Expect a Brawn resurgence at Bahrain (Bahrain Grand Prix preview)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

They were stunning in the wet but can Red Bull challenge Brawn in a dry race?
They were stunning in the wet but can Red Bull challenge Brawn in a dry race?

Four races in five weeks ?ǣ the 2009 F1 season is off to a hectic start.

Bahrain is the last of the opening series of ??flyaway? races and, after two rain-affected Grands Prix, we?re likely to see a much more normal race at the desert circuit.

Can Red Bull repeat their form from Shanghai in the dry? And can Ferrari finally get their season started?

Brawn vs Red Bull

Sebastian Vettel might have been 40 seconds ahead of Jenson Button at the end of the Chinese Grand Prix, but in dry conditions this weekend Brawn will surely be the team to beat once again.

Last Saturday they were only out-qualified by three cars running with substantially less fuel. The BGP001s hadn?t seen a drop of rain until the Sepang deluge, so it?s not a surprise they lacked the edge in wet weather that they have in the dry.

However the race also pointed to another potential weakness in the team?s armour ?ǣ or, at least, Button?s ?ǣ tyre temperature. Button complained about the difficulty of getting heat into his tyres at Shanghai and also struggled with it at Melbourne.

Bahrain, of course, is one venue where you can pretty much rely on it being hot and dry ?ǣ more good news for Brawn there.

With the diffuser rules now ??clarified? Brawn have to make hay while the sun shines ?ǣ some teams have already brought revised rear undertrays (McLaren, Renault) and others are readying them for the Spanish Grand Prix (Ferrari).

Red Bull achieved their maiden one-two without superstar designer Adrian Newey present in Shanghai. He had been left in Milton Keynes, beavering away on a revised rear end design to. How much quicker will the RB5 be once he?s done?

Teams abandon KERS

One of the surprises of China was how few drivers use KERS: Renault and Ferrari ditched it, and Robert Kubica discarded the device after running it in testing. Only Lewis Hamilton, Heikki Kovalainen and Nick Heidfeld used it during the race.

The trade-off for the six-second 80bhp boost it provides is less than optimal weight distribution, which makes tyre management especially difficult. Therefore Bridgestone?s decision to bring a greater variation in tyre performance this year may be inadvertently making teams less keen to use KERS.

The other downside to KERS is greater instability under braking ?ǣ and Bahrain is one of the most punishing tracks for the brakes. How many teams will accept these performance penalties in order to gain those useful extra power boosts down Bahrain?s many straights?


The teams will be using the super-soft tyre again this weekend, as at Shanghai where several drivers had grave concerns over its performance throughout a stint.

We may see a repeat of drivers running ultra-light first stints in a bid to get the super-soft tyre out of the way as the Red Bulls and Fernando Alonso planned to on Sunday, before the rain intervened.

Drivers to keep an eye on

Felipe Massa – Drove an excellent race in China until his car let him down. Wants KERS back for Bahrain, a track where the team tested during the winter. Due a result.

Fernando Alonso – Second on the grid in China was largely fuel-assisted but was also aided by Renault?s diffuser tweaks. We?ll find out how quick they really are this weekend.

Nico Rosberg – Strong in practice but not delivering in the races. Needs to re-capture the form of his swashbuckling debut here in 2006.

Timo Glock – Has picked up ten points so far despite starting from the pits in the first race and breaking his front wing in the past two.

More on the Bahrain Grand Prix

65 comments on “Expect a Brawn resurgence at Bahrain (Bahrain Grand Prix preview)”

  1. You should also add a “Drivers not to keep an eye on”

    1. Piquet

    2. Nakajima

    3. Bourdais

    How long will Bourdais last with Buemi doing so well? I thought Bourdais, with a season under his belt and now on slick tyres would be better. I guess I was wrong.

    1. In the Q&A published today Bourdais complains that he’s unhappy with an oversteering car. So these regulations would not be in his favor. Although he’s hoping the new rear will give him more rear downforce and thus better balance.

      I’m not holding my breath though. It’s really starting to look like this is the last season of Bourdais in F1.

    2. Could be right- it’s still early but I am also expecting more from him. Buemi has been a great surprise, but Bourdais needs to at least keep pace with him, or else Red Bull will put one of those many young drivers of theirs in the seat.

    3. Patrickl – Didn’t he say something similar about last year’s car not suiting his style? I might’ve bought it once, but…

    4. Yeah, I do remember Bourdais using the “this car doesn’t suit my style” card last year too. I don’t think it’s allowed to do that twice in a row …

      Still utterly amazing how such a great champion (F3000 and 4 times successive IndyCar/Champcar) cannot succeed in F1.

      Maybe F1 just doesn’t suit his style altogether. IIRC Zanardi had the same problem and maybe Andretti too.

  2. I’ve got a serious question:

    Why aren’t the Torro Rossos as fast as the Red Bulls???
    Both cars were designed by Newey, they look exactly the same. Did Newey make sure they only look fast but are not able to compete with those of the team he works for?

