Up until a few laps from the end of the race, the Bahrain weekend belonged to just one man, Charles Leclerc. It was a significant moment in the sport, as the Monegasque driver is the standard bearer for a new generation of drivers making its mark on Formula 1.
Leclerc is no rookie, having been in F1 since last year, but he’s part of a new wave that also includes Lando Norris, who has had two great opening weekends to this season. Although a rookie, Lando spent a lot of time in an F1 car, before getting the race drive.
By contrast our own Alex Albon had never sat in an F1 car until the start of winter testing, which makes his own achievements in Melbourne and Bahrain even more noteworthy. His ninth place and two points, his first in F1 were well deserved. With so much experience working with youngsters at Toro Rosso, we know just how important it can be for a novice to wipe the “zero” off his points sheet.
If you are tempted to point out that we inherited ninth place when other cars ahead of us retired in the closing stages, then remember that reliability is the first thing you need in motor sport and our chassis-PU package has delivered that reliability so far. It’s a testament to the work of everyone behind the scenes in our facilities in Italy, the UK and from Honda in Japan.
It would be hard to find two more contrasting venues than Albert Park and Sakhir, but common to both of them was confirmation that the mid-field battle is looking incredibly close this year. We are part of that fight and it means we have to ensure we never put a foot wrong, because the tiniest hitch can make the difference between points and no points. In Bahrain, Daniil paid the price for an operational error in Saturday’s qualifying and once you start down the back the odds are stacked against you. At the end, he finished the race out of the points, in 12th position.
All the usual Bahrain clichés were in place, the intense heat, the sand on the track, scores of Arab princes in the paddock and the huge Gulf Air passenger airliner almost brushing the roof of the Race Control Tower as part of the Sunday evening build-up to the race. However, there were less usual events such as heavy rain in the area in the week before the race and some on Friday night, while race day was incredibly windy, to the extent that drivers really had to be wary of the gusts during the race.
One feature of a flyaway race that was missing on Sunday night was the frantic rush to pack everything away. Why? Because all the teams are taking part in a two-day test on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Sakhir circuit. In fact, Toro Rosso is busier than most, because apart from running a car in the test, we are also one of the two teams running a second car as part of Pirelli’s test and development programme. Alex is on Toro Rosso duty for the two days, while Daniil is doing the Pirelli work.
These extra days mean there is even less time in between leaving one race circuit and setting up at another, with the third round of the World Championship taking place at China’s Shanghai International Circuit on 14 April. It’s due to be a memorable date in the history of Formula 1, as it will be the one thousandth Grand Prix since the start of the World Championship in 1950.