It’s all change for 2006 – new teams, rules, qualifying (again) and even a new opening race. The Australian Grand Prix has been moved back to April to accommodate some tedious running-and-jumping festival (that’s The Commonwealth Games – ed.) and so the new season gets underway in the middle of a Bahraini desert. So much for F1 glamour.
Having taken a glance at the new teams elsewhere, let’s instead consider how the new-look race weekend could pan out.
Aside from the minor changes to practice arrangements, which could save vital strain on the new two-race V8 engines, the first major change is to qualifying. All drivers will be out on track at the start of the one-hour session, then six will be dropped, and then another six, and finally the top ten will battle for pole.
Unfortunately, the new system throws up a lot of confusing variables. In the event of a yellow flag or a late red, many drivers could miss out on setting a good time. Traffic will come into play, especially in the first part of the session, and drivers could be baulked. If any drivers are to be penalised it could result in different drivers gaining passage to the next phase of qualifying.
And all the â€œwho gets to refuel, who doesn’t, and what does it meanâ€ permutations are so nuanced and complicated it won’t be worth worrying about them until the race is finished and everyone knows what everyone did. But at least the end of qualifying, with ten drivers setting ever faster times on ever-decreasing fuel loads, should have an element of drama. Whether we get to see it or not is down to the competence of the television directors.
The first Bahrain Grand Prix was, like most races in 2004, pretty dull. But the 2005 event was far better, thanks in no small part to Pedro de la Rosa’s antics in his one-off race for McLaren.
Bahrain becomes the thirteenth venue to hold the opening round of the Formula One World Championship. Melbourne held every opening round since 1996, making it the second most-used venue for that purpose. Buenos Aires in Argentina held 15 championship curtain-raisers.
Kyalami in South Africa held eight such races, the most recent in 1993. But the 1981 race was subsequently declared to be ‘non-championship’ due to the political dispute between FISA and FOCA and the first round that year counted for championship points that year was Long Beach, California.
Bahrain included, four circuits have held one-off opening Grands Prix: East London, South Africa (1965), Zandvoort, The Netherlands (1962), and Silverstone, Great Britain, which held the first ever round of the World Championship in 1950.
|Opening Grands Prix||Circuit|
|15||Buenos Aires, Argentina|
|7 (8)||Kyalami, South Africa|
|2 (1)||Long Beach, United States of America|
|1||Silverstone, Great Britain|
|1||Zandvoort, The Netherlands|
|1||East London, South Africa|
Of course, people often look to the winner of the first Grand Prix to be that year’s champion, and by and large it’s a good barometer. Since 1989 13 of the 17 winners of the first race have gone on to win the championship. The four that didn’t were Nigel Mansell (1989, Ferrari), David Coulthard (1997, McLaren), Eddie Irvine (1999, Ferrari) and Coulthard again (2003, McLaren).
So, British fans, if Jenson Button does win in Bahrain don’t get your hopes up too soon!