Bahrain Grand Prix 2007 preview

Bahrain Grand Prix 2007 circuit diagramYou wait three weeks for a Grand Prix, then two come along at once. Enjoy it while it lasts, though, for there’s a painful one-month wait for the next race after Bahrain.

Already the championship battle is looking promising if McLaren can sustain the threat to Ferrari. But was the Scuderia’s disappointing day in Malaysia a one-off, or a sign of things to come?

McLaren-Mercedes

Having wrested victory from the Ferraris in Sepang Fernando Alonso returns to the scene of a similar victory last year. When the Ferraris and Renaults looked evenly matched at the desert track in 2006, Pat Symonds’ strategic nous helped Alonso score a strategic knockout.

With Alonso and McLaren leading both titles races they have struck an important psychological blow against Ferrari, who appear to have the faster car but not the points to show for it.

In just two races Lewis Hamilton has distinguished himself for being rapid, confident, and imperturbably cool. After his killer starts at Melbourne and Sepang his nearest rivals are all aware from first hand experience what he can do off the line.

But the last stint in Malaysia, when he was up to a second of a lap slower than team mate Alonso on the harder rubber, shows there is still progress to be made. That is both good and bad news for those trying to beat him.

Renault

Renault’s expectations that they had turned a corner in understanding the Bridgestone compound did not appear to be realised in Sepang. Having only got Giancarlo Fisichella through to the last round of qualifying in Australia, neither driver made the cut in Malaysia.

Well-managed heavy fuel stints brought both Fisichella and rookie Heikki Kovalainen into the points. But unless either can get on the podium soon serious questions will be asked about whether the maximum performance is being elicited from the R27 in the absence of Alonso.

Ferrari

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Sepang, 2007Ferrari’s defeat to a McLaren one-two at Malaysia was a surprise after Kimi Raikkonen’s casual dominance of the Australian Grand Prix. So what went wrong?

I can offer two explanations: first, that a combination of problems held the Ferraris back: Raikkonen’s stressed engine, the Saturday night rain at Sepang changing the track surface in unexpected ways, and Felipe Massa’s mistakes in the race.

Either that, or the much-vaunted ‘flexi-floor’ restrictions have hit the team harder than expected.

I’d put my money on the former – but if they struggle again at Bahrain it could be a sign that their wings have indeed been clipped. And it also raises the question of whether these problems would have occurred under the Michael Schumacher/Ross Brawn regime.

Honda

Speaking of Ross Brawn – Honda are after him, according to Autosport. Which is heartening because it at least proves that they acknowledge radical change is needed having failed to build on the promise they showed back in 2004.

It’s not clear what the present team are doing about the car – besides screwing up race preparation, according to Rubens Barrichello. But it’s unlikely to have any effect in the week between Sepang and Bahrain. Barrichello and Jenson Button just have to brace themselves for the worst.

BMW

Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica faced similar races in Sepang to what they had in Melbourne. Heidfeld qualified well, took some solid points and finished ahead of Massa. Kubica surprisingly didn’t match his team mate in qualifying and then suffered reliability problems in the race.

For a team that are targeting fourth in the championship, comfortably running third and nipping at the heels of the leading teams is not to be sniffed at. But can they deliver more?

Toyota

From complete anonymity in pre-season testing Toyota have started both races so far from the top ten.

Equally baffling is the subsequent race pace of their cars – Jarno Trulli drove a solid race to seventh in Malaysia while Ralf Schumacher plummeted towards the back of the field.

So how will they fare in Bahrain? I have no idea. Neither the team nor drivers seem to exhibit much in the way of consistency. All I’m prepared to predict is that they’ll be there and the cars will be predominantly white and red. And no-one will care.

Red Bull-Renault

Mark Webber, David Coulthard, Sepang, 2007At Sepang, both drivers made it through the first phase of qualifying. Good. In the race, David Coulthard fell foul of another niggling design fault with Adrian Newey’s RB3, when the brake pedal and steering column began fouling each other. Bad.

