Four races in five weeks – 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 – or, at least, Button’s – 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 – more good news for Brawn there.
With the diffuser rules now ‘clarified’ Brawn have to make hay while the sun shines – 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 – 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