The Bahrain Grand Prix Preview - Sun, Sand and Sakhir 23 Apr 2009
With no respite since the rain of China, the Formula One schedule heads into the dust and hard sun of Bahrain this weekend at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, where Jenson Button and Brawn hope to get back to their winning ways and for a race that wont be interrupted by weather conditions and safety cars.
Felipe Massa has won this one for the past two years, but even Ferrari would be very surprised if the Brazilian can pull it off this time.
The odds continue to favour Brawn, with a car that seems to work very well in dry conditions, while Red Bull Racing must now be regarded as the team most likely to challenge after their excellent maiden one-two success in China.
Toyota need to turn the speed of their TF109 into a good result this weekend, as do Williams with their hitherto unlucky FW31. This is likely to be the last race at which the three diffuser teams enjoy their monopoly, as others are working hard to have similar two-tier aerodynamic components ready for Barcelona.
Interestingly, Bridgestone have brought along the same tyres as they did for Australia and China: the medium prime and the super soft option. This marks the first time that the super soft compound has been used at the 5.412 kilometre circuit which features a diverse mix of 15 turns. Bahrain is one of the toughest tracks on brakes, and the weather conditions are usually hot and dry. The desert location means that the track surface is often sandy and that the grip level rises as the surface is cleaned by the cars running. Traction is crucial to a good lap time, as many of the tight corners lead on to short straights. Tyre management skills of teams and drivers will be under scrutiny, as the high traction demands create additional heat in the tyres.
The race will once again, therefore, be all about tyre management, as it was in Melbourne and as it might have been had it not rained in Shanghai. That will favour the Brawn, which makes less aggressive use of its rubber than most of its rivals.
"Bahrain is always one of my favourite races on the calendar as I love the country, says points leader Jenson Button. The circuit has some great fast flowing sections which really suit my driving style and allow you to push the car to its limits. It's a good circuit for overtaking, particularly at turn one after the long straight where you brake very hard from over 300km/h in seventh gear down to first gear. People tend to brake surprisingly early here so you can make up crucial ground if you are brave. Confidence under braking is the key to a quick lap. You have to believe in the car's performance and have full confidence that you can stop effectively."
Fellow Briton Lewis Hamilton is also looking forward to the race. I think it should be good for us - the nature of the circuit, the long straights and the heavy braking zones mean it is a theoretically strong place for KERS, said McLarens world champion. In fact, its got the highest brake wear of the season so far, so it will be interesting to see how well KERS can be exploited around the lap.
Most importantly, we seem to have a solid direction within the team - all our upgrades invariably bring a lap time improvement and our direction on set-up and strategy shows what a strong group we still are. I still think we are several races away from being truly competitive but a straightforward race at Bahrain would give us a very good opportunity to accurately assess where we sit among our rivals.
BMW Sauber will persevere with KERS on Nick Heidfelds F1.09, but it remains to be seen whether either Ferrari or Renault put it back on their cars after deleting it for China.
While confirming that Nelson Piquet will have the new interim diffuser on his R29 that Fernando Alonso used in China, Renault technical director Bob Bell said: We will consider the merits of KERS on a race by race because its not a system that is categorically quicker at every track. It depends on the nature of the circuit and we will continue to assess it on a race by race basis.