Bridgestone back in the hunt 13 Mar 2006
Michelin are unlikely to repeat their 2005 whitewash this year - at least if Bridgestones form in Bahrain is anything to go by. The Japanese company took pole position with Ferrari and cars using their tyres clocked up four of the six fastest race laps.
Having led Ferrari team mate Felipe Massa to a Bridgestone one-two in qualifying, Michael Schumacher narrowly missed out on victory to the Michelin-shod Renault of Fernando Alonso, while both Williams also made the points on Japanese rubber. It was in stark contrast to last year's Bahrain race, when Bridgestone failed to score.
"This is a good way to start the season, said Hisao Suganuma, Bridgestone Motorsports technical manager, afterwards. It wasn't a Bridgestone win and there's always room for improvement but we are very encouraged. It shows that our general development direction was correct over the winter and we will keep pushing to make the Bridgestone teams competitive.
Williams are one of two teams to have switched from Michelin to Bridgestone for 2006 and they put in an impressive showing, Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg finishing sixth and seventh respectively, with Rosberg also setting the fastest lap of the race on his Formula One debut.
In contrast, Toyota - the other team to move to Bridgestone over the off season - endured a surprisingly poor weekend. Neither Ralf Schumacher nor Jarno Trulli made the top ten in qualifying, and the pair then trailed home in 14th and 16th in the race - a far cry from their second and fourth places in Bahrain last year.
The two Williams drivers had strong performances, said Suganuma. The Toyotas did struggle to use their maximum potential but we shall try to help them after analysing this weekend's data further.
Despite Bridgestone's improvement, Michelin were still the overall winners in Bahrain, scoring 26 points to their rivals' 13.