The Formula One field previews the first race to be held in the heart of the Middle East, this weekend's inaugural Grand Prix of Bahrain, and the challenge of an all-new circuit based in the desert.
Michael Schumacher, Ferrari (Drivers Championship 1st, 20 pts):
I am very curious. It is a new race on a new track and in a different climate. I like visiting new places and coming into contact with new cultures, even if we are not always able to totally understand everything about them. In any case, travel is always something that enriches the soul.
In Sepang I hoped to bring home six or maybe eight points. We knew that it would have been a difficult race and so the eventual victory was even better. We know it will be a hot race in Bahrain. We shouldnt forget that it was cloudy in Malaysia and if the sun had come out, things would have been even harder. The real worry in Bahrain is the sand. We are all concerned about it and how much the sand will condition the performance of the engine. I am quite confident, though.
Taking on a new track is always exciting, though no more than difficult than driving one that you know well. The computer simulations really do help in giving us an idea of the set up we will need. It is important to remember that every time we take to the track, we have a different set up depending on the temperature, the weather and the track surface. There are lots of factors to consider and, for this reason, a new circuit is a little harder to deal with. It will be very, very exciting though.
Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari (Drivers Championship 2nd, 13 pts):
I have never been anywhere in this part of the world and in fact, I am going to spend a couple of days in Dubai before making the trip to Bahrain and I am very much looking forward to discovering another part of the world.
I like to approach a new circuit in the old-fashioned way, which is to get to the track and walk round it or maybe cycle. I will probably do a couple of laps, walking, running or cycling to develop a feel for the place. By the time I get in the car, the engineers will have done all the necessary circuit simulation programmes and they will know what speeds we can expect and the most likely gear for each corner. Then all you can do is start driving and learn the track phase by phase. But to be honest, once you are used to finding the limits of a Formula 1 car, learning a new track is not such a big deal.
I have heard there might not be so many points around the circuit to help the drivers, which is natural I guess, given it is in the desert. But I have always been open minded about using markers for my braking or turning points. Sometimes there might be something useful like a bridge across the track or a change in the surface of the asphalt. You first notice these things when you walk the track, but not until you have driven it do you know if these are useful indications or not. Only then can you decide what to take as a reference. Hopefully, after the first ten laps you should know enough to start making changes to the car and be on the limit. I think the specific problem with this circuit is that it is going to be dirty as it is brand new and so the limit is going to be very changeable. So, ten laps is enough to know what you are doing, but until there is a good layer of rubber on the surface, you are going to be learning all the time. The F2004 has proved to be competitive at the first two races. So I dont see any reason why that should not be the same here.
Juan Pablo Montoya, Williams (Drivers Championship 3rd, 12 pts):
Personally, I believe that Formula One going to the Middle East, and to Bahrain in particular, is really important. Racing at a completely new venue is going to be a real challenge for all the teams but also very exciting.
The facilities look amazing and the track itself looks state of the art, with several overtaking opportunities. As it was designed by the same guy who worked on the Sepang circuit, I'm sure it will be great, so I am really looking forward to getting there to see what it's like in reality. After my podium finish in Malaysia, I believe all the team are more confident and keen to improve on that performance in Bahrain.
Jenson Button, BAR (Drivers Championship 4th, 9 pts):
"Obviously the whole team is feeling very positive, but we still have a lot of work to do before Bahrain, which is why we have been testing in France this week. It is very difficult to know what to expect as the circuit is brand new, but from the information we have seen, we know it is very dusty, so it will be interesting to see what the track conditions will be like. We will have to see what happens over the race weekend. It would be nice to follow up on our good result at the last race with some more points or perhaps another podium. I am looking forward to the challenge."
Fernando Alonso, Renault (Drivers Championship 5th, 8 pts):
(Q: A new circuit, but also a new country: have you visited this region before?) No, never. It will be interesting for everybody, I think: for sure, adapting to the circuit and the technical side will be a challenge, but it will also be an interesting week away from the track: every time you visit a new country, you learn something new, see new things and have experiences that are different from home. It is one of the nice things about Formula 1, visiting new places and new cultures. I am looking forward to it.
