Bahrain a Vet­tel-Hamil­ton show­down

CityPress - - Sport - MICHELLE FOS­TER sports@city­press.co.za

Un­der a set­ting sun in the hot desert air, Formula 1’s new­est bro­mance could ig­nite as Se­bas­tian Vet­tel and Lewis Hamil­ton bat­tle for top hon­ours at the Bahrain Grand Prix this af­ter­noon.

One race apiece and a run­ner-up re­sult each, Vet­tel and Hamil­ton are joint lead­ers in the stand­ings, with Vet­tel’s P1 postAus­tralia mak­ing him the first non-Mercedes cham­pi­onship leader since the in­tro­duc­tion of 1.6-litre V6 en­gines in 2014.

One of them, though, will prob­a­bly emerge as the sole leader later to­day in the Arab monar­chy.

A duel in the desert be­tween two of Formula 1’s great­est driv­ers is what ev­ery­one wants – the four-time world cham­pion Vet­tel tak­ing on triple win­ner Hamil­ton.

Even Hamil­ton, who has pretty much had it his own way in re­cent years – bar­ring Nico Ros­berg’s chal­lenge last year – is re­joic­ing in the tus­sle.

“Fer­rari are at their best in years, maybe in a decade,” he said in the buildup to Bahrain.

“We are at our best as a team, and I feel like I am at my best. The ul­ti­mate fighter al­ways wants to go into the best bat­tle that he can have be­cause then, when you come out on top, it is just so much more sat­is­fy­ing.”

How­ever, fans have yet to see a real bat­tle be­tween the two pro­tag­o­nists this sea­son. Vet­tel’s vic­tory in Aus­tralia was down to strat­egy, while Hamil­ton was helped in China by Fer­rari’s de­ci­sion to pit un­der the Vir­tual Safety Car, only for said safety car to ruin that strat­egy laps later.

Both driv­ers have shown in the past that they can tri­umph in Bahrain, hav­ing scored two wins each. But 19-year-old Dutch driver Max Ver­stap­pen could make it a three-way fight. And let us not dis­count their team-mates.

Although Valt­teri Bot­tas has failed to set the stage alight in his first two races for Mercedes – liv­ing up to the lack of hype around his sign­ing – Fer­rari’s Kimi Räikkö­nen and Red Bull’s Daniel Ric­cia­rdo both have some­thing to prove.

While Räikkö­nen’s start this year has not been marked by a place on the podium, his ef­forts – or, ac­cord­ing to Fer­rari, lack thereof – in China saw him roundly crit­i­cised. And Ric­cia­rdo had the du­bi­ous hon­our of be­ing one of Ver­stap­pen’s best over­takes on the Shang­hai cir­cuit.

Be­hind them – most likely, far be­hind them – will be the McLaren-Honda team.

Once again, with Bahrain’s long straights, they will ex­pe­ri­ence a try­ing week­end be­cause the cir­cuit is known for brake wear and high fuel con­sump­tion. With the MCL32 see­ing to the lat­ter all by it­self, Fernando Alonso and Stof­fel Van­doorne may cel­e­brate just reach­ing the che­quered flag – that is, if they do.

Like the one in Shang­hai, this is another Her­mann Tilke-de­signed track, fea­tur­ing a mix­ture of cor­ners that in­clude tight hair­pins, joined by long straights – the long­est stretch­ing for more than 1km.

This should en­cour­age over­tak­ing, some­thing Formula 1’s new gen­er­a­tion of wider, longer car is not so deft at. It will, how­ever, be a good in­di­ca­tion as to the amount and style of over­tak­ing Formula 1 can ex­pect as the sea­son pro­gresses.

Mean­while, Pas­cal Wehrlein re­turns to ac­tion this week­end, mak­ing his Sauber de­but af­ter hav­ing missed the first two races be­cause of fit­ness con­cerns.

It will be a true test of his re­cov­ery from com­pres­sion frac­tures, given the tough phys­i­cal race that awaits the young Ger­man.

But it is Fer­rari’s Ger­man driver and his num­ber one fan who will dom­i­nate the head­lines this week­end.

The ul­ti­mate fighter al­ways wants to go into the best bat­tle that he can have ... it is much more sat­is­fy­ing LEWIS HAMIL­TON

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