On paper, Bahrain should be an easy win for Ferrari. The team have usually been strong here, with victories in 2004 and 2007, and the slimmest of defeats in 2006 (to a seriously inspired Fernando Alonso).
Plus the F2008 seems to have a decisive edge in performance over the McLaren MP4-23s at the moment. Is there anything that can go wrong for the Italian team?
Plenty has been said about the team’s weakest link at the moment – Felipe Massa. But he turned up at this circuit last year having taken a battering for his performance at Malaysia, stuck the F2007 on pole position and won as he pleased. What he would give for a repeat performance this year.
But there’s no hiding from the fact that his car has gotten away from him in the last two races and Bahrain will be an especially tough circuit for the traction control-free cars.
It demands heavier braking than any circuit bar Montreal. Massa lost his car under braking here in 2006 even when he had the assistance of engine braking. And the sand that blows on the track will put an added premium on judicious delivery of Ferrari power – something he is clearly struggling with.
Luca di Montezemolo gave him a vote of confidence: “Felipe Massa is absolutely not under any scrutiny…” and a healthy dollop of extra pressure, “I expect a great race from Felipe in Bahrain, after his wonderful qualifying session in Malaysia.” Read between the lines and the message is clear.
Kimi Raikkonen arrives on a high after an important Sepang win where he shrugged off the disappointment of Melbourne in emphatic style. He was able to turn the engine revs down for almost half the race which will be useful as rivals Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen will have new units at Bahrain – and Ferrari’s most obvious weakness so far has been engine problems.
Raikkonen hasn’t won here before (neither have McLaren) but he scorched from 22nd to third in 2006 in one of his most impressive drives. Ferrari also spent six days testing at the track over the winter – something no other team bar Toyota did.
Expect Raikkonen to lead the way, but I reckon the McLarens will be closer this weekend. The Mercedes-powered cars struggled in Sepang because overnight rain on Friday and Saturday washed away the build-up of rubber, leaving a ‘green’ surface on which MP4-23s kept graining their tyres. Rain is less of a problem in the desert, however…
Can Ferrari be beaten this weekend?