Michael Schumacher cruised to an unchallenged victory at the inaugural Bahrain Grand Prix, teammate Rubens Barrichello taking second for another Ferrari one-two domination. Minor brake problems were the only concern for the scarlet pair, as the...
Michael Schumacher cruised to an unchallenged victory at the inaugural Bahrain Grand Prix, teammate Rubens Barrichello taking second for another Ferrari one-two domination. Minor brake problems were the only concern for the scarlet pair, as the rest of the field simply couldn't compete with the pace of the Ferraris.
BAR's Jenson Button put in a confident performance to score his second podium finish in a row in third after taking the position from Juan Pablo Montoya. The Williams was running third the whole race until falling rapidly off the pace in the final laps with gear and hydraulic problems.
The initial concern was the weather; wind, sandstorms and light showers of rain were all unexpected and the track temperature was around 30 degrees, 20 lower than previously over the weekend. However, the conditions slacked off by the start and did not cause any problems.
Minardi's Zsolt Baumgartner was demoted to the rear of the grid, along with Jordan's Nick Heidfeld and McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen, after having an engine change last night. Not that it made a great deal of difference as Baumgartner was one of just three retirees from the race. Teammate Gianmaria Bruni stalled at the start of the formation lap, so prior to the race there was quite a lot of action at the back of the grid.
It was a clean start, Michael and Barrichello pulling away within a few corners. Montoya followed in third and Sato got away well, moving up to fourth. Raikkonen leapt up to 14th and Mark Webber put Jaguar's starting gremlins of Malaysia behind him, gaining places off the line.
Renault's Fernando Alonso, who started 16th after a dismal qualifying lap, suffered damage to the front wing on the first lap after contact with Christian Klien's Jaguar and had to pit for a new nose cone. He went on to have a very active and well-driven race to finish in the points.
Aside from the Ferraris lapping in procession way out in front, it was an entertaining race with a lot of action. Raikkonen was under pressure from rookie Klien, who put in a spirited performance, overtaking the McLaren only to have Raikkonen snatch the position back. Klien had another go down the pit straight into turn one, catching the slipstream to gain the advantage but once more Raikkonen pulled it back.
Ralf and Sato were having a similar battle, the Williams challenging at turn one. The pair clashed and the BAR's nose shunted the Williams into the air, and Ralf spun into the gravel. He managed to regain the track and dived into the pits but appeared to have suffered no damage. Sato claimed Ralf was to blame for not giving him any room, and both will be investigated by the stewards in regard to the incident.
Raikkonen only managed eight laps before the McLaren spectacularly exploded into flames at the rear, forcing the luckless Kimi to pull off. McLaren and Mercedes had been quite grumpy over the engine issue all weekend, insisting it was wrong to use the words "engine failure". Whatever they try and call it, Raikkonen's car certainly went up in smoke and the Finn is surely, and understandably, not happy. The team race report later described Kimi's retirement as an engine failure. You just can't win...
Michael called in for his first pit stop on lap nine, the rest following in the next couple of laps. David Coulthard and Webber raced up the pit lane side by side, the McLaren getting ahead at the exit and Barrichello's stop took rather a long time. The Brazilian didn't suffer for it though. The BARs were temporarily in the lead until they too peeled off into the pits.
The next on track battle was between the ever-enthusiastic Klien and Sauber's Felipe Massa. The latter went wide into the dust as the Jaguar went past but Klien spun it not long afterwards, dropping himself back down the field. Teammates Sato and Button were scrapping until Sato went wide over the kerbs, buckling his front wing and Button got ahead at the last corner. Sato ducked into the pits for a new wing.
Meanwhile, Alonso was on a charge through the pack. Fighting his was up from the back due to his stop for the new nose cone, he homed in on Massa in 12th, with Ralf tagging on behind. After a few feints, Alonso set the Renault up just right out of turn 10 and sailed past the Sauber at 11, followed by Ralf as well.
At the front, Michael was over ten seconds clear of Barrichello, and Montoya about the same behind the second Ferrari. Ralf's next adventure was to knock over a couple of his pit crew as he jumped leaving his stop, but they both escaped injury. Webber flew off and galloped about over the tarmac run offs for a quick stint before wrestling the car back onto the track, then came under attack from the still charging Alonso.