(Q: In terms of learning the circuit, how long will it take you normally?) To be honest, there is no substitute for lots of mileage: the more you do, the better you will know the circuit. But under this year's rules, we are much more restricted than last year with the Heathrow testing. All in all, after ten or fifteen laps, you normally feel comfortable with the circuit, and know which kerbs you can use.
(Q: In a weekend where the teams are mostly starting from a level playing field, what factors are the most important?) To be honest, it's the same as usual: a combination of getting everything right. You need the right tyres, a good car, engine, the drivers cannot make mistakes and also some luck. I don't think the factors change just because it is a new circuit.
(Q: And overall, what are your feelings on how the team will perform?) Bahrain will be similar to Malaysia in terms of tyres and cooling, so I think we can be confident in those areas. It will certainly be a tough race for the drivers. But beyond that, who knows? It is really impossible to make predictions but, with even more work to do than usual, the weekend will need to run very smoothly to fight at the front of the field.
Jarno Trulli, Renault (Drivers Championship 6th, 6 pts):
(Q: When arriving at a circuit you have never visited, how much preparation can you do?) Our main preparation comes on Wednesday or Thursday when we do our circuit walk with the engineers: before that, you can discuss some points, but a map can only really tell you which way the corners go. The test will come on Friday, because we will be learning the circuit, deciding about tyres and trying to set the car up: for sure, that will be a big challenge.
(Q: And what about visiting Bahrain for the first time: are you excited?) For sure: it will be my first time out in the desert, and in the Middle East, so I am anticipating an interesting week. The circuit will definitely be one of the best we go to in terms of facilities, and we can expect safety standards to be very high. There will be a lot of new experiences in the city as well, which is always something to be enjoyed.
(Q: Hot conditions are expected, although a little cooler than in Malaysia: the car seemed to perform well in high temperatures?) The R24 seemed to go well in Malaysia, but we did see the handling change quite a lot with the temperature, and we were slightly surprised by what happened during the race. But we have learned from that, and overall the car performs well in high temperatures: it will be a hard race, just like in Sepang, but we can be quite confident I think.
(Q: First impressions have suggested the track could be very slippery, and windy conditions may see grip levels varying throughout the weekend: as drivers how can you cope with this?) The main key is to be adaptable: the only circuit you can drive on is the one you find at that particular moment. It definitely makes our life harder, because we are used to racing in predictable conditions during the race, and we make set-up decisions accordingly. Whatever happens though, we must deal with it and adapt - that is always true during a race, but it may prove to be even more so in Bahrain.
Ralf Schumacher, Williams (Drivers Championship 7th, 5 pts):
I am convinced that the Bahrain Grand Prix will be a lot of fun, for the drivers and for the public. I'm already excited to see how the place has changed since my short visit in December last year. The race is opening new frontiers for Formula One but going to a new track inevitably throws up various questions, for example will it suit our car and how comfortable will I feel on the new track? The role the dry heat will play and whether sand will be a problem are also going to be issues we will have to face.
Juan Pablo's second place in Malaysia has shown that we are not that far away from Ferrari as we feared, but there's still a long way to go to before we can beat them. Testing at Le Castellet this week has shown that we are working in the right direction so I hope that we will be able to make up more ground in Bahrain.
David Coulthard, McLaren (Drivers Championship 8th, 4 pts):
"A new circuit adds an extra element to our preparation for a race, as we have not driven the track previously, but it provides another interesting challenge to the event and I am very much looking forward to the Bahrain Grand Prix. The first thing I will do when I arrive at the circuit is to go for a recce of the track with my engineers. Obviously we have done considerable preparation at the team headquarters, but this enables us to get a real understanding of exactly how tight an apex is or where the braking zone is for example. With any new event, there are of course factors that are tricky to understand until the race itself, and the main example with Bahrain is what impact the sand from the surrounding desert will have, I understand the organisers have taken measures to combat this but we shall have to wait and see what happens! Since Sepang the team has continued its test programme at Paul Ricard in the South of France with Alexander Wurz and Pedro de la Rosa at the wheel of two MP4-19's, completing some 2000 kilometres."
