• Mar 14, 2010
Formula One Bahrain 2010 – Click above for high-res image gallery

And they're off, ladies and gentleman, at the first race of what is undoubtedly one of the most hotly anticipated seasons in Formula One racing history. And it's already living up to its promise.

In the off-season since the culmination of last year's championship, one former Ferrari world champion left the sport, and another returned. One major automaker acquired the reigning championship team, while another two pulled out of the sport entirely. Several new teams joined the grid, and some pivotal new technical regulations were put in place. That's quite a build-up, and it all comes down to this, the first grand prix of the year. Follow the jump to read how it unfolded.

While previous seasons have seen one or two teams start off as the favorite, this year's saw the emergence of several at the front of the grid. In one corner sat Ferrari, the winningest team in all of motorsport, eager to recuperate from a dismal last season and regain its winning form, with two top drivers – a recovered Felipe Massa and two-time world champion Fernando Alonso – taking the wheel. In another corner sat arch-rival McLaren, which fought a valiant campaign last season and which arrived on the grid this season with a dream team of the two reigning world champions, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. Meanwhile the Brawn GP team that eclipsed all others with both titles last season was acquired by Mercedes-Benz, erstwhile and longtime partner of McLaren, bringing Michael Schumacher – the most successful driver in the sport's history – back out of retirement to partner with the rising young talent of Nico Rosberg in an effort to defend its titles. Those are some formidable adversaries, but even amidst such stiff competition, Red Bull – which has progressed steadily since its formation in 2005 and which posed the only serious threat to the Brawn/Mercedes domination last season – was identified for this season as a force to be reckoned with as young gun Sebastian Vettel and veteran Mark Webber taking the reins.

Against the backdrop of such promise of heavy competition, the circus rolled in to the Gulf emirate of Bahrain this weekend for the first round of the season. And sure enough, by the end of Saturday's hotly contested qualifying session, it was these four teams that took the top slots on the starting grid. But perhaps most surprisingly of all, it wasn't any of the four returning world champions driving for world champion teams that took pole position: it was Vettel.

And so the young German proceeded to upset the competition – including his mentor Schumacher with whom Vettel has won the Nations Cup at the Race of Champions the past three years running – for much of the race distance. In fact, while the champions and would-be champions fought tooth and nail jockeying for position over the opening laps, Vettel's lead continued to grow, setting fast lap after fastest lap, as he looked destined to upset his elders and claim the checkered flag.

Behind Vettel's Renault-powered Red Bull RB6 on the grid lined up a procession of some of the most talented and successful drivers of the sport's modern history: the Ferrari duo of Massa and Alonso took second and third positions, McLaren's Hamilton in fourth, Mercedes GP's Rosberg in a surprising fifth, Vettel's wingman Webber in sixth, and Michael Schumacher – in an incidental mirror of his very first grand prix – qualified seventh, while defending champion Button placed eighth on the grid.

The rest of the field followed rather predictably, with the established midfield teams – Renault, Force India, Williams, Sauber and Toro Rosso – filling the positions ahead of the Cosworth-powered newcomers Virgin, Lotus and HRT (Hispania Racing Team, formerly known as Campos Meta).

Into the first corner, Vettel held on to his lead, Alonso edged past Massa and the rest of the order followed in course. Lotus' Heikki Kovalainen (axed from McLaren to make room for Button) impressively jumped from 21st on the grid to 16th, while Robert Kubica – fresh in his seat at Renault – fell from 9th to 21st.

And so the opening laps of the race unfolded, with the leading teams running on the softest tires and most of the rest of the field on the longer-lasting hard compounds, until the leaders began to pit on laps 15 through 18. This season saw the elimination of mid-race refueling, so the pit stops were incredibly short: in, up, tires, down and back out on the track. While his rivals headed into pit lane for fresh rubber, Vettel stayed out to reel off some fast laps. By the time the race leaders had swapped for the harder tires that would have to last them the rest of the race, Vettel retained his lead. Alonso remained ahead of Massa. Hamilton passed Rosberg for fourth position, and both Schumacher and Button had squeezed by Webber to round out the top eight.

Over the course of the race distance, an astonishing eight drivers failed to finish. HRT's Karun Chandhok retired on his very first grand prix lap, with Virgin's rookie Lucas di Grassi – a top finisher in the lower formulae – joining him on pit wall one lap later. Kamui Kobayashi – who impressed on his debut for Toyota last year – succumbed to failed hydraulics in his Sauber by lap 11, followed by Renault rookie Vitaly Petrov (L13), Virgin's Timo Glock (L16), HRT's prodigal Bruno Senna (L17), and the veteran McLaren tester now driving for Sauber, Pedro de la Rosa, on lap 28. Jarno Trulli, a podium finisher and front-runner last season with Toyota, ran at the back of the field in his Lotus T127, only to peter out just before the finish line.