Webber blocked in a somewhat scrappy fashion for a short while, causing Alonso to employ some rather annoyed hand waving before dispatching the Jaguar at turn one. Ralf was still grimly determined, storming past the Toyota of Cristiano da Matta for 12th and soon homed in on Giancarlo Fisichella. The pair scuffled and Fisichella spun, although it's not certain what happened. Ralf thought he touched the Sauber but at the time it was hard to tell.
Sato was battling with Coulthard but escaped another clash as the Scot gave him just enough room as they went side by side through turn one. Coulthard may have regretted his politeness as Sato took him at turn two. The argumentative Ralf, meanwhile, was homing in on the second Toyota of Olivier Panis.
The third round of pit stops saw Button jump Trulli for fourth and after the order shook out it was still Michael, Barrichello and Montoya at the front. But coming in to the last dozen laps, Montoya started flagging. Button reeled the Williams in very rapidly, the two trading places before the BAR got the advantage as the Williams began to lose pace.
Trulli was next to pass Montoya, who could do nothing as the car went into an inescapable decline. Coulthard cruised into the pits, to the surprise of his mechanics, then cruised back out again, only getting as far as the pit exit before the car gave up. "David's retirement was caused by loss of air in the pneumatic system of the engine," said McLaren's race report. So is that, or is it not, an engine failure?
Montoya's gearbox and hydraulics were on their last legs as Sato and Alonso breezed past, followed by Ralf. As Michael and Barrichello crossed the line, with Button nearly half a minute behind, the Williams ground to a halt on the home straight, leaving Montoya to take to own two feet to walk off the grid. He was finally classified 13th. Webber inherited the eighth place for the final point.
Ferrari had been slightly concerned about brake wear, but aside from the pair locking up heavily into the first corner at the start, it proved not to be a problem. An uneventful race for Michael and Barrichello, who only needed to concentrate on staying on the racing line to save risking a dusty spin.
"I thought it would be a much tougher race, but our guys got a great start and then drove a perfect race," said Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn. "Our strategy proved to be just right. It's possible that the cloudy skies and the dust on the track worked a bit in favour of our package. The Bridgestone tyres behaved fantastically."
McLaren could have kept itself in the title running with a decent result in Bahrain, but with a double non-finish the outlook for the team is very grim indeed. Things may improve once F1 is back in Europe but that could easily be too late. Raikkonen's championship hopes are minimal at best now, with Michael on 30 points and the Finn with nothing to show for the first three races save for car failure after car failure.
BAR is currently trouncing McLaren in the constructors' standings, as is Renault. Another good show from Button in Bahrain and a confident drive for Sato in fifth, despite the front wing change. "Don't forget Taku's fifth!" Exclaimed BAR boss David Richards, when congratulated on Button's podium. "It was a great day for the team, another step forward. It's only three races but it has been a great start to the season for us."
Renault is also beating Williams, the latter now being on equal points with BAR, Trulli and Alonso's 22 points between them so far this year putting Renault second to Ferrari. Alonso has the edge over Trulli in the drivers' standings due to better finishing positions over all, but the pair are tied on points in fifth and sixth. Trulli's race was good but fairly quiet and Alonso did a good job after his lowly grid position and extra pit stop for the new nose cone.
The rest of the field was by and large unremarkable. Jaguar saw a lot of action but with little reward, Webber's one point only due to Montoya's retirement. But he and Klien put in aggressive performances. It was so near but so far for Toyota. Panis and Da Matta had done well in qualifying and points seemed likely, but the pair could only complete the top ten in ninth and tenth respectively.
Next were the Sauber duo, Fisichella leading Massa, Montoya's aborted 13th, then Klien a disappointing 14th after his eventful race. Jordan's Nick Heidfeld and Giorgio Pantano bought up the rear. Minardi's Bruni was classified as five laps down.
Bahrain certainly provided some entertainment, with a lot of track action save for at the front. Despite all the sand-related discussions, it didn't seem to be a problem. An excellent facility saw a good race but Ferrari's dominance is beginning to cast a long shadow over this season. Final top eight classification: M. Schumacher, Barrichello, Button, Trulli, Sato, Alonso, R. Schumacher, Webber.