Wind, sand and stars

Michael Schumacher, Bahrain GP 2006

Michael Schumacher, Bahrain GP 2006 

 © The Cahier Archive

Michael Schumacher won pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix, but he did not set the fastest time in the qualifying session. That honour went to Fernando Alonso who set the fastest lap, two-tenths of a second faster than Michael's best in the second part of the three-part session. That time did not matter for the grid. The big question at the end of it all was how much fuel the Ferraris have on board and whether we will see the red cars heading for the pits earlier than their rivals in the race. Felipe Massa ended up second for Ferrari, a tenth slower than Schumacher which opens up the possibility of some interesting tactical moves in the race with Massa holding back the others and Schumacher running away at the front. For that we will have to wait and now teams will be analysing the qualifying and figuring out how they might have done better. Do we really have any ideas about what will happen in the race? No, not all.

The first point of the day was that conditions were very different from Friday with the wind coming from a different direction and a lot more sand being blown around. This meant that drivers were finding braking points had changed dramatically and there were drivers sliding off here and there in the morning. Excitement built up for the qualifying with teams having decided on different strategies. The big question was how it would all fit together and what incidents would throw spanners into the works.

"I think this evening there are going to be a lot of people saying: 'We should have done this!' said Mark Webber. "We'll just have to see."

The first 15 minute session started with the slower men all going out to get laps in the bank. This cleaned the track a little and soon the faster men were out but before any really meaningful times were set, there was drama for Kimi Raikkonen when his McLaren came around a corner and suffered some form of failure at the rear end. It was not clear from television shots whether it was the rear wing which fell off or whether the rear suspension broke and took the wing off but whatever the case the wing was gone and the suspension broken by the time Kimi spun off the road. Raikkonen dragged the remains of the car around to the pits but he knew already that he would be starting the race from the back of the grid. There was a red flag to allow for bits to be cleaned up. The incident meant that there were four minutes left and the chance for only one lap for each of the drivers now that the timing stops when the clock reaches 00.00. This meant that there was plenty of hurly-burly as the cars all came out as the drivers jockeyed for position. Things were not helped when the timing system suddenly failed leaving everyone in a state of some confusion but things were quickly re-established and we had Fernando Alonso fastest with Jenson Button, Giancarlo Fisichella and Nico Rosberg. Their times did not really matter. All that matters was that 16 drivers had made it through to the next session and six were stuck at the back of the grid. The big shock, apart from Raikkonen, was Ralf Schumacher's Toyota which was 17th on the timesheet and thus on the grid as well. The others were less surprising with the two Midland-Toyotas and the two Super Aguris.

There was not much time to think about it all before the cars were out on the track again. This time however things were rather more straight forward than the first 15 minute session but now strategy began to play a more important role. Eight cars went out early and set times, others waited. In the end there was a rush for times, during which Nico Rosberg had a spin in his Williams, and this time Alonso emerged fastest. At the end of it Jacques Villeneuve (BMW), Rosberg, David Coulthard (Red Bull Racing) and the two Scuderia Toro Rossos of Tonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed were out of the action and filling 11th to 16th on the grid.

The stage was set for the showdown. The remaining 10 cars filled up with fuel and for the first few minutes of the 20-minute session the drivers were slowly winding up the times, getting laps in the bank and preparing for the final dashes at the end of the session when the drivers would all presumably be using new tyres. And then it began with Michael Schumacher setting the limit at 1m31.595s and Jenson Button stopping the clocks at 1m32.129s. Barrichello was third and Massa fourth. The Renaults seemed to be biding their time (or running with bigger fuel loads). Would it change when they tried again in the final moments? Schumacher went again for a flyer and chipped off another tenth and a bit, taking the pole time down to 1m31.431s. Massa looked to be the biggest threat now but his best time was just a little slower with a 1m31.478s. Button was quick but not quite quick enough, ending up a tenth behind the two Ferraris and two-tenths ahead of Alonso. There was then a four-tenths of a second gap back to Juan Pablo Montoya and a similar gap to Rubens Barrichello in the Honda. Behind him there was a half a second to Mark Webber with Christian Klien, Giancarlo Fisichella and Nick Heidfeld rounding out the order. The bottom five were all slower than the fastest men who had been knocked out in the second 15 minute session but that was to be expected given the fuel loads.

What did it all mean? And what are the plans for the race?

Well, folks, you'll have to tune in tomorrow to find out!