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Honda is angry with Fernando Alonso, there is good news for Sauber and 'Iceman' Kimi Raikkonen is feeling the heat... it's the Crash.net Debrief following the Bahrain Grand Prix
When will enough be enough for… Honda?
The Fernando Alonso-McLaren-Honda saga is one that has gripped, frustrated and amused F1 for more than two years now, but it is a story that is predominantly told from the perspective of the driver. In fairness, Alonso spent a long time in those first two seasons deflecting awkward questions from the media about the Honda power unit, the mantra of 'it will get better' keeping his spirits up even when the form slipped.
However, Alonso has well and truly detached himself from the party line this year and his rhetoric in the opening three rounds about the Honda engine has stepped up to increasingly hyperbolic levels, whether he is 'driving like an animal' or apparently losing 400m in a straight line.
Now comes paddock speculation that Alonso's 'retirement' two laps from home in the Bahrain Grand Prix was in fact him simply parking it because he didn't want to be classified last. To say Honda are unimpressed is an understatement.
Which begs the question – instead of Alonso wanting out, will Honda consider whether it needs Alonso's barrage of public shaming for another contract term? Given McLaren and Stoffel Vandoorne are prepared to defend Honda and pull in the same direction, though Alonso's opposing actions are arguably refreshing in the corporate world of modern F1, it is plunging morale to a new low.
On the weekend, Alonso basked in the glow of the getting his Indy 500 deal secured, he may want to remember it would not have been possible without Honda's input.
The heat is on the Iceman
There have been moments in recent years where you have to wonder whether Kimi Raikkonen's heart is still in the racing based on his iconic but persistent taciturn demeanour. However, judging by his increasingly animated rants over the team radio and his slightly child-like decision to cool off his emotions following a breakdown by walking a fair distance in 40+ degree heat back to the garage, the Finn is clearly feeling the pressure.
Ferrari obviously has a quick car in the SF70H but only Sebastian Vettel has harnessed its potential in race conditions so far. Raikkonen has trotted out the 'small details' reasoning for his failure to stay on terms with the leaders, but in the heat of battle it is clear he is frustrated he isn't making the best of potentially his strongest car since 2007.
Sergio Marchionne didn't hold back in his opinion after China and with Maurizio Arrivabene taking a vow of silence as Ferrari clampdowns on its media commitments, an underwhelming Raikkonen is looking increasingly out of sync with Ferrari's newfound professionalism.
As such, the annual 'silly season' will probably revolve around Raikkonen again this year, but based on the opening three rounds it seems the likes of Romain Grosjean, Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz – amongst others - might be wise to use these next few races as their advertisement for what could well be a title-defending team in 2018…
Wehrlein is 'back' with a bang… in a good way
It is fair to say Pascal Wehrlein was left rather bemused by the speculation and debate over his reasons for skipping the opening two rounds following a fitness-sapping back injury. From the suggestion Ferrari and Mercedes were battling to give their juniors seat time to his absence being an aggrieved reaction to driving a Sauber rather than a Force India or even Mercedes this season, Wehrlein faced the media with a smile and one-by-one answered each probing question thoroughly and logically.
In short, Wehrlein played it very safe – but with good reason. He explained to me that the injury had left him unable to train for weeks and the subsequent loss of fitness left him playing catch up in the gym and was affecting his concentration the car. With this in mind, had Wehrlein suffered another crash in Australia or China and done himself another major injury, the alternative of missing two races makes more sense. After all, his substitute Antonio Giovinazzi did put the Sauber in the wall twice in China, so imagine if it had been Pascal?
Better still, Wehrlein was a minor revelation on his return to action in Bahrain, defying his lack of mileage in the C36 to quickly out-perform Marcus Ericsson, reach Q2 and very nearly score a point in 11th.
The future looks more secure for Sauber
Speaking of Sauber, it seems the future is looking bright for the plucky Swiss team having seemingly already agreed an engine deal for 2018 just a couple of races into the 2017 season.
Despite Sauber's assertion it 'chose' to use the year-old Ferrari power unit to allow it to develop its chassis around a proven package, most saw the step back as a way of taking two steps forward by saving money to negotiate a new deal for 2018.
It seems Sauber is likely to use either Mercedes or Honda power units next season. From a competitive point of view, a Mercedes power unit currently makes more sense than a Honda, but it would likely receive a lot more financial assistance from the Japanese firm to become an effective 'B team', especially if it can place one of its drivers – Nobuharu Matsushita – into one of the cars.
Furthermore, despite the McLaren struggles, few genuinely believe Honda will always be uncompetitive, in which case Sauber could find itself well placed to haul itself back into regular top ten competition.
At the very least, if Sauber – a team that nearly folded in 2016 – is agreeing deals months in advance, it surely says a lot about its financial security these days too.