But there are clear signs of progress. Webber finished tenth and still on the lead lap. Not only did he prove the package can do back-to-back races – including the heat of Sepang – he was pushing Alexander Wurz hard at the end. With a decent qualifying position in Bahrain this car could finish in the points.

Williams-Toyota

The grim spectre of Williams’ nightmare 2006 reliability reared its head in Sepang as both drivers lost potential points finishes to car failures.

Alexander Wurz’s occurred in qualifying and left him 20th on the grid, from which he recovered brilliantly to ninth. Nico Rosberg’s car failed as he was within a handful of laps of bringing it home in the points.

Is this a one off? Whatever happens the drivers must keep the faith, particularly Rosberg who was scintillating in Bahrain last year.

Scuderia Toro Rosso-Ferrari

Vitantonio Liuzzi got the car through the first phase of qualifying for the first time, but team mate Scott Speed beat him in the race.

The team seem to be coping at least as well with the RB3′s closest relative (i.e. identical twin) as Red Bull senior are managing, but surely Gerhard Berger will be expecting his drivers to take the fight to Webber and Coulthard soon.

Spyker-Ferrari

Christijan Albers, Spyker-Ferrari, Sepang, 2007After a nightmare in Sepang with both cars out by lap seven, the only way is up.

But not having tested at Bahrain in the off season will hurt them compared to closest rivals Super Aguri and Toro Rosso. Getting both cars to the finish ahead of at least one rival will be a result.

Super Aguri-Honda

There was no repeat of the dizzying highs of Melbourne for Super Aguri last weekend – in fact, both Takuma Sato and Anthony Davidson had rather ordinary races.

It remains to be seen whether their refined RA106 is a better option than the RA107 – at the moment it’s a no-score draw. If the team really are going to spend the season in the lower midfield it will be a letdown after the promise of Melbourne, and Interlagos last year.

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2 comments on Bahrain Grand Prix 2007 preview

  1. Number 38 said on 10th April 2007, 15:08

    My two pence worth? …… I’ve made the rounds of several f1 sites and I’m astonished how many deride Massa for his error at the Maylasia GP and further question Kimi’s ‘lacklustre’ performance, blah, blah, blah. Everyone’s his own expert and I’m not likely to change anyone’s mind but I could suggest we look at a BIGGER picture and incidents in the last two races will bring my point to the forefront. A MAJOR complaint in F1 today is that there is no passing, even the notorious MadMax Mosley dreamed up a split rear wing as a method to improve passing, it IS an issue. Now…..during the Austrailian GP Coulthard got frustrated at Wurz and at Sepang Massa REALLY tried to improve his position behind Hamilton while Alonso was getting away…….and both had disasterous results. My point is these drivers are the only two to have actually attempted RACING passes in the last two races. 22 cars over 120 laps of racing and only two passing attempts and NO sucesses. F1 has a problem, a TWO fold problem, passing is one but WE are the other, instead of be-littling Coulthard and Massa we should be praising them for entertaining us. F1 races are becoming mere high speed parades the outcome decided by ocassional racing incidents or ‘pitstop passes’.
    I say we can the environmental gimmicks that MadMax has coming and we SERIOULY address the ‘passing’ issue. Your suggestions, please.

  2. Journeyer said on 11th April 2007, 2:26

    Well, we can ask for that, but will he listen? That’s the thing about Max. He has enough clout to stay where he is, whether he likes it or not, just like the guy he succeeded, Balestre. The only way he’ll go is if he retires or he is deposed from within (which was tried in 2004, methinks, and spectacularly failed).

    As for the passing issue, I think we can go to two extremes. One is drop most or all rules limiting cars (very risky from a safety POV, but allows for lots of innovation and variety). The other is to reduce the importance of aero by banning all winglets and wings except front and rear wings (the risk here is all the cars will practically end up looking identical).

    Kimi did well in KL with what he had. But Massa needs to do well in Bahrain, or else Ferrari will have no choice but to crown Kimi as No. 1 to prevent Alonso getting too far away.

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