Teams and drivers eager to sample new track
Its one of the most spectacular new venues in years, and the excitement at the Bahrain International Circuit has been building steadily through the race week. Very soon Formula One cars will finally run here in anger. But what can we really expect?
The sand is seen as the big potential problem, and for sure there was a fair amount of dust on the track yesterday and again this morning during the first Formula BMW session. But Jenson Button, for one, does not expect it to be too big a deal. I went round the track this morning, he said yesterday. Its changed a bit since I was here last October, when it was a building site with just the main straight laid. Its dirty, sure, but in that respect its the same, if not better, than Brazil or Hungary.
There is only a problem if we have a southerly wind, added Philippe Gurdjian, who has been on site since January 11 ensuring that everything goes together. We are scheduled to have a northerly wind all weekend, so we should be okay.
Button spoke for many when he added: Its probably the best track built in recent years, he said. There are some good high-speed corners, and even the slow corners arent that slow. There will be some good overtaking opportunities too, maybe as many as four or five per lap.
Its super, Formula One Managements Bernie Ecclestone said. Bahrain International Circuit will be one of the best in the world. The standard is so high, its raised the bar so much. Im very impressed and Im very happy with it. It will be a great event.
Ferrari are quietly confident. The F2004 is largely unchanged since Sepang (the next step forward will come for Imola) but Bridgestone have brought four specifications of tyre. The Japanese company reports that the track is quite grippy, but awaits feedback on how many small stones come up out of it once the Formula One cars start running on the surface. There are also concerns that one line may appear, especially in the race, with the optional lines being too dusty for overtaking. Time will tell.
Williams are also confident, after making a breakthrough on set-up testing in Paul Ricard last week. Certainly there is no intention of slackening the chase after Ferrari, and Michelin too has its usual complement of new-specification tyres. The high ambient and track temperatures will help them in their battle with Bridgestone.
BAR, who also have a new rear suspension and some aero tweaks, also felt that they made a big step on car set-up when Button set the fastest time in testing at Paul Ricard, while Jaguar believe they have sorted the starting problems that ruined Mark Webbers race in Malaysia. Renault are slightly less optimistic, believing that the point-and-squirt nature of the circuit will favour the more powerful Michelin cars.
Sauber has a new rear wing, the first product from its new wind tunnel at Hinwil which is now operational again after a minor electrical fault just before Malaysia.
Bahrain will be hard on brakes, gearboxes and engines, and the top four teams must juggle the considerations of engine mileage limitation with the need to learn the track and make the right tyre choice. However, more and more teams can extrapolate successfully from their computer feedback, so those teams which cannot run three cars Ferrari, BMW, McLaren and Renault can offset their disadvantage.