The F1 circus moves on to Bahrain for the fourth round of this season’s world championship. For the first time this season; the arguments about the Mercedes “Double DRS” are not the biggest talking point in the paddock.
Bahrain has had many political issues recently to the point were there were question marks over this race happening. The 2011 race was cancelled due to the political situation in the country. Things took another turn on Wednesday when a car carrying four Force India team members was caught in an petrol bomb attack on the way back to their hotel. The political situation aside, there is plenty of things to look forward to this weekend if China is anything to go by.
On the track things are getting really interesting. We’ve had 3 races and 3 separate winners. Following the banning of the blown diffusers for this season we’ve also seen a tightening of the field and an end of Red Bull’s dominance in qualifying (Vettel’s 11th place qualifying effort was his first time outside of the top 10 shoot-out since 2009).
The racing has also closed up. For example last week Kimi Raikonnen in 2nd place was only 7 seconds ahead of the car in 11th. We’re not talking about a lap or two into the race either. This was 42 laps into the race! Shortly afterwards (on lap 46) as detailed in our race report he had fell down the order. Eventually he finished 14th. Strategy and tyre management are becoming as important as the racing on the track again.
It appears that the most consistent car of the season so far is the McLaren. Looking at Hamilton’s and Button’s race performances they appear to be able to get the best out of the car over a single lap and it’s consistent with the tyres so tyre management isn’t as big an issue as it is for some other teams. Hamilton has only recently spoken about how happy he is with his own consistency. With McLarens one and two in the championship it’s hard not for them to be happy with how things are.
On race pace alone the Red Bull car is up there however it does struggle in qualifying and appears to struggle with straight line speed so it’s difficult for them to get through the field early on even with the aid of their DRS (as evident by Vettel’s radio calls when stuck behind a Force India and trying to pass in the DRS zone in the opening laps of the Chinese Grand Prix). One interesting thing to note is that Vettel is now 0-3 against Mark Webber in qualifying this season and Webber leads his team mate in the world championship.
Mercedes have been the surprise of the season so far. They’ve arguably came up with the technical innovation of the season in the “Double DRS”. It’s benefits in qualifying have been telling with some estimating that it’s worth up to 0.3 seconds a lap. The concept as such has been heavily debated and following a rejected protest other teams are evaluating whether to develop their own version of the system. Having struggled with tyre management in the first two races. Mercedes seem to be getting on top of this and may be about to throw themselves into the world championship battle.
On to Ferrari. What can be said of the Prancing Horse at the moment. Despite Alonso’s stunning victory in Malaysia they’ve performed more like a destitute donkey this season. Massa has struggled and when Alonso is happy to just make it into the top 10 in qualifying you know there’s issues. Another thing to remember is that if Perez hadn’t put his Sauber into the scenery in Malaysia 7 laps from the finish we most likely wouldn’t have seen Alonso on the top step of the podium. Ferrari is in turmoil. Aldo Costa vacated the team last season and Pat Fry was brought in to replace him as technical director from McLaren. It’s yet to be seen whether the team will recover quickly. Reports in Italy have called for Massa to be replaced but he’s still in the car and is looking to score his first points of the season this weekend.
Lotus go into the weekend trying to perform to their pre-season expectations. They’ve had some disappointing performances this season despite looking to have a quality car. Is it a matter of time before they find a breakthrough and get the podium they crave. They’ve had some excellent qualifying performances and if they can produce this in race trim they’ll be up there with McLaren fighting for victory.
In the midfield this season; Sauber and Williams have come through to lead the chasing pack. They’ve actually out performed Ferrari in some respects. Sauber have claimed points in all three races this season and came so close to victory in Malaysia with Perez. Williams have had a resurgence and claimed points in the last two races including a double points finish last time out. If Williams’ qualifying pace was to improve they could be a threat for a top 6 finish each race.
• In the last 20 years all the eventual world champions have scored a win within the first three races, with only one exception: Michael Schumacher won at the fourth attempt when he took the 2003 title.
• Mark Webber scored his best results in Bahrain in his Williams years (’05 and ’06), when he was sixth twice. He goes into the fourth race of the championship 3-0 up against Vettel in qualifying, having never beaten the German four times in a row since they started racing together 58 grands prix ago.
• Lewis Hamilton has always qualified in the top five in Bahrain, but he has never had a pole or win. His best result was in his debut year in 2007: 2nd in qualifying and the race. He has never been bet by a team-mate in qualifying here in four attempts.
• With three wins (’05, ’06, ’10) from seven races in Bahrain, Fernando Alonso is the undisputed king of the event. He has only scored only one pole however, back in 2005.
• Felipe Massa meanwhile scored a hat-trick of pole, win and fastest lap in Bahrain in 2007. He also won in ’08, meaning Ferrari’s current driver pairing accounts for 70 per cent of Bahrain grand prix wins. Massa’s ’10 front row start is his last to date however, and he is the only driver among the established top teams not to have scored a point this year.
• Nico Rosberg has qualified inside the top 10 here every year since 2007. In 2006 he posted his maiden fastest lap in his debut race at the track: the youngest in history to do so at 20 years and eight months, a record which remains unbeaten.
• Kimi Raikkonen has always been beaten by his team-mates in qualifying (0-6) in Bahrain.
• Red Bull has scored only one podium in Bahrain, coming when Vettel finished second in ’09.
• McLaren has never won or set pole at Bahrain.
So what can we expect of this weekend? Will Mercedes continue their qualifying tour de force? Will Hamilton continue his run of front row qualifying runs (remember he was demoted on the grid in China due to a gearbox penalty)? Can McLaren break their hoodoo at the track and finally claim that elusive win or pole?
Sadly there isn’t too much value this weekend in the race odds wise. Personally speaking I’d recommend a punt on either Rosberg for the podium @13/8 or Senna for a points finish @10/11.