Race penalty costs Fabio Leimer and Racing Engineering victory in today’s Sprint Race at Bahrain.
The track temperature was a very hot 36° as the cars completed their formation lap and lined up on the grid but two stalled cars caused the start to be aborted and another formation lap was taken. The two stalled cars started from the pitlane which effectively promoted Nathanaël Berthon to 19th on the grid.
As the lights went off Fabio Leimer made a good start, holding second place into the first corner and, as the cars completed their first lap, the Racing Engineering car was chasing Calado for the lead. Starting lap 2 Leimer lost a place to Gutierrez as the Mexican slipstreamed him on the main straight but the young Swiss driver immediately tried to re-pass the Lotus GP car.
The two Lotus GP cars were battling each other for the lead and on lap 3 Leimer took advantage of their fight to make a great overtaking move on Gutierrez to regain second place. Now moving onto the gearbox of Calado, Leimer then slipstreamed the Lotus GP car down the main straight and as the two cars entered the following sequence of corners Leimer pulled off another great pass to take the lead.
Over the next few laps Leimer slowly pulled away from Calado and by lap 12 the gap was 1.5 seconds, but there was an announcement that Leimer was under investigation for ignoring a yellow flag. On lap 15, as Leimer had opened out his lead to 2.4 seconds, the decision was made that Leimer would have to take a drive-through penalty for his yellow flag infringement. On lap 18 Leimer entered the pits and resumed the track behind a big group of cars battling for 12th.
Leimer started to pass the cars ahead of him but with just a few laps remaining he was unable to finish higher than 12th, just 0.2 seconds behind Clos.
Berthon made a great start and took advantage of several cars running wide into the first corner to finish the first lap in 13th place, 0.7 seconds behind Coletti and 1.3 seconds ahead of Trummer. By lap 5 Berthon had moved up to 12th and was still battling hard with Coletti. The young Frenchman gained two more places as a result of other cars problems and by lap 13 he was lying 10th, 0.7 seconds behind Van Der Garde and 0.9 seconds ahead of Palmer.
Sadly Berthon’s excellent progress came to an end on lap 15 when the Racing Engineering car had to pit with a rear wheel problem and then retire.
Although the final results are a disappointment for Racing Engineering and its two drivers, Leimer was clearly the fastest driver in today’s race and Berthon showed a very impressive race pace before his retirement and the whole team can look forward, with confidence, to their return to the Sakhir circuit in one week’s time.
Thomas Couyotopoulo, Sporting Director of Racing Engineering:
"A very good start from Nat, who made up a lot of positions. Fabio was able to fight in the top 3 during the opening laps and managed to take the lead early in the race. From there on he had a good pace and controlled the gap to the car behind, all looked really promising towards winning the race. With the decreasing fuel load and running in the lead, Fabio continued to set faster and faster lap times. However, the stewards decided to religiously apply the rules and give a drive through penalty for ignoring yellow flags when Fabio was running all by himself in the lead and even lifted his foot off the throttle. This has cost us the first race win of the season. Nat drove a great race as well and made his way through the field to run in 10th position after starting 21st. However, he had contact with another driver which damaged his car and it was the right choice to come to the pits to avoid more damage on the car. We are understandably unhappy with today's race as we had a very good and fast car. However we have two more races here in Bahrain, so we are already thinking about next week's event ."
"Well, I am obviously very disappointed with what has happened today. During the opening laps I saw that Calado and Gutierrez struggled and when I saw the gap, I went alongside Calado, who pushed me outside the track limits, but I was nevertheless able to pass him to take the lead. From that moment on I controlled the gap to the car behind me and I know I would have won today. The car felt good and I went faster and faster. When there was a yellow flag in turn 4, I knew about it and therefore pushed during the corners before to be able to lift my foot off the throttle during the section with the yellow flag as, most probably, most of the drivers did as well. But I received a drive through penalty, which I think is a harsh decision - not only because it cost me a race win. It is the first penalty I have had in my entire formula career relating to yellow flags and I am generally not one of the drivers, who are irresponsible when on track and causing dangerous situations. I personally would have preferred they let me finish the race and look at the data after the race, which would have made it clear that I went slower under yellow. I am 100% sure we would have taken the win today."
"I had a very good start today and my first lap was really incredible. I did a lot of overtaking today, but also managed my tyres very well. I was already up to P10 and I know I could have made up even more positions. I think P6 or P7 were possible for me today as I saw how the cars in front of me started to struggle. So, from 21st to this was a quite good performance. But then I had a problem with my left rear wheel, there must have been a little contact at the beginning of the race, which I didn't feel at all, but you can see the marks. Then I probably took a curb too hard and the problem became worse and in the end the car was undrivable. I was really, really unlucky with this as from 21st to a position in the points would have been simply amazing. We are racing here again next week, so the aim is definitely to start in the front and to avoid the problems when passing slower cars. If you start in the front everything is just so much easier, you can save the tyres better and you avoid crashes as you do not have to overtake so many cars."