While the back of the field retired to the pit wall, the front of the field continued to open up its lead ahead of the rest. Specifically the top three – Vettel, Alonso and Massa – stayed well clear of the competition, with Hamilton lingering behind but well ahead of Rosberg and Schumacher who ran close together ahead of a feuding Button and Webber.

That seasoned Australian looked to be in serious trouble at the start of the race, when after the first corner a large cloud of smoke emerged from the back of his car. Were it not for the regulations limiting the number of engines used over the course of the season, Webber would have surely been called in to the pits for an engine swap, but instead was strategically forced to stay out, and managed to hold on to eighth place after having qualified sixth. Not a bad show after what looked to be the end of his race, and while he may have remained trouble free for the remainder, the mechanical problems would catch up to his front-running team-mate before the day was through.

In the closing laps, Vettel's seemingly unassailable lead began to wane, and soon it became apparent that Sebastian's exhaust system was failing. And like a pack of predators hunting their prey, the pair of Ferraris began closing in until Alonso crept past the limping Red Bull on lap 34 (out of 49 total), with Massa following into second only seconds later past the start/finish line on the 35th lap. With Vettel "exhausted", Hamilton closed in and past his rival three laps later, but the young German managed to hold on to the finish ahead of his countrymen Rosberg and Schumacher.

Having run the whole distance close behind, the returning champion never did manage to get past his young wingman, even in the final ten laps as Rosberg, Schumacher, Button and Webber ran within precious few seconds of each other.

Crossing the finish line, Fernando Alonso claimed the checkered flag in his very first race for the Scuderia, repeating the same feat which Kimi Raikkonen accomplished upon his scarlet debut en route to the championship in 2007. And for his efforts was awarded 25 points in the championship standings under the new system.

Felipe Massa finished close behind in second, never having managed to regain the position he lost to Alonso in the first corner of the opening lap. That got him 18 points in the standings, and completed a Ferrari 1-2 while demonstrating once again that a driver's number one rival is his team-mate.

Hamilton completed the podium with a solid third place finish, good for 15 points. The remaining score went to an assuredly disappointed Vettel (4th place, 12 points), Rosberg (5th/10 pts), Schumacher (6th/8), Button (7th/6), Webber (8th/4), an impressive performance by Force India's Tonio Liuzzi (9th/2) and last year's runner-up Rubens Barrichello, now at Williams (10th/1).

In the constructors' standings, Ferrari leaves Bahrain with a solid 43 points, ahead of McLaren's 21, Mercedes GP's 18, Red Bull's 16, Force India's 2 and Williams' 1.

There's still a massive eighteen rounds to go in this year's championship, so extrapolating how the rest will unfold is entirely premature. But if we get to see this kind of racing through the end of the season – back in the emirates for the closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – in November, you can bet this is going to be a season to remember.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      "a dream team of the two reigning world champions, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button."

      • 4 Years Ago
      My interest was slightly down in the race once Kubica was carted to the back and had to fight all day, but it didnt change the fact that overall it was a relatively boring race, there was very little passing other then when Vettel lost power. I am not sure what they can do about it tho the rules are so messed up now, all the excitment from not having the pits matter didnt come out thats for sure, maybe on a track that has more passing opportunity's it might make a differance but all the drivers did was baby their tires 80% of the race anyways. I'm a huge F1 fan but this race was terrible. And better luck to the new teams in the next race!
      • 4 Years Ago
      and hey if there looking too come back to the USA why don't they have a exhibition first at Daytona international speedway and run the course like Grand-Am that would draw a lot of people and especial since its in Florida which would be a huge market for F1. it would be interesting.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The race was a bit boring for sure. Vettel's bad luck continues... poor guy can't catch a break. Would've liked to see if Hamilton's MP4-25 could've stayed closer to the front runners but he was stuck behind a much slower Rosberg after being squeezed by Massa. I think the no refueling rule plus the mandatory running of both tire compounds is gonna lead to boring races, since most runners will probably opt to go the distance on the hard tires after the first stop. I'm hoping it'll be much different on the more exciting tracks like Monza, Suzuka & Spa though.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Vettel could have easily won the championship last year, but those damn Renault engines kept failing, now it's starting again.
        • 4 Years Ago
        To be honest, I don't think Vettel has it that bad... Especially when you consider Webber's entire career, most recently, 2008.
      • 4 Years Ago

