Everybody expected April to be a crucial time for Formula One.
It was the month when the future of F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone would go on the line as he faces bribery charges in a Munich court room. It was when the Ferrari and Red Bull teams would step up their assault on the new engine rules, hoping to pressure the series into making changes.
What most did not expect is that it would also be a month with one of the most entertaining races in many years, with Lewis Hamilton winning a breathless Bahrain Grand Prix against Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by a single second.
The opening two races of the season, in Australia and Malaysia, had been tepid affairs with Mercedes untroubled in front and cautious, even dull racing.
The races had played into the hands of Ferrari and Red Bull, which used them as evidence in their case that the new 1.6-liter, V6 turbo hybrid engines, along with new fuel limitations, were producing lifeless racing.
More of the same was expected in Bahrain, where Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo turned up in person to lobby Ecclestone — who is firmly on his side in that debate — and FIA chairman Jean Todt, who is decidedly not.
The Ferrari chief did not stay long. Not only was he infuriated by the sight of his team’s cars and their richly remunerated drivers Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen scrabbling around, but also because the terrific entertainment value of the race seemed to undercut his argument.
With Todt sticking by his guns, saying the engines will not be changed other than perhaps to amp up the muted sound, it appears April will end with Ferrari and the Renault-powered Red Bulls still trailing in Mercedes’ wake.
Dispiritingly for all the teams, Mercedes showed in Bahrain that it had been racing well within the limits at Australia and Malaysia — and yet still winning comfortably. In Bahrain, when fuel-saving mode was finished — thanks to several laps on low revs behind the safety car — and the two Mercedes were racing each other flat out in the closing laps, they were fully 2 seconds per lap faster than the nearest cars.
Red Bull was probably next fastest, indicating that their earlier pace had been compromised by the need to save fuel, and once that passed they were able to show what the car was fully capable of. With two of the three highest fuel-consumption races now gone — Canada is still to come — Red Bull and others may be able to close some of the gap on Mercedes in the coming races.
All teams stayed in Bahrain for testing. Unsurprisingly, it was Mercedes again at the top of the timesheets.
Next on the agenda for F1 is Monday’s hearing of an appeal by Red Bull against Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification from the Australian Grand Prix for exceeding fuel-flow limits. The next race is in Shanghai on April 20.