by Ollie Barstow
F1 Editor

Whilst there are some people I know that don't appreciate the finer essence of motorsport and consider Formula 1 as simply 'cars going round and round', this weekend in Bahrain it was the sport that found itself locked in a circle. A vicious one though, certainly no essence.

Politics, meetings and indecisions, F1 stakeholders didn't shroud themselves in glory again this weekend, not that they have much glory left to cover. The fact no decision was reached on the once more heavily panned qualifying format - rather tellingly - came as no surprise, but it doesn't make it any less baffling.

Strictly speaking, the qualifying format isn't the critical thing here, simply one small piece of a larger jigsaw - a short-term focus exposing larger issue, if you will. Though the outcome of whatever format we end up with is important to the fans (not that you are being treated as such), it is how the decision is made that has bigger political resonance. Teams want to go back, FIA and FOM want to step forward, but instead of standing firm together for the good of the sport, individual heels are digging in.

So the impasse rumbles on until another meeting where an 'aggregate' system is rumoured to be tabled. Unless it is revolutionary, it is unlikely to appease the still popular hope amongst fans that we will go back to 2015, but I will say now it's time to move on... we aren't going back. Like it or lump it, F1's new motto.

Discussing the politics of F1 could fill chapters (and other feature articles) though and for those able to ignore the off-track posturing, there is mercifully something more worthwhile to be appreciated in F1 at the moment. The racing, the drivers and - somewhat bizarrely given the lack of regulatory clarity - F1's future.

Indeed, on a weekend where the track action threatened to become secondary (apart from qualifying... we all waited with low expectations and still felt unfulfilled), the racing itself and the quality of a new generation clawed back some of the headlines for the right reasons by Sunday.

Bahrain always puts on a good event, even when the circuit itself was unkindly viewed as enabling dull racing during the early years. Indeed, like a couple of circuits on the calendar - the Hungaroring being another -, it appears the latest generation of cars suit the BIC better than in the past, while the recent move to make it floodlit spectacle at worst gives the sport a pleasant sheen as the sparks - and occasionally bodywork - fly. Goodness knows F1 needs something making it look good at the moment, even if it is just at a surface level.

Indeed, as difficult as it is to ignore the din of political machinations off the track, there was plenty of positivity to take away from F1 on the track this weekend if you opened your eyes but maybe popped headphones in.

An expected surprise

When it comes to Haas, we're running out of hats to take off to them as Romain Grosjean brought it home for another top six finish, this time in fifth. Clearly there are no flukes to be had here - the VF16 evidently has raw pace, Grosjean is living up to his 'rated as underrated' status and the American team's strategies have been so on point they need their own prize.

Interestingly, from the back-slapping of the opening race, there was a touch more bitterness to be found when discussing Haas amongst some rivals come Bahrain, some saying we shouldn't so readily set our faces to stun given its buddy-up pal in Ferrari. Truth or jealousy? A bit of both probably, but as Guenther Steiner points out they worked to the rules and the rules are subsequently working for them. Future teams take note.

So while Haas is perhaps being revealed much like the humble, hard-knocks X Factor singer that actually comes from a pretty wealthy, privately-schooled background, its rapid success is a huge boon for the sport and make a great headline regardless. Haas is the F1 nation's sweetheart.

To vindicate or to undermine?

The always pristine McLaren managed to spray itself with mud this weekend as it thrilled F1 fans by giving Stoffel Vandoorne his debut before rather clumsily almost taking it away as it attempted to reinstate Fernando Alonso back into the MP4-31 mid-weekend.

Strictly speaking, McLaren - well, Ron Dennis - had a good point to make by moving to clarify with the FIA its position on disallowing Alonso to drive when it was convinced he was fit enough. Bottom line, it raises an interesting issue of who makes what final decision on fitness. Is an F1 doctor more qualified than an external doctor who specialises in that particular area? Perhaps the medical team needs a Strategy Group...

Had it got its way, McLaren would be vindicated - and for good reason, truth be told -, but it would have been excruciating for Vandoorne to have his F1 debut denied mid-weekend having barely gotten over the jet lag from his last minute flight out of Japan. Fans - even the Alonso's die-hards - probably would have been disappointed to be robbed of the chance to see him get his long awaited bow.

Undermined or not - Vandoorne nodded nervously as Dennis insisted McLaren wasn't doing him a disservice -, the most exciting potential F1 driver since possibly a young, necklace-less Lewis Hamilton made his debut and cracked the points. No drama, no problems, no complaints. Spectacular though it wasn't, this is probably more symptomatic of a car that is still not quite at its full potential, but Vandoorne's highlights - out-qualifying Button, passing a few cars and settling into the MP4-31 rapidly - bode well for his and F1's future.

Speaking of Alonso, any suggestion he might retire at the end of the year seems to be off the table (not that I am sure it was ever on it) as he confronted Johnny Herbert live on television to remonstrate over an article the ex-F1 driver wrote in which he said the 'jaded' former champion should quit. If anything, Alonso might just sign another contract to spite him.

Whether you watched it giggling or through your fingers, it gave the internet another viral meme to enjoy, mash ups of 'thug life' and 'burn' stretching far and wide over the Twitter-sphere'. In a sport so serious it makes Kimi Raikkonen look jovial, this brief, amusing exchange turned into one of the weekend's most read, watched and shared ditties... Alonso is becoming quite the online sensation.

At worst, if F1 ceases to be, at least this clip will be showing on It'll Be Alright On The Night 874 in ten years' time.

Moving targets

Back in the race, Nico Rosberg notched up a second win as a delayed Lewis Hamilton picked parts of Valtteri Bottas' Williams out of his Mercedes and Sebastian Vettel watched on, his Ferrari seemingly also having had enough of the weekend.

Perversely for Hamilton, two races on the back foot might actually prove to be a good thing later on. Given the talk of motivation and distractions pre-season, Hamilton now has a moving target to focus on and greater glory to be enjoyed from hunting his team-mate down and clawing back the initiative. His upbeat demeanour in spite of more frustration was telling this weekend. He is up for a fight... he just needs to get around turn one without a drama and pull his head up from Snapchat for more than two minutes.

To his credit, Rosberg - claiming an effective fifth win in a row - was on form all weekend, with only qualifying letting him down. He's ceded bigger leads to Hamilton before though, so if he has really evolved as a driver, now is the time to prove he can not only resist his arch rival, but push him further adrift.

Finally, kudos to Max Verstappen, who stayed quiet enough on the radio to score a sixth place finish - arguably his best F1 result without the benefit of attrition -, Daniil Kvyat for turning his 'f***ing embarrassing' lack of pace into a seventh place charge and Pascal Wehrlein who is doing remarkable things in a Manor not seen since the late Jules Bianchi. The German will score points for that team in 2016.

Indeed, if F1 proved one thing this weekend, while the sport itself may have a somewhat murky political future, it has plenty of bright young things to dazzle on track... and, after all, that is what F1 is really all about, isn't it?

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