      That whole event is a failure. They have almost no spectators in attendance. The track is poorly designed for passing (not enough low speed sections). This event is by and for the wealthiest of the wealthy to schmooze and that is all. I'm suprised they even have TV cameras there.
      • 4 Years Ago
      One day, someone will realize that you have to take away aerodynamic aids to improve the racing. Take away the electronics too. Give them massive HP, massive slicks, and no wings. Think of a modernized mid 60's Formula 1 car with a 5 liter limit, sequential manual gearbox (you actually have to work the clutch), no electronics other than fuel/engine management. Essentially, you would have huge slicks versus about 1000 HP and a vehicle around 1200lbs with no aero or electronic aids. I think this formula would sort out the men from the boys. For the record, I fell asleep after the first pit stops.
        • 4 Years Ago
        ohhh yea i like that idea but just like those who complain about NASCAR they would also say that F1 would be turning into a dinosaur of a sport if that happened.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I hoped this year would be different but, this was another F1 parade. On a positive not WRC highlights are on HDnet tonight.
      • 4 Years Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      I love F1 to bits, and wouldn't miss a single race, but I think the new 'no refueling' rule is going to kill an extraordinary season !!

      Given how close the times of the entire field is, how is taking away fuel-strategy and its implications on the time in the pits going to make the races anything but a procession? With 2-5 second long tire changes in the pits and at best 1-2 pit stops in a normal race, how are the races not going to be anything but a procession?

      I am very disappointed with this race and what the 'no-fueling' rule portends for the rest of the season. :( Vettel was absolutely right in predicting the race was going to be boring.

      I would like to see the no-refueling rule scrapped next season, or make it mandatory to make 2-3 trips to the pits so that there is an element of strategy involved in spacing the pit stops rather than just string a Conga Line from start to finish.
      • 4 Years Ago
      For me, it's never boring to watch 800 hp carbon fiber, open wheel cars competing in a grand prix style event. So to those who continue to say F1 is boring, I ask, boring as compared with what exactly?

      NASCAR is extraordinarily boring. Yes they trade positions back and forth but who wins is almost as much about luck and fuel strategy as it is anything else.

      LeMans is very cool but the races are also very long and teams definitely work their strategies to pass in the pits as much as possible.

      So to all those who allege it is too boring for you, what do you consider exciting?

      Now, that all aside, the FIA has been extraordinarily inconsistent. They say they wanted to make passing on track more possible, but then last year they allow a loophole in the rules to allow for the trick rear diffusers which create more turbulence behind the cars, thereby undoing all that they gained in that regard through the other rule changes.

      There are too many specifications. They need to just focus on eliminating turbulence and try to loosen the formula up from there so that teams can be free to innovate more.

      Also, given the reality of how heavily aerodynamics play into the success of a Formula 1 car, I am surprised any automaker participates except exotic manufacturers. Developing a modern F1 car has more in common with the development process of a single seat jet fighter than it does an automobile. I'm surprised you don't see more sponsorships coming from the aerospace and technology sectors as opposed to automakers, banks, tire makers, etc.
        • 4 Years Ago
        lol why rip on nascar,le'mans. ohh yea thats right THEIR EXCITING compared to F1 from last year(i wont say if F1 this year is wack too because its just been 1 race)

        but last year nascar,alms,lms,wrc,wtcc,btcc,AV8(Australian V8 super cars) were all wayyy better then F1(and they have been for a couple of years)

        so far ive have seen the daytona 500, the AV8 in abu-Dahbi in those races were EXCITING this was just a parade. F1 needs to step up and give their fans what they want. i believe, the less the turbulence created the better. thats why i like the idea of channel as much air as possible towards the ground so they eliminate air from interfering with the car behind it. and that may even help the car behind it rolling more concentrated air over the wings on the front giving it more downforce to catch up to the car in-front of it therfore creating better racing. thats all as far as i know havent been proved but they should test it.
      • 4 Years Ago
      16 seconds up on 2nd place and 23 seconds over 3rd. Vettel was ONLY 39 seconds back. If Alonso had taken a power-nap, who knows what might have happened.

      NASCAR needs stats like that!

      Sorry, y'all. Couldn't resist.

      (I would have watched it, honestly, but I don't have Speed)
      • 4 Years Ago
      The race was slightly dull after the pit stops were completed but this was surely a consequence of the cars rather than the regulation changes. The FIA should have banned "double diffusers" last year and we wouldn't be in this mess now.

      Also, I'd love to see them remove the rule which states they must run both compounds of tyre. If they did this then there would be potential for drivers to make 0 stops during the race, but of course they'd get to the end and have a massive chasing pack behind them. That would be exciting.
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