Friday practice suggests another tight battle in prospect
After Friday mornings practice session you might have been forgiven for thinking that Ferrari would walk Sundays race, but the pace shown by McLaren in the afternoon indicates that we should have another nip-and-tuck encounter between Formula One racings two current leading marques at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
This weekend, of course, Kimi Raikkonen has no concerns about Ferrari engine life, as both he and Felipe Massa have new units in their F2007s. The Finn was able to make the most of his equipment and set the fastest time of 1m 33.527s on Bridgestones soft tyre option. But he certainly had to hustle to beat Lewis Hamiltons time of 1m 33.540s in the McLaren, and neither of their team mates got close to beating them.
Massas cause, yet again, was not helped by bad luck. On this occasion it was Jenson Button spinning in front of him when the Hondas engine lunched itself and showered him with debris, flame and hot oil. Massa ruined a set of tyres as he spun backwards through the gravel. He lapped in 1m 33.772, just ahead of Fernando Alonso on 1m 33.784s.
Ferrari got a good balance in the morning, as the McLaren team chose not to chase set-up in the difficult conditions, but in the afternoon the boot was on the other foot. Both McLaren drivers spoke of a positive session and decent balance, but Raikkonen admitted that he struggled to find that in the second session.
It is interesting that Robert Kubica split them from their team mates, after lapping the BMW Sauber in 1m 33.732s, which was another indication that the German-Swiss team continue to make progress. However, Kubica is still not happy with the F1.07s balance, and actually used the T-car in the afternoon just in case the instability, which he also complained of in Malaysia, was exclusive to his race car. It wasnt, although the problem wasnt quite as bad with the spare. Team mate Nick Heidfeld complained a little about oversteer, but that was probably a result of changed track conditions since the previous test here before the season started.
The other team in a hurry these days are Williams, who had the fourth-fastest car. It has been clear all season that the FW29 is an awful lot better than the FW28, and with Alex Wurz sixth on 1m 33.973s and Nico Rosberg eighth on 1m 34.189s they were right in the thick of things. Considering that the team hadnt tested here over the winter, this was a promising performance that underlined the technical progress Williams have made since 2006.
Red Bull continue to make a little progress, and once again had a car in the top 10 courtesy of David Coulthards lap of 1m 34.359s. Neither he nor Mark Webber (14th, on 1m 34.677s) pushed particularly hard in the slippery morning session, but in the afternoon they found a decent balance and were relatively happy.
Toyota are making quiet progress too, with Jarno Trulli setting their pace and completing the top 10 with 1m 34.366s. Ralf Schumacher had a minor mechanical problem, but mainly struggled more than Trulli to find grip.
Thanks to Coulthards reactions a nasty moment in the pit was avoided at one stage; the Scot was coming into his Red Bull garage and ducked behind one of the Toyotas which was about to be pushed backwards into its garage. At that very moment Toyotas brake man stepped back towards the garage, and avoided being run down only when DC managed to stop just in time.
Hondas problems are clearly not going to be solved easily or quickly, and both Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello again complained of inconsistent handling and instability under braking. The latter in particular is the last thing you want here. The Brazilian got his car slightly more to his liking late in the session, to vault up from the back to 11th overall with 1m 34.391s.
Renault didnt look very clever, with Heikki Kovalainen 12th and Giancarlo Fisichella 15th, with laps of 1m 34.585s and 1m 34.796s apiece. But the Italian was quite happy with the consistency on long runs and said the general feeling of the R27 was good. He explained his time by admitting that he ran wide on his best lap. Kovalainen echoed his sentiments, and suggested that the times made the situation look worse than it really was.
At Super Aguri, Anthony Davidson was right back into it now that he left his flu behind him in Malaysia, his 1m 34.595s best leaving him 13th. Team mate Takuma Sato was 16th on 1m 35.001s. Davidson fought gearbox problems in the morning, but quickly found a decent balance once he got going.
The Toro Rossos were only 17th and 20th (1m 35.268s for Tonio Liuzzi and 1m 35.687s for Scott Speed), but they set their times early in the session and at one time were first and third fastest. Both the Italian and the American were pleasantly surprised that the STR02s felt not only better than they had in the Bahrain test, but better than they did in Malaysia.
The Spyker team felt they had made progress in Malaysia thanks to a new aero package that was created in preference to taking the team to that races test session. Using it here, Adrian Sutil got among the Toro Rossos with his lap of 1m 35.582s, and Christijan Albers wasnt far behind on 1m 35.835s. Considering they had missed the Bahraini pre-season test too, there was reason to be cheerful after a productive day.