Felipe Massa, Sauber (Drivers Championship 9th, 1 pt):
"I have heard that the Bahrain circuit is really nice, and it's new for everyone so it will be really interesting this weekend. We'll all have to learn the track at the same time. We have made a simulation for the track, of course, but we cannot be absolutely sure of the set-up, so there will be much work to do on Friday.
"I always love going to different places. It was fun going to Borneo recently with the Sauber Petronas C23 - the people there had never seen an F1 car before so they were going crazy. It was really amazing, and this weekend I think will be similar. Having scored the team's first point in 2004 in Sepang, I'm looking forward to gain some more in Bahrain."
Cristiano da Matta, Toyota:
"My ninth place at the Malaysian Grand Prix and the team's second two-car finish of the season showed that we have the capability of scoring points even at this early stage of the season. As a new track, Bahrain will offer a totally new set of hurdles for us all to overcome, but I will rely on my intensive experience from last season to make progress as quickly as possible. The fact that most of the circuits on the calendar were new to me in 2003 could offer me a slight advantage this weekend. Last year, I became quite adept at making up ground to my rivals, but this weekend we are all on the same level. The Bahrain Grand Prix is very important to Formula One for many reasons, so I am optimistic it will be an enjoyable race weekend."
Takuma Sato, BAR:
"I really don't know much about this new race, but I am in the same position as most other people. All we know is that it is going to be really hot and sandy! It is always interesting to go to a new circuit, and I personally am very excited to be going to a new country. I have never been to that area at all, so it will be a great new experience. I will be doing three days of training before the race to prepare for the hot conditions, and with all the preparations we are doing at the test this week, we should be in a really good position. Malaysia was disappointing, as we had the pace and the strategy and could have scored a point without the problem we had. We are working on the reliability and as we were competitive at the first two races, I am very encouraged and looking forward to Bahrain."
Giancarlo Fisichella, Sauber:
"I have no idea quite what to expect in Bahrain. But I enjoy going to new countries and cities, and of course to new F1 circuits. I have heard that there are some good places to overtake on the Bahrain International Circuit, though it could be a bit slippery, like Zandvoort in Holland.
"I am quite happy with the way the Sauber Petronas C23 has been progressing, and we are continuing to learn a lot about the car. So I'm hoping that we can qualify and race well here."
Christian Klien, Jaguar:
"Two races and two finishes, this is what I was aiming for so I am really pleased with my progress and that of the teams. The race in Malaysia was tough but to have finished both is testament to the reliability of the R5 and the effort of the guys back in the factory at Milton Keynes and Northampton. After the race I felt good, and all my training is paying off, and of course this will stand me in good stead for the heat of Bahrain. Looking ahead, my third race is going to be good fun as this will be the first time that it is really an even playing field for us from a driver's point of view. None of us have raced there so I am going to give it my all and see what happens. The track is likely to be quite dusty but until we get out on track on Friday we won't really know how things are going to progress. Although the engineers have been preparing as best they can, there is no substitute for the real thing!"
Olivier Panis, Toyota:
"From a personal point of view, I think it is very refreshing to have new circuits on the F1 calendar, not only for the racing, but also to be given the opportunity to discover a new country, a different culture and new people. I have not been to the track in Bahrain, although I have been studying the layout and I am really looking forward to the grand prix. Like all drivers, we will only see the track for the first time when we walk around it on Thursday, and I am sure it will provide a real challenge. The last time I drove a completely new track to me was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway back in 2001 and I feel that I can adapt quickly to new situations and conditions, something I aim to do this weekend as we look to make another step forward. I think our overall performance in Malaysia showed that we are working in the right direction and we will certainly continue to do so."
Giorgio Pantano, Jordan:
"I think this race is going to be quite exciting as the circuit is new for everybody so nobody knows it and in that respect we're all equal. It will be interesting to see who is quickest at finding a good set-up for this race. I am happy with two race finishes at this stage and I don't think we have done a bad job. Now we can start to improve in terms of speed and results. I am feeling more confident with the team and with the whole environment. It's starting to come together a little bit more easily now and I hope we will see that in Bahrain."
