Bahrain Flashback 2008 - Ferrari to the fore 24 Apr 2009
Although the season was just two races old, last years championship was already looking pretty meaty as the paddock looked ahead to the calendars third instalment in Bahrain. With McLarens Lewis Hamilton leading the drivers standings on 14 points from Ferraris Kimi Raikkonen (11) and BMW Saubers Nick Heidfeld (11), and McLaren (24) at the top of the constructors table, ahead of BMW Sauber (19) and Ferrari (11), there was already a clear three-way fight for the title.
As they arrived at Sakhir, BMW Sauber appeared the most confident of the leading trio, with team principal Mario Theissen describing their mood as motivated. But after Raikkonens dominant win at the previous round in Malaysia, Ferrari looked in good shape too, especially as they had tested in Bahrain (alongside Toyota) over the winter. And after his poor start to the season - zero points from two races - it was Felipe Massa who really needed to make an impression.
And on Friday morning he did just that, setting the fastest time of the opening practice session, ahead of team mate Raikkonen, Williams Nico Rosberg and the McLarens of Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen. In the afternoon, the Ferrari team mates continued to dominate, with Raikkonen leading Massa, Kovalainen. Hamilton was fourth, but only after he lost control of his MP4-23 with just minutes to go, striking a barrier with enough force to loosen two wheels and cause considerable damage. BMW Saubers Robert Kubica finished fifth, Rosberg maintained his form in sixth, Red Bulls David Coulthard was seventh and Williams Kazuki Nakajima in eighth.
On Saturday morning, it was Rosbergs turn to top the timesheets ahead of Massa, Red Bulls Mark Webber, Toyotas Jarno Trulli, Coulthard and Nakajima. Raikkonen could only muster ninth, while Hamilton finished a lowly 18th. Even so, it was surprisingly close running, with just 0.8s covering 14 cars.
But while final practice had thrown up some surprises, no one predicted who would storm to the head of the grid in the afternoon. Rather than the dominant-looking Massa, it was Kubica who clinched the first pole of his career - and the first for BMW Sauber. Massa finished second, ahead of Hamilton, Raikkonen, Kovalainen, a disappointed Heidfeld, and Trulli.
Williams seemed to fade a little with Rosberg in eighth and Nakajima 16th, but Jenson Button impressed in the Honda, taking ninth, while Renaults Fernando Alonso settled for 10th. Overall, it was a pretty mixed-up grid and with a newcomer on pole, the Sakhir race had all the makings of becoming the best clash of the season so far.
But as the red lights went out Kubica could do nothing to hold Massa back as the Ferrari driver instantly seized the initiative. And as he sped off into the distance, three laps later the Pole lost second place to Raikkonen after running into oil in Turns Four through 11. Aside from pit stops, the top three stayed unchanged for the races duration, with a dominant Massa leading Ferrari home to an easy one-two ahead of Kubica.
Hamilton, meanwhile, fared poorly. A slow start saw him end the opening lap in 10th, while a collision with the back of Alonsos Renault - and the resultant pit stop for a new nose - saw him running in traffic with a heavy fuel load. He eventually finished 13th, behind a fast-starting Giancarlo Fisichella in the Force India, and with BMW Saubers Nick Heidfeld ahead of fifth-placed Kovalainen, McLaren left Sakhir routed and losing the lead in both championships.
Trulli enjoyed a smooth ride to sixth, ahead of Webber and Rosberg, who completed the point scorers. Timo Glock in the second Toyota just missed out in ninth, while Alonso survived his brush with Hamilton to take 10th, ahead of a Hondas Rubens Barrichello, who chased him to the finish line.
Hamiltons poor result, and the success of his rivals, meant Raikkonen stepped into the lead of the drivers championship on 19 points, ahead of Heidfeld on 16, Hamilton, Kubica and Kovalainen on 14, and Massa on 10. In the constructors chase, despite missing out on victory, BMW Sauber left Bahrain in the lead with 30 points, ahead of Ferrari on 29 and McLaren on 28.