World champions bring their own red sea to the desert
Michael Schumacher leads a Ferrari one-two, with Jenson Button third for BAR, as Williams and McLaren fail to stay in touch.
Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari, Bridgestone. Blend them together and you win Grands Prix in Australia, Malaysia and now Bahrain. The first race in an Arabic country since 1958 fell to the red cars, and in truth they were never remotely challenged by anyone.
After eight laps Schumacher had a 5.3s lead over Barrichello, who in turn was 7.8s ahead of Williams Juan Pablo Montoya, their nearest follower. Schumacher was the first to pit, on lap nine, followed a lap later by Barrichello and Montoya. Once the fast BARs of Takuma Sato and Jenson Button had had turns leading laps 11 and 12 respectively, the Ferraris resumed their command.
Schumacher stopped again on lap 24, handing the lead to Barrichello until the Brazilian stopped on lap 27, then took over again until his final pit call on lap 41. Rubens led again on laps 42 and 43, then Michael went back ahead as Rubens refuelled. Most of the time they were between 10 and 12s apart, but the gap came down to 1.367s at the finish line as Michael backed off in a style reminiscent of 2002. Their closest follower was nearly half a minute behind. For Ferrari fans, it doesnt get better than that.
For most of their opposition, it was a nightmare. Button was happy afterwards, because he had driven a pluperfect race after a less than wonderful start had left him temporarily behind fast team mate Sato. The Englishman kept his cool, was supremely consistent, and eventually hunted Taku down on the 17th lap.
After their second pit stops Button was running fifth, chasing third-placed Montoya and Renaults Jarno Trulli. He got the Italian during their final stops, and then hauled Montoya in steadily, and then more rapidly, as steady loss of gears left the Colombian with only fourth with which to row his Williams home. As Montoya faded to a frustrating 13th place finish, Button did just what he hoped to do after Malaysia, finishing on the podium for the second race in succession.
Sato gave BAR a major boost by climbing back to finish fifth. His race began to come unstuck when he and Ralf Schumacher got together in the second corner as Sato resisted the Germans overtaking move. Perhaps he might have been wiser to concede the position and fight another corner, but the Japanese is a racer so he went for it and Ralf ended up spinning. The stewards had a think about it afterwards, and decided it was what it was a racing incident.
After that Sato damaged his front wing running over a kerb trying to stay ahead of Button, and dropped way back after a pit stop for a new nose on lap 18. But he had led his first Grand Prix, on lap 11, and now he charged back through the field, steadfastly resisting very strong overtures from Fernando Alonso, whose own race had been compromised by the need to start near the back of the grid after his qualifying gaffes, and also by a first lap pit call for a new Renault nose after damage was sustained in the early traffic. It says much for Sato that he earned his spurs in style by keeping his cool to the end.
Montoyas problems also promoted Trulli, Sato and Alonso to fourth, fifth and sixth, the Italian Renault driver taking it steady once Button got the better of him.
After his problem with Sato and a resultant pit stop, Ralf Schumacher battled back to finish seventh, punting Giancarlo Fisichellas Sauber out of his way on the 31st lap.
Eighth place eventually went Mark Webbers way, which gave Jaguar their first point and Webber his first finish of the season after a gritty drive. He had one minor off, and was unable to resist Alonsos charge, but a point is a point and Jaguar needed something from this race. Team mate Christian Klien distinguished himself greatly initially by overtaking Kimi Raikkonen twice, on the third and fifth laps, but neither time could the young Austrian make it stick. He finally got the nod when the Finns engine scattered itself on the eighth lap.
It was a disastrous race for McLaren, as David Coulthard dropped out of what could have been a distant seventh place when his Mercedes engines pneumatics lost pressure. He pitted on lap 50, and stopped before clearing the pit lane exit. On a day when only three cars retired, two were McLarens, the other Zsolt Baumgartners Minardi.
Toyotas qualifying upswing led to ninth and 10th place finishes, in the order Olivier Panis and Cristiano Da Matta, with the unhappy Sauber drivers Fisichella and Felipe Massa 11th and 12th after Montoyas problems. After his opening burst Kliens race fell apart after a spin and he came home 14th, heading Jordan drivers Nick Heidfeld (who had one bouncy off-course moment) and Giorgio Pantano. After starting late, Gianmaria Bruni was the final man home, in 17th.
This was another very tough race for us, Michael Schumacher said after spraying the special carbonated warrd non-alcoholic drink that replaced champagne on the podium in deference to the Islamic faith. But it feels wonderful to have won the first Grand Prix in the Middle East. The Bahrainis put on a great show for us, and I am happy to have contributed to it.
Michael Schumacher now leads the Drivers Championship with 30 points, Rubens Barrichello is second with 21 points and Jenson Button has moved up to third on 15 points.