Bahrain, Day 2: Testing form resumed
I feel a little underwhelmed, if I’m honest. After all the talk about how it was impossible to predict who was going to be top based on testing, that it was going to be an eight-way fight for glory in Bahrain, and that the midfield teams could spring a surprise, we were left with the two teams who the analysis of the long runs said would be the best after all – Ferrari and Red Bull – and a clear division between the “big teams” and the “little teams”. I will go through team-by-team:
McLaren – A disappointing start to the new season as once again it seems the Woking team will be on the back foot at the start of the season. Lewis is surprised to get 4th, and yet he was a second off the leading contenders. Button struggled into Q3 and ended up 8th, last of the “big guns”, saying he felt something was wrong with the car – seemingly yet more proof that he cannot deliver his best with an ill-handling car. It could be a long first half of the season for the reigning champion and the team as a whole – may be a few races yet before they can challenge for wins, until we get to the faster circuits where they can exploit their strengths.
Mercedes – Disappointment for Schumacher, satisfaction for Rosberg. That’s the story of the day for Merc GP. Once again the younger German trounced the elder one. Michael seems a bit rusty, to use his words, and we may have to wait a bit for him to get going. Hopefully, for the sport’s sake, it doesn’t take too long and that he has patience. But it’s a major confidence boost for Nico, who has had to face Michael’s scheming and mind games all winter. However, he is slightly disappointed with 5th. But the Merc is good on its tyres so a podium for the Sakhir specialist is a real possibility.
Red Bull – A great performance Vettel sees the young German continue where he left off in the Middle East in November but it’s far from a done deal. He has been the faster of the two drivers all weekend, although Webber made a mistake in Sector 2 of his final flier, but that is just over one lap. Not only have we seen Vettel make the odd mistake in races before now and get outraced by his team mate on several occasions, we can also expect the Red Bull’s tyres to go faster than their rivals. The first stint of the race on the softs will be crucial for him. As for Mark, he will be very disappointed – as last year, he has made a big mistake on his final qualifying lap which has cost him dearly. However, 6th is better than the 10th of Australia, and certainly way better than quali in Bahrain last year, so it’s not all bad news.
Ferrari – The reds will be disappointed not to take pole today but Vettel was simply that little bit faster on the day. Massa’s triumph over Alonso, though, is one of the stories of the day – a big psychological victory in the early skirmishes. The Brazilian, like his team mate a double Bahrain winner, is in a great position to pick up win number 3 if the Ferrari can protect its tyres better than ‘Luscious Liz’ ahead. Fernando, it seems, also made a mistake on his final lap, having been ahead for Massa in Q2 and topping Q1 and FP3 before qualifying. The start is important – he will be on the clean side of the grid, as opposed to his team mate on the dirty side.
Williams – Another team that will be slightly disappointed, with neither driver making Q3. Rubens will be happy to have seen off Hulkenberg here and to pick up that ideal 11th place, first of the runners to start on hards. He could make serious inroads into the points tomorrow. Hulkenberg has had a good debut weekend too. The Williams is a midfield car, which they may be a bit disappointed by, but they’re seemingly on a par right now with Force India in the battle to be 5th-best constructor.
Renault – Better than I expected. Kubica did a great job to get into Q3 and reckons he could’ve got more speed out of the car, so they’re obviously not in the poor shape I expected them to be. However, starting on softs with several on hards behind, he could be a sitting duck and may struggling to pick up points. Petrov did a decent job getting into Q2, which at this stage is all that could be asked of him, so credit to him – a quiet debut weekend is what he’ll want.
Force India – Sutil once again outpaces Liuzzi and gets into Q3. But it could get better for the team, who will be delighted to have what is effectively the 5th or 6th best car out there. With Sutil starting on hards tomorrow, if the race comes his way and he keeps his nose clean, he could score some serious points and take a few scalps on to Australia. Liuzzi will be slightly disappointed with 12th given what Adrian has achieved but he splits the Williamses for 12th – a decent enough job considering he hasn’t driven here in an F1 car since 2007.
Toro Rosso – There are still glimmers of hope that Toro Rosso could mix it with the other midfield teams regularly but it looks doubtful. Alguersuari disappointed again by not making Q2, the spot of shame as the only non-new team driver, and some half a second off Kobayashi in Q1 16th. That’s not the way he wanted to start the season. Buemi, though, managed to punch a little above his weight by picking up 15th, ahead of Kobayashi and Petrov. Pretty much the same as last year but that’s a positive considering they designed and built the car all by themselves this year.
Lotus – The battle of the new teams didn’t quite go in the favour of Lotus this time but they’ll be pleased so far with a trouble-free weekend. Trulli edged Kovalainen by half a second despite trailing him for most of the weekend so far, but it’s largely academic at this stage. With good reliability, they could sneak a point or two if they keep out of trouble and previous season openers with many retirements are repeated – they’ll be hoping for a first corner pile-up at the front.
HRT – The real heroes of the day, in my view, are Karun Chandhok and Bruno Senna. The times they set, considering the ridiculous situation they are in, are a tribute to their talents. Both, before this weekend, had only tested an F1 car once, and the car they are participating in hadn’t hit the track. The gap to the young Brazilian of 8.628 seconds may seem great but it is worth considering that it was nearly 4 seconds more after the car’s first laps in FP2 and it is only just outside the 107% that so many have been calling for to be reintroduced as the limit – at Melbourne, he would be 6.4 seconds off the pace. Chandhok was a bit slower at 10.292 seconds off Alonso, but his times are all the more remarkable considering he did not participate in any of the practice sessions. Both drivers did a fantastic job, both timewise and in staying out of harms’ way. Onward and upward for the Spanish team.
Sauber – The biggest disappointment of the day by far. They arrived here with talk that they could upset the odds, challenge the big boys for pace and then perhaps beat them with better tyre management. In the event, both de la Rosa and Kobayashi were lucky to get through Q1. I think their remarkable times in testing were a little 2001 Prost-esque. One other thing to take out of there, though, is that Pedro, despite not having participated in a grand prix weekend, beat Kobayashi by just over a tenth – perhaps a certain German in a silver car could ask him for advice on how to return in style…
Virgin – Glock has proven today that the Virgin is a little faster than the Lotus over a single lap right now, leading the new teams at 5 seconds off the fastest Q1 time. It is a mini-victory for Nick Wirth’s CFD-only approach. Di Grassi ends up 22nd, about 9 tenths off his team mate, but the team will be most pleased with the fact that they got through quali with no further issues to deal with after a troubled series of practice sessions.
Conclusions – As I said, it is a bit underwhelming that the two front-running teams have a clear advantage over everyone else. It is puzzling that there is such a wide gap as last year, barely a second covered the top 10, and yet now Hamilton in 4th is a second off Vettel. So those who said we were in for a titanic fight between several teams have a bit of explaining to do. It seems to be much like 2006 – four teams were said to be title contenders before the season started, but two of those, McLaren and Honda, won just one race between them. Are we going to see the same this year – is the much-hyped 2010 season going to fall short of expectations? But then we’ve only seen one qualifying session – there’s a long way to go yet this weekend, let alone this year…