    1. You’re forgetting the engine. The engine plays a part not just in the power it provides, but its weight and how it fits in the car.

      The RBR chassis is optimized for the Renault engine, which is why Ferrari-powered STR is a bit behind in this regard. It was only Vettel’s ability that masked this last season.

    2. Or maybe Bourdais’ lack of ability is what was making the STR look bad? Buemi is doing fine with this years STR. If he hadn’t knocked his front wing on Vettel, he would have been nicely in the points.

      Still even Buemi is not getting close to the “mother” cars.

      Could be that they lack the facilities to get the best out of the car. Look at A1GP where all teams basically get the same car, but a few companies prepare the car a lot better than others. France dominated the first two seasons and then their tech team went to support Germany, New Zealand and Zwitserland. Then all of a sudden those 3 teams started winning races.

  3. Accidentalmick
    21st April 2009, 16:09

    Newey would not intentionaly design a flawed car (neither would anyone else at this level).

    Don’t forget they are using different engines (see previous posts about Ferrari engines).

  4. Rick DeNatale
    21st April 2009, 16:12

    The trade-off for the six-second 80bhp boost it provides is less than optimal weight distribution, which makes tyre management especially difficult. Therefore Bridgestone’s decision to bring a greater variation in tyre performance this year may be inadvertently making teams less keen to use KERS.

    Was that Bridgestone’s decision? I thought that it was required by the 2009 rules.

    Brawn vs. Red Bull? maybe it’s really (Ross) Brawn vs Ferrari. I was interested to see the Niki Lauda has opined that the real problem at Ferrari is the loss of Ross Brawn as technical director. Niki suggests that Ferrari’s successes during the Shumacher era were largely due to a combination of Brawn’s technical abilities and his ability to act as an intermediary between the Ferrari “spaghetti culture” and Michael’s germanic nature. As an Austrian who had a great deal of success driving for Ferrari, I suspect Herr Lauda has some real insight there.

    Then again maybe it’s just that I became an F1 fan during the Lauda/Hunt/Fittipaldi/Andretti era.

  5. I tip Barrichello to win this one.No doubt Brawn GP would be strong in dry conditions.Red Bull could be there challenging……….How i’d love to see Webber win!Ferrari will struggle yet again

  6. Patrickl
    I’d say Piquet would be a good fit for a Force India, but not much more than that. Maybe a Torro Rosso.

    Haha, no. Or only if Sutil gets a drive at Renault in return. Piquet should not be in F1.

    1. I don’t think Sutil is any better than Piquet though.

      Sutil crashes about as often as Piquet does and I wouldn’t be surprised if a big part of the poor performance of that FI can be attributed to the drivers. Imagine two Bourdais’s in the STR or two Nakajima’s in the Williams. Those cars would look a whole lot worse too, if both drivers were not quite up to spec.

      Don’t forget, when Hamilton and Sutil were in the same F3 team, Sutil was destroyed by Hamilton. The battle between Hamilton and Piquet in GP2 was a lot closer.

  7. Torro Rosso didn’t do much testing as they got the car late. Aerodynamically, there isn’t much difference btwween the RBR and the STR.

    Barichello suffered from a brake balance problem. Apparently one of his brakes wasn’t working so the car had a tendency to yaw under braking.

    Currently, the Ferrari is faster than the Mclaren. Ferrari is just failing on strategy and reliability.

    With the teams not getting any in season testing, they will sure welcome a few dry races. Its easier to estimate the true pecking order when the circuit is dry.

    Brawn and RBR are now in contention for wins. Toyota may already be on the decline, as for williams, I’m yet to understand how they’ve missed so many opportunities.

  8. I’m just beginning to wonder if STR shouldn’t have gone for Sato in the other car. Bourdais is looking like he’ll struggle all season.

  9. The Red Bull v Toro Rosso argument posted earlier covers most of the points about the cars but surely the drivers make the difference. Exchange that promising newcomer Buemi for Vettel , my money would still be on Vettel. Lets not take that argument too far. Mark is a great supporting act and may get a win one day. Bourdais has had every chance to prove himself and came up short. Piquet is out of his depth at Renault too.

    Ferrari are in a peculiar place. We warmed to Domencali and Felipe in the last two years, it seemed to be a more Italian team, but their lawyer’s comments about Ross Brawn are taking them back to being the “nasty squad”. I hope Italian fans can convey to them that we do not want them back there.

    1. @CJD

      You say Piquet is out of his depth at Renault. I think Jenson Button struggled at Benenton/Renault under Flavio Briatore and, now all Flav can do is say Button is a tallentless “concrete post!”

      | predict Ross Brawn and Jenson Buitton will evolve and get close to emulating the Brawn/Schumacher partnerships at Benneton and Ferarri.

  10. I would expect Brawn to be strong this weekend, but also don’t forget that Vettel drove very, very well in Melbourne before the crash with Kubica. I think Red Bull will be right at the top of the grid again this weekend- my questions revolve with the other clubs that are a bit behind the curve- McLaren, Ferrari, Etc..

