The third round of the Formula 1 World Championship takes place at the Sakhir Circuit in Bahrain, a very familiar venue for Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, as the track has been used regularly over the past few years for winter testing. In February of...
The third round of the Formula 1 World Championship takes place at the Sakhir Circuit in Bahrain, a very familiar venue for Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, as the track has been used regularly over the past few years for winter testing. In February of this year, the Scuderia and Toyota were the only two squads running on this desert track.
"In a sport as competitive as Formula 1, any advantage we might have from our winter trip to the Gulf will probably have evaporated by the end of Friday's free practice, by which time the other teams will be on the pace, having been here in past years," comments Technical Director Aldo Costa. "It's not even as though the Scuderia can derive any tyre advantage as the winter test was all conducted on just one hard type of Bridgestone. The real advantage of the Sakhir winter test is that, although temperatures back at the start of the year were about ten degrees Celsius cooler than one can expect this weekend, the venue did offer very stable conditions, with consistent ambient and track temperatures and this stability is always a highly prized commodity when developing a new car."
Sakhir is one of the modern generation of circuits and as such it comes with a comprehensive range of corner types from a first gear hairpin to combinations of flat out turns and long straights. It is wide, offering different lines and there are some genuine overtaking opportunities as demonstrated in the previous four runnings of this event and it is also hard on brakes.
Ferrari has a fifty percent success rate in Bahrain, having taken victory in the inaugural event in 2004 courtesy of Michael Schumacher and last year it was Felipe Massa who was first past the chequered flag. In fact, there are similarities between the situation our Brazilian finds himself in now and that he encountered twelve months ago. He had a difficult run over the first couple of races and was very much in the media spotlight, facing criticism to which he reacted in the best possible way, by taking a convincing victory in the desert. Then as now, the team is fully confident that Felipe, who likes this track and started on the front row alongside pole man and team-mate Schumacher back in '06, can put in another strong showing here. As for the reigning world champion, Kimi Raikkonen has yet to win here, but he showed fighting spirit in 2006 when, relegated to the back of the grid because of an engine change, he fought his way to the podium, finishing third after a one-stop race.
During winter testing, nearly all teams seemed capable of doing long distances reliably, but the first two races of the season threw up problems throughout the field. In both the real and metaphorical sense, this can be put down to the heat of battle, as testing is never quite as tough as racing and nowhere in testing did teams experience the 40 degrees of heat we saw in Melbourne or the humidity levels encountered in Sepang, as unlike in 2007, this year there was no Malaysian test session. And, it is clear that ten of the eleven teams are still on a learning curve when it comes to the common electronic control units.
The Scuderia has not been idle on the car front since Sepang and last Saturday, tester Marc Gene evaluated some aerodynamic elements at Vairano. "The plan for this year is that we should have continuous updates throughout the season," says Technical Director Aldo Costa. "We aim to improve the package step by step with changes coming for almost every race and in Bahrain we will run some new aero parts. We will continue to keep a close eye on reliability, especially on the engine side and on this front, at the moment, we will probably run Massa with the same engine he used in Malaysia, even though we could change it, as he failed to finish that race."
Since the last round, Felipe travelled home to spend some time in Brazil, to put behind him the frustrations of the first two races, while Kimi headed back to his adopted Switzerland to enjoy some rather fresher air than was on offer in Malaysia. Now, they are both already in the Gulf, an area that is growing in importance in F1 terms. Next year, apart from Bahrain, this part of the world will see a second race staged in Abu Dhabi. Ferrari has also got strong links in this part of the world, firstly with sponsor and five percent shareholder, Mubadala and now with new sponsor Etihad Airways. Next year, apart from the race in Abu Dhabi, the area also sees the opening of a Ferrari theme park on Yas Island.