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The Sakhir sandstorms await 30 Mar 2005

Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2004.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, 3 April 2004 A camel in the Bahrain Desert Williams Desert Lifestyle Shoot, Sakhir, Bahrain, 7 January 2005. World © Sutton Felipe Massa (BRA) Sauber Petronas C23.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Practice Day, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, 2 April 2004 Olivier Panis (FRA) Toyota TF104.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, 3 April 2004 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R24.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, 3 April 2004

Teams ready for some highly unusual conditions

As you would expect at a circuit in the middle of a desert, sand will be a potential hazard at this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix. As well as making the track surface more slippery, just a few tiny grains can potentially do untold damage to a Formula One car.

"You have to be aware that it can get in to every part of the car,” explained Red Bull’s technical director Gunther Steiner. “It literally sandblasts the car every time it goes on track and gradually erodes all the surfaces and the cooling fins on the radiators.”

As a result, the teams will take special steps to protect their precious machines. “We will use our maximum cooling bodywork package, and take a lot of time with additional filters and protection for things such as suspension pivots and wheel bearings,” said Sauber technical director Willy Rampf.

Of course, the part of the car most vulnerable to the effects of the sand is its power source. Any presence of sand in the engine’s pistons, piston rings or valves would almost certainly be catastrophic, hence effective air filtration is a key concern.

“In order to protect the engine's air intake from this potential problem, we have prepared a finer air filter which features a denser weave that we will take to
Bahrain,” explained BMW Motorsport director Mario Thiessen.

Although at last year’s inaugural Bahrain race, the sand was not as big a problem as had been expected, revised regulations for 2005 mean the teams will be taking no chances, given that most drivers’ engines will also have to last through the following round at Imola.

“The balancing act is to provide as much protection as necessary without reducing the air flow,” added Thiessen, whose Williams team will start the weekend with one fresh engine (on Mark Webber’s car) and one used one.

With all those safety measures in place, the only ‘sand effect’ the drivers are likely to experience is a reduction in grip from the Sakhir track surface. “Choosing the right tyre is a more difficult task and you have to be patient and wait for the circuit to be at its cleanest and least windy before making that decision," explained Steiner.

The second Bahrain Grand Prix takes place this weekend on April 1-3, with Ferrari due to take centre stage due to the eagerly-anticipated race debut of their new F2005 machine.