  11. Marco Aurélio
    21st April 2009, 22:40

    Diffusers are made to fly not to swim.
    This diffusers doesn’t work with water, but wind.

  12. About the Red Bull vs. Toro Rosso argument, the cars were not the same in Melbourne. I read somewhere that Toro Rosso brought in some updates (for China) to make it closer to the Newey car. “Closer”, not “identical”, was quoted in the article.

    If we add the different engine/setup argument and different driver experience/skill levels, the performance gap is not surprising at all. In fact Buemi did quite well in China, so maybe a hint that, aero-wise, the cars are much closer now (in addition to Buemi getting more experienced race after race ;).

  13. Ferrari and McLaren are done. Forget about them. Just as Massa and Kimi and I’d even risk saying Hamilton and Alonso are done too, if luck doesn’t come their way.
    (I heard an italian speaker say, during the Shangai GP, that Vettel is ready to drive for a big team. That he will soon be going to Ferrari. Why the hell would he leave the 1-2 winning Red Bull to go to a team that scored 0 points in 3 races?)

  14. Barrichello is overdue as well, if his brakes don’t work at 100 he doesn’t perform, and this is longstanding with him. You have to give it to Button though in that he is much improved this year.

    Trulli and both Ferrari guys are going to be on a mission and their car is not hugely changed yet from when they tested at Bahrain.

    One thing I am noting is just how tough the Toyota and Brawn front wings are. They are built like bullbars and Glock in particluar knows how to use one doesn’t he?

    I think too that Webber is still faster over a lap than Vettel by a shade. Vettel was quoted as saying his new tub post the Melbourne crash was faster than his old one and that may not be just a jibe or related to the bolt on bits for Shanghai. Coming from behind in Shanghai Webber was also pushing purples and while Vettel matched & shaded him his tyres didn’t have to scrap their way into his race position at that point. Mark just has to watch his particular choice of puddles at times and rebuild confidence. It is so much easier being the young guy with early success on success than a guy who has done it tough for years not getting the laurels for lack of vehicle opportunity.

  15. Someone teach Mr. Nico how to manage tires during races, that would make him win more. He is a great driver and has a much better car to fight the frontrunners than he has ever had. Like Nick had problems warming his tyres last year, this young genius is having this little problem. Move over McLaran and Renault, Ferrari. The new kids on the block are awesome.
    Four way fight I would like to see : Brawn, RBR, Toyota, Williams.

  16. Brawn tyre performance is interesting. If the car does not heat its tyre easily this could be due to
    1. low mechanical grip
    2. low braking force
    3. unagressive down force

    We have not seen any evidence of 1 or 2 so it would appear that the Brawn may have sufficient down force for the job and arguably has such good mechanical grip that downforce is not being piled on to make up for any lack in that direction. We should expect less drag and higher speed on the straight than any car of comparable cornering power though cars with less ability and slower lap times may appear to be faster because their setup has been distorted.
    We need an aero dynamacist, any volunteers?

  17. I think the season so far is unusual and you cannot predict the best team out there.Rain brings strange podium winners (Luck). Lets get a few dry races under out belts and then see who shines.

    All the teams know what there doing out there,they are the professionals with huge teams of designers.

    Lets all sit back in our armchairs and watch a few dry races.

  18. StrFerrari4Ever
    22nd April 2009, 16:15

    Okay lets get one thing straight Toro Rosso arent slower than RBR it’s just they received their car later so they had limited testing time.
    Which meant they didn’t do as much setup work as RBR so these first few races are just understanding the car more and getting more data.
    It will take a couple of races more before we see the true potential of the STR4 i can understand people also saying the driver ability comes into play aswell but Buemi is a rookie so his still learning and is doing great.
    But hopefully they can win a race like last year and finish higher up in the constructors championship (i hope Buemi wins some races and challenges Vettel to become youngest drivers champion ever :D)Very hopeful but anythings possible & Bourdais cut the Bull yeah you cant take being beaten by a younger teammate (like last year) just leave F1 i backed Sato for the seat his a faster driver IMO

  19. This year was always going to set the cat amongst the pidgeons with all the new changes and more impotantly the testing ban. Yes, at the moment it looks like it will be a Brawn (Honda)dominated year with Red Bull and Toyota in hot pursuit. But to quote the great Murray Walker. “Anything can happen in Formula One, and it usually does” Button to win in Bahrain. One Ferrari in the points and another retirement for Nelson Piquet. Fastest lap for Nico Rosberg. Barrichello on pole.

  20. My guess is that the Button car has the A_team personnel at Brawn. And Vettel could have them on the Red Bull team. I say that because I think a team has a motivation to put it’s best resources with a May instead of September driver, all other things being equal.

    Also, I think Toyota will be right up there with their 2nd generation DD (which is now a TD). At Red Bull they will have to be content to hot-rod their existing diffuser until later in the season. I don’t know if Brawn are messing with success.

    So who will prevail? I think I’m going 1st) Toyota/Trulli 2nd) Red Bull/Vettel and 3) Button/Brawn (not my final sweepstakes guess however, wanna see some practice sesions first! ;-)

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