Next stop Bahrain

Next stop Bahrain

With just one week between Malaysia and Bahrain there's no time for anything except to head for the next circuit and do it all over again. As with Sepang, most of the teams tested at Bahrain's Sakhir track during the winter so should be prepared...

With just one week between Malaysia and Bahrain there's no time for anything except to head for the next circuit and do it all over again. As with Sepang, most of the teams tested at Bahrain's Sakhir track during the winter so should be prepared for the challenges of the desert. It's another hot race but the humidity isn't quite so bad as Malaysia.

Bahrain International Circuit.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Just under five and a half kilometres in length, Sakhir requires a compromise between downforce and speed to deal with the slow corners and long straights respectively. If it's windy sand can be a concern but over the last couple of years it's never seemed to be a huge problem.

"It's an incredible venue with state-of-the-art facilities and it is not a difficult track from a driving perspective," said Toyota's Jarno Trulli. "It is hard on braking and there is always wind which brings dust and sand onto the track. Otherwise it is a very clean, smooth circuit with few bumps."

McLaren put in a storming performance to outdo Ferrari at Sepang, something that the Scuderia, unsurprisingly, was none to happy about. Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton looked fairly comfortable once things settled down but can we expect McLaren to have that kind of advantage again? Alonso is cautious.

"There will not be big changes in the cars because there are only four days between the races, so we should again be competitive," he said. "But the Ferrari was a little bit quicker than everybody in the test (at Bahrain) so I still believe it will be very, very hard to beat them again."

Lewis Hamilton leads Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen.
Photo by McLaren.

In Malaysia both Ferraris were outdone at the start and couldn't gain ground afterwards. Pole sitter Felipe Massa made an error that lost him any opportunity to catch the McLarens and while Kimi Raikkonen at least got back to finish where he started in third, he said he was hampered by having to play it safe with his engine.

For this weekend the Finn is confident that things will be better. "We will get a new fresh engine for Bahrain," he said. "That makes me feel very optimistic. As I have always said I am here to race just to win. When we have our whole package working 100%, we should be back to the same speed as what we had in Melbourne."

BMW Sauber continued to show encouraging pace at Sepang, as did Williams but both had mixed fortunes. Nick Heidfeld was a solid fourth for BMW but teammate Robica Kubica had all sorts of woes and was the last to finish. Over at Williams, Alex Wurz had a strong drive from the back to cross the line ninth but Nico Rosberg retired with a technical problem when running sixth.

It was naturally very disappointing for Rosberg but he's ready to try again. "I hope we will continue our current momentum, at the moment we have the speed, especially in the race, but I think we might have to work hard on set-up during Friday's practice sessions, particularly due to the nature of the Bahrain track," was his prediction.

Giancarlo Fisichella, Renault F1 Team, R27.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Renault struggled again in Malaysia and failed to get either car into the top 10 in qualifying. Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen softened the blow slightly by going on to score points with sixth and eighth respectively in the race but Renault can hardly deny that it's a big drop in performance compared to the last couple of years.

Engineering chief Pat Symonds noted something that may help Renault this weekend. "If you look at the sector times in Malaysia, it is relatively obvious that we were less competitive in the parts of the circuit that featured the high-speed corners," he said. "Sakhir is not a circuit with many high-speed corners, so it should be intrinsically a little kinder to us."

Toyota has been on the podium before in Bahrain but it too has made heavy work of this early season. The team also had a difficult time of things during testing at Sakhir, with quite a lot of reliability problems. Those problems have supposedly been resolved now and Trulli and Ralf Schumacher are looking for a stronger performance.

There's not a great deal to say about the rest: Red Bull was reasonable in Sepang qualifying but made no real impression on the race and Honda made no real impression on anything. Super Aguri couldn't keep up its impressive performance from Melbourne and while Toro Rosso showed a little improvement, neither of the Spykers even managed 10 laps.

Bahrain GP banner.
Photo by Ferrari Media Center.

A variety of pit stop strategies were used in last year's Bahrain race so it will be interesting to see who does what this time around. Ferrari blamed the poor starts at Sepang for losing out on the victory but it's been said that the lack of former technical director Ross Brawn's strategic genius once that happened was also a factor.

When F1 returns to Europe after Bahrain the picture may begin to change as teams start developing cars with the factories closer to hand. But for the moment all eyes are on McLaren and Ferrari to see who gets the all-important upper hand in the last of the early season flyaway events. Or can someone else throw a spanner in the works?

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Giancarlo Fisichella , Ralf Schumacher , Nick Heidfeld , Kimi Raikkonen , Fernando Alonso , Alexander Wurz , Ross Brawn , Lewis Hamilton , Felipe Massa , Nico Rosberg , Heikki Kovalainen
Teams Ferrari , Sauber , McLaren , Toro Rosso , Williams , Renault F1 Team