—straight-line speed—as he passed a string of rivals early on. He held fourth until Daniel Ricciardo got by a few laps from the end.
Perez had a less eventful but even more impressive race, taking the team's first podium of the year.
A good performance in China will cement their place as the top customer Mercedes team.
2. Red Bull
The Red Bulls started in unfamiliar surroundings. Sebastian Vettel blamed a downshift problem as he failed to make it out of Q2, while Daniel Ricciardo's impressive qualifying lap was wiped out by a 10-place grid penalty. He started 13th.
From there, they struggled to make an impact. Eventually Ricciardo made it up to fourth with a small assist from the safety car, while Vettel finished sixth.
Their main issue is straight-line speed, and it hurt them badly in Bahrain. Both drivers had difficulty getting past slower Mercedes-powered cars, even with the benefit of DRS.
On stop-start circuits with few quick corners, Red Bull don't look especially good.
But they still have the second-best car.
Maybe Ferrari and Co. will want to reassess their thoughts on what might make 2014 "more exciting" after this display.
Freed of fuel constraints after the safety car came in with 11 laps to go, the two Mercedes were simply awesome. An advantage of around a second a lap almost doubled as the Silver Arrows streaked away into the distance.
Lewis Hamilton finished 24 seconds clear of third-placed Sergio Perez. The gap between the leader and third would have been even greater had Nico Rosberg, on the quicker soft tyres, found a way past his teammate.
Fastest in every practice session, every part of qualifying and in the race. On Bahrain-like tracks, Mercedes could easily lap the field.
The clear No. 1 at this stage.