A little shock for Michael

Fernando Alonso, Bahrain GP 2005

Fernando Alonso, Bahrain GP 2005 

 © The Cahier Archive

Michael Schumacher looked rather disappointed on Sunday morning in Bahrain. The World Champion had wanted to put his new Ferrari F2005 on pole position for the Grand Prix and had gambled on running a light fuel load in the hope that in the race he would be able to muddle through and perhaps get on to the podium. But Fernando Alonso was having none of that. The Ferrari-Bridgestone package is still not a match for Renault-Michelin combination and so while things look a great deal better for Ferrari than was the case in Malaysia, it is unlikely that Michael will be able to beat Alonso unless he can get into the lead at the start of the race and control the pace. The interesting thing is that in an effort to outguess Ferrari, Renault may have made a mistake and run Alonso too light in final qualifying and this could play into the hands of Jarno Trulli as he appears to have a much more fuel on board than his two major rivals. One can calculate all day long but the basic maths is that Michael's loss of time between the two qualifying sessions (with the fuel added) was 1.8secs. Alonso's loss was 2.2secs and Trulli's was 2.6secs. Forgetting outside influences such as errors, wind and sand which may have cost a tenth here and there, the difference translates into the weight on the fuel onboard each car and with track position being much more important these days than outright pace, it may be that Trulli could be in a strong position if he is able to stay with Alonso and Schumacher up to the first stops. If Michael gets in his way the race will be handed to Alonso.

None of the others look like serious challengers for race victory although the fastest lap of the entire weekend went to Mark Webber in the revamped Williams FW27. He lapped the Sakhir circuit at 1m29.527s on Friday morning. The track conditions were cool but most of the frontrunners were going for times and Webber's lap was an indication that the Williams team has made a significant step forward in terms of aerodynamic performance, even if the team seemed a little worried that everything was right on the limit in the high temperatures of Bahrain.

The two Williams cars qualified fourth and fifth on the grid and looked to be well-placed for another solid points-scoring performance even if victory may be a bit of a stretch.

The problem with all these prognostications is that a fast lap of Bahrain can be dictated by a number of factors, and there are problems which may not be immediately obvious. Sand which blows onto the track can affect the cars and this can affect the drivers who have to run after the TV ad breaks because they have more sand to deal with than those who run immediately after another car. And then there is the wind, which can suddenly gust and help or hinder a driver depending on where he is on the track at that given moment.

The big question mark which could throw a spanner in the tactical works is whether or not anyone is able to go for one stop and whether the performance would be sufficient to beat those who are running to a two-stop strategy. The men most likely to try are Rubens Barrichello, who has nothing to lose after qualifying 15th. Felipe Massa in the leading Sauber and, perhaps, Kimi Raikkonen who on Sunday morning was obviously driving a car with a lot of fuel onboard. Remember that Kimi made a mistake on Saturday and dropped half a second on the time he might have achieved. That added to the loss of time from fuel meant that his Sunday time was only good enough for ninth on the grid, while the car was clearly faster than it would appear to be. Pedro de la Rosa is probably on a different strategy and qualified eighth, ahead of the Finn.

Red Bull's Christian Klien qualified an impressive seventh and he outperformed David Coulthard who was back down in 14thy on the grid.

The man who lost out most on Sunday morning was Giancarlo Fisichella's Renault which qualified fifth overnight but then dropped back to 10th on the grid after a big lock-up. The difference between his laps on Saturday and Sunday was 2.8secs which would suggest that he too may also be carrying a lot of fuel. Whether it is enough for a one-stop race is another matter.

Of the rest Felipe Massa dropped two places on Sunday morning while Jenson Button moved up one. Further back little changed although Narain Karthikeyan made a mistake and so dropped behind Tiago Monteiro on the grid.

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