With all of the first 3 races of the season being affected by rain, it seemed as if even the 0.01% chance of a rain in the midst of the desert in the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain would materialise. Thankfully it didn't and we got to see the true pace of this year's cars under dry conditions. The conditions were very dry indeed, and swelteringly hot with air temperature upto 38 degrees celsius, track temperature 50 degrees and the driver's cockpit temperature upto 60 degrees. So one of the big challenges for all the teams were to keep their cars working in that heat and prevent the engines from overheating without compromising too much performance. Among the front runners, the two Brawn-Mercedes cars seemed to have a particular problem of overheating and throughout the weekend, the Brawn mechanics were working seriously hard to keep their cars running smoothly. Due to the overheating problem, Brawn actually had to turn down the engine revs a little bit from the maximum rev limit of 18000 rpm, while also making some subtle aerodynamic changes to help engine cooling. That meant that coming into this race, the Brawn-Mercedes cars did not have a significantly large performance advantage over their rivals mainly Red Bull, Toyota and a hugely improved McLaren.
So it didn't come as a real surprise to anyone when Toyota locked out the front row at the end of Saturday Qualifying, to give the Japanese team their first ever one-two start in a Grand Prix. Although pole-sitter Jarno Trulli and team mate Timo Glock were running very light on fuel, both Toyota's still seemed to be flying all throughout the qualifying session. But Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, who qualified 3rd with quite a bit more fuel than the Toyotas, seemed to have better race pace than the Toyotas and so was a favourite to win the race.
McLaren-Mercedes kept making little improvements to their cars and that saw reigning World Champion Lewis Hamilton qualify in 5th, his best qualifying position this year. He was just behind current Championship leader Jenson Button, and ahead of Button's team mate Rubens Barrichello. Behind Barrichello were the two KERS cars of Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa, while Nico Rosberg in the Williams-Toyota and the other Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen rounded up the top ten in qualifying. This was only the second time in this season that both the Ferraris have qualified within the top ten. This was very important for them, because at the end of Round 3 in Shanghai Ferrari were yet to score any points so far in this season, making this their worst start to a season in 27 years. The situation was such that if Ferrari fails to score any points in Bahrain as well, this would be the worst start to a season ever in the history of Scuderia Ferrari. So the pressure was on for the Maranello based team.
The BMWs continued to dissapoint throughout the weekend with Kubica and Heidfeld, both using KERS this time, only managing to qualify 13th and 14th. But the real shock of qualifying was Red Bull's Mark Webber who failed to go through beyond Q1 and came 19th on the grid. This happened because when Webber was in his final flying lap near the end of Q1, coming into the second to last corner he found Force India's Adrian Sutil ahead of him on his outlap. When Webber tried to overtake Sutil, the young Force India driver thought that Webber was on his outlap as well and tried to block him by swerving across the racing line. This meant that Webber had to go really wide to overtake Sutil which made him loose a lot of time. When he finally crossed the finish line one corner later, Sutil then slip-streamed past him to start his own flying lap which meant that Webber did not have a chance to go for another one. This unfortunate incident meant that the Australian's race was pretty much over before it had even started. Although Sutil, who was apologetic for the incident later on, was given a three place grid penalty, it did not help Webber's case too much apart from improving his grid position by one place to 18th.
The start of the race was full of incidents with the first two laps being very crucial in deciding the eventual race winner. Lewis Hamilton, using his KERS package, had a tremendous start which saw him move up to 3rd position by turn 1. An aggressive overtaking move by Button got him ahead of Vettel, with the young German falling back to 5th as a result. At the front, Toyota's Glock had a flying start as well which saw him immediately overtake his team mate Jarno Trulli to take the race lead. At the mid field, the KERS powered Ferraris had a great start as well, but a lack of true race pace meant that they failed to capitalise on that. On top of that, coming into the challenging turn 1, Felipe Massa found himself sandwiched between fellow Brazilian Barrichello and team mate Raikkonen that scraped off parts of Massa's front wing. As a result of this, Massa had to make an unscheduled pit stop on lap 2, to change the front wing, and this pushed him all the way to the back of the field in another unlucky race weekend for last year's Championship runner-up. At the last corner of lap 1, Button made another aggressive overtaking maneouvre on Lewis Hamilton and succeeded, despite the World Champion having KERS, and this proved to be the turning point in the race. The Toyotas in front of him made very early pit stops as they had started with a very light fuel load, and this saw Jenson Button take the race lead and sent the Toyotas back to the mid-field upon rejoining the race.
Lewis Hamilton, who started pretty light as well, stopped soon after that for his first pit stop and this enabled Sebastian Vettel to move up to 2nd. Following the first pit stop, Hamilton failed to keep up with the phenomenal pace of Button's Brawn-Mercedes, Vettel's Red Bull-Renault and Trulli's Toyota. Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, who started with the heaviest fuel load among the front runners, led the race at one stage as everyone in front of him pitted before him. Although he didn't have the pace to win the race, he still drove very well to eventually finish in 6th position and getting the 3 crucial points for Ferrari. Although Raikkonen was constantly chased by Toyota's Timo Glock, who led the race in the first stint, Raikkonen did well to defend his place which saw Glock finish in 7th after starting the race from the front row. Renault's double World Champion Fernando Alonso came home in the last of the points scoring position. Red Bull's Mark Webber, starting from a dissapointing 18th, had an absolutely flying start and he finished the race in 11th. Ferrari's Felipe Massa, who in spite of driving for the defending Constructor's Champions, was even lapped at one stage and finished the race in a dissapointing 14th.
So one of the hottest races of the season was pretty challenging for the teams, but provided a great spectacle for the viewers. From the sandy desert and the scorching sun of Bahrain, Formula 1 now returns home to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix in two weeks time, taking place at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona. After Barcelona, we go off to Monte Carlo for the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix, closely followed by the Turkish Grand Prix at Istanbul and the British Grand Prix at Silverstone before we head off to the Nurburgring for the German Grand Prix. But before all that, this Wednesday the 29th of April will see the Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes team attend a hearing before the FIA World Motor Sport Council in Paris to answer charges relating to breaches of Article 151c of the Internatial Sporting Code. Anything can come out of this hearing which can possibly decide the future of the McLaren team in Formula 1. Until then, drive safely everyone!