Nick Heidfeld, Jordan:
"I'm a little disappointed not to finish a race however on the positive side I have made good starts and my speed has been quite encouraging. I was keeping a few cars behind me at the Malaysian Grand Prix and our pace was quite good. I know the team have been working really hard to sort out the technical problems I have experienced and my target for this race is to finish, and maintain the pace that I have been able to find so far. I'm very much looking forward to visiting Bahrain because I think this new race is good for Formula One, after all it's a World Championship so we should go all over the world. I always like the challenge of new circuits and I enjoy visiting new places."
Mark Webber, Jaguar:
"I am frustrated that I have yet to finish a race, but it is not through a lack of trying by myself or the team. The R5 was four seconds a lap faster round the Sepang track than it was last year so our hard work over the past year is certainly paying off. Progress at this level does not happen overnight, but we are starting to see the rewards of our winter testing programme and although we are still learning we are so far ahead versus where we were last year. I am really looking forward to this next race, a new track, new conditions and quite a few unknowns for us. I have been doing lots of training in high temperatures and after the humidity of Sepang we are in good shape, both from a driver's point of view and from a cooling point of view on the car. Bjorn is testing at Santa Pod this week so we are proactively addressing the areas where we were disappointing in Malaysia. I am confident that the team will take steps forward between now and Bahrain and our goal for the weekend will be to be competitive and to highlight the continuous improvement of the R5."
Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren:
"The Bahrain Grand Prix has the potential to be another warm race due to its desert location, but nothing like the heat and the sapping humidity we had in Malaysia. From what I have seen and heard of the facilities at the circuit they are outstanding, and I am very interested to see what the track will be like to drive. My understanding of the circuit itself is that there are a good variety of challenges on the circuit, from the four long straights with real overtaking opportunities at the end and some fast sweeping sections at the back of the circuit. All this will hopefully make for interesting racing, and I reckon it will be a good race from the start as we will probably be able to pick-up quite a bit of speed along the main straight from the lights to the first corner, before braking hard as we all funnel into the tight right hander. Another possible overtaking opportunity is the left of turn two. I was in Dubai recently for a promotion and it was obvious that there is a real enthusiasm for motorsport in the region. Also, the track has been designed to be spectator friendly, so hopefully there will be a good atmosphere at the event."
Ricardo Zonta, third driver, Toyota:
"After the first two races, it has become quite clear that my role in Friday practice is critical in tyre selection for the weekend, as well as on the set-up of the car. This weekend in Bahrain, I think we will benefit even more from having the possibility to run three cars on Friday. As a new circuit, the more data we can collect on the opening day, the better our chances will be of securing a good result on Sunday afternoon. The TF104 chassis and RVX-04 engine have been 100% reliable in the opening races of the year, and this reliability should also be an advantage this weekend. The outcome is difficult to predict, but if we can get the cars to the chequered flag again, we could be in with a chance of scoring our first points of the year."
Bjorn Wirdheim, third driver, Jaguar:
"I am really enjoying my role with the team and it is really satisfying to know that your work on the Friday is paying dividends for the team over the Saturday and Sunday. Malaysia was a good weekend for us in terms of gathering data and the tyre work that I did was crucial in deciding our choice for the race. Today (Monday) I am testing for the team at Santa Pod to work specifically on our starts and I know that the guys back at the factory in Milton Keynes have been working flat out on the data so that we can move forward in time for Bahrain. Bahrain is going to be a very busy race for us in terms of data gathering on the Friday and I am looking forward to the challenge. The dust is likely to play a role over the course of the weekend but it will be interesting to see how this affects the track and in turn the tyres and engine. Either way I know that we will be giving it our best shot and I am excited about getting back out on track"
The drivers look ahead to Bahrain 31 Mar 2004
The Formula One field previews the first race to be held in the heart of the Middle East, this weekend's inaugural Grand Prix of Bahrain, and the challenge of an all-new circuit based in the desert.