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F1: the good, the bad and the tyres in Bahrain 2013 as, at last, we get fast and furious racing

Bryan Edwards

Pirelli made a good decision for the Bahrain race: take two tyre compounds that are very similar. That negated pretty much all the pit-lane decisions that have led to what basically amounts to racing by remote control. But all was not rosy.

The word in the paddock is that the FIA and Pirelli are close to doing a deal to renew the contract for exclusive supply of tyres to F1. There are two sides to every argument and whether the sport is better for having only one manufacturer producing controlled tyres is open to debate.

Michelin wanted out after the fabled (in most senses of the term) US GP at Indianapolis after it said its tyres had structural problems and safety could not be guaranteed.

Pirelli don't have any such qualms despite several serious problems in Bahrain.

In free practice, Hamilton's tyre exploded, shredding the back of the car and forcing a gearbox change for which he suffered a five place grid penalty. That penalty seems remarkably unfair when the change was due to the failure of a component specified by the FIA and produced by a third party.

Hamilton was not the only one to have a problem: during the race, Massa's right rear had the most bizarre incident this writer has ever seen happen to a tyre. It fell into two, breaking around the point where the inner side-wall joins the contact patch. The break was instant and clean as shown by the in-car video which, coincidentally, was set to "look" at that corner of Massa's car.

The decision to use the hard and medium compound tyres (which correspond to the medium and soft tyres of 2012) proved to be as good a decision as we are likely to get from the current tyre system. First, they did not shed rubber all over the track, reducing the racing line to single file as we have seen so far this season. Secondly, they did not degrade so suddenly - what one mechanic last year called "falling off a cliff" only to find his phrase passed into such common usage that no one can remember who said it first. Sorry!) And third, the two sets were broadly evenly matched for pace. In fact, the primary differentiation was in terms of how they aged, rather than out and out pace. That last factor gave the strategists something to do.

But the fact that the tyres were broadly similar in pace meant that the race was, for the first time this season, between manufacturers and between drivers.

And for the first time this season, we saw wheel to wheel - and closer - racing. We also saw aggressive (but not overly so) overtaking. In short, we had a proper Formula One race with no artificial tactics. It was simple: get in the car and drive as fast as you can until the end.

There were no safety car incidents, only one retirement and although several drivers went - or were pushed - wide, very few off-track excursions.

Vettel was irrelevant after the first few laps: he just shot off into the distance and no one troubled him, and he didn't even lose the lead when he came in for his last pit stop, showing his dominance and that of his car.

McLaren's Button got a fright when Perez caught him and for a large slug of the race they battled, harder than team-mates might be expected to, for places just outside the podium - losing out when it came to the change of tyres but still both finishing in the points. Martin Whitmarsh, sitting on the pit wall, couldn't decide whether to laugh with joy at seeing this year's barge working well or close his eyes in anticipation of seeing both cars end up in a thousand pieces. But McLaren can take heart: so long as the tyres had not reached the end of their lives, no one passed their two cars and, even though they were battling each other, when they caught other cars, they simply tag-teamed them, passed and then resumed their internal feud. Button moaned that his race vis-a-vis others was compromised by his duel with Perez but admitted that it had been a lot of fun.

Perez said " I guess I was a little aggressive on track today; banging wheels with Jenson was perhaps a little too risky, a little too hard, but the team never came on the radio to tell us to stop racing. There were no team orders. There was a lot of adrenaline from both of us, and Jenson is always a very strong racer, but hopefully we’ll help each other a little more in the future." He described Button as "calm, friendly after the race. A great guy."

Button - 10th against Perez' sixth, said "Checo was a bit tough, which was a little unusual. He did a good job overall though: he had good pace, and he looked after his tyres well. So, congratulations to him."

Martin Whitmarsh, having had time to breathe out, said "The two of them spent much of the afternoon in close proximity to each other - sometimes in nail-bitingly close proximity actually - but that’s motor racing. Both Jenson and Checo are fast, forceful and hungry for success - and that’s exactly how it should be. It’s called racing, and we at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes always allow our drivers to race. It’s what this sport is all about. Having said that, it’s probably fair to say that Checo was a little too combative with Jenson this afternoon, and I think he knows that." Well, to be fair, it was Whitmarsh who had called Perez in and told him that he had to pick up his pace.

Alonso had a bizarre failure: his DRS wing inverted, the first time sticking open in a high-speed corner. Two trips to the pits failed to fix it so DRS was disabled for safety reasons. Even so, Alonso was one of the fastest drivers of the day, overtaking without the DRS, which is some ways raises a question-mark over its value.

Caterham brought new parts and ended 17 and 21 out of 21 finishers. The team has announced that Kovalainen is their new test driver. He haunted the pits in Malaysia - where he has a home - amid rumours of a return to the team. He did a Friday session in Bahrain but says there are no current plans for him to have a race seat.