"The baseline car we have now after 12 days of testing looks very good and promising. The changes we have made during the winter have all had a positive effect. Testing went well and although there was a lot of rain over the period, the last two days in Barcelona were OK. We did our long runs and a lot of work with the tyres, so we are fully prepared. We are pretty confident that our car is good enough to be in the top ten in Bahrain".
The bottom of the grid will be mostly occupied by the three new teams who join the Formula 1 World Championship this year: Hispania Racing Team F1, Lotus and Virgin. Many drivers and team bosses accuse the three teams to be too slow to even compete on track with the others, since they appeared very unprepared during the winter testing. As Mark Webber comments:
“It would make more sense to field Valentino Rossi, with his bike, on the grid”.
Lotus has confirmed that their main goal for this first race is to just take the chequered flag, meaning that the team is still not fully prepared to battle for points. Says the team principal, Tony Fernandes:
"We are all looking forward to Bahrain; to have Lotus Racing on the grid will be a momentous occasion for all involved and, indeed, for our fans, whose support has been absolutely fantastic since we launched just under six months ago. Yes, we are a little slower than the major leading teams, however we will get there, with passion, hard work and a clear vision - our aim for this first Grand Prix will be to finish and steadily but surely improve, race by race".
HRT seems slightly more confident, as the team principal Collin Kolles affirms:
"With our driver's line up, we have all tools in hands to be one of the more successful new teams in the Formula 1 paddock this year. We have identified two talented young drivers for our first season and combined with our passion and determination to learn with every lap, we feel ready to enter the Formula 1 Hall of Fame this weekend. In a curious coincidence, our drivers are teammates for the second time, having partnered each other at iSport in 2008 - making them the first drivers to have been teammates in both GP2 and Formula 1. Our drivers are already familiar with the Bahrain track layout, which will be a real benefit as our car takes to the track for the first time on Friday".
Meanwhile Virgin Racing is just hoping for a strong first race:
"The past nine months have flown by so quickly, it's hard to believe that our Grand Prix debut has arrived. Despite the challenges we encountered in pre-season testing, we have conducted a great deal of off-track preparation, to give ourselves the best possible chance of a strong showing in our inaugural race. The rest will be down to good fortune and we've probably stored some of that up by now. Our simple objective for Bahrain is to do everything possible to ensure we have a strong debut race from lights to flag. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved with Virgin Racing and Wirth Research for their support and the massive effort that has brought us so far in such a short space of time".
It's going to be a kind of a brand-new start for Renault team, since they replaced their former team principal Briatore. Indeed, when he was there, Renault was the most glamour team of the paddock, with a lot of attention into details, starting from the team member kits to the best catering and the flashing colours. They won two world titles with Alonso back in 2005 and 2006. They now have to step back and have a fresh restart. As the new team principal Eric Boulier suggests:
"Our biggest strength is our people. We have a very highly motivated team that is responsive and proactive in the way it goes racing. This was clearly demonstrated after the first test session when the factory made a big push to make changes to the car in time for the Jerez test".
It’s going to be an amazing start of the season, from the comeback of Schumacher to the debut of the new team Mercedes, replacing the constructor champion Brawn GP. Michael is over the moon to be back on track for the first race of the season as it seems he wasn’t waiting for anything else during the winter break:
"Finally the season will start. I feel like a child looking forward to Christmas. The decision to make my comeback feels like a long time ago now and I can hardly wait for the season to get underway in Bahrain. It’s funny to think that I will be competing in Formula One again when just a few months ago, I would have declined the opportunity categorically. But sometimes things change, and the right circumstances come together. I feel fresher than I have for many years. I am perfectly prepared physically and most importantly; my energy is back completely. When I retired from racing in 2006, my batteries were simply empty. Now they are totally recharged, and I am ready for the challenge".
"It's great to be back after eight months, back to racing again, and I think we are starting well after going in the right direction after winter testing. Driving has been my job for so many years that I am really happy to be back. It will be vital to finish these early races and to get points which will be very important come the end of the year. Reliability is the key to achieving this and we have made a good start as we were able to complete a lot of kilometers in winter testing. As we have not had a race yet with the new rules, I can't say if I prefer this system or the one from last year. But it is good to have a new challenge, with different elements to focus on".
Nevertheless, Fernando is equally positive about his switch to Ferrari:
"When you change team, you need to adapt to the people and their work philosophy and pre-season that has all gone great. I felt very comfortable right from day one to now and we are well prepared and I am ready for the fight. We are not in a position to compare times or to make predictions. We can say that four teams, Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren and Ferrari can all be favourites to win here and then there are other teams like Force India and Sauber who could also have some good races. My goal is to win the championship, but I want to be World Champion in November, not in March. It will be a very hard job. I have spent all winter getting ready and I have also waited a long time to come to Ferrari, so it has all been about preparing for this moment and I think we are in a position to fight for the wins. I am also very exciting to race against Michael. It is good for all of us in the sport that he is back, what Michael has done in the sport will be hard to repeat, with all his titles, wins and pole positions. Winning a race or the title with Michael on the track will give it an extra something”.
This will be a long championship since they add to the calendar two more races: nineteen races in total in nineteen different circuits. Indeed, they will come back racing in Montreal at the circuit Gilles Villeneuve on the Ille de Notre Dame. The second circuit that is added to the calendar is the Korean Auto Valley which will be the first ever time for Formula 1 in Korea, although at the moment the track doesn’t seem to be ready yet.
There are few news regarding the regulations too: teams won’t be allowed to change engines for 3 races in a row; refuelling during pitstop is not allowed anymore and finally the number of tyres each driver can use during the weekend will be only 11 sets in order to add more excitement in planning the best strategy. We will have a narrower front tyre, to give a better grip balance front to rear. Two compounds of dry tyre will be available for every grand prix, with the requirement that both are used in the race. In addition, the number of tyres available per driver for each grand prix is reduced from 7 of each compound to 6 of the prime compound and 5 of the option. Teams will race on a new track layout this season in Bahrain, with a lap being now 6.299 km long in contrast to its previous 5.412 kilometers. The circuit of Sakhir is the second longest of the calendar after Spa. The traction demands of the layout mean tyre usage needs to be closely monitored. Bridgestone director of motorsport tyre development confirms:
"There are both technical and logistical challenges for Bridgestone in 2010. No refuelling means we have modified the tyre construction and have all new compounds of dry tyres. As well as cars which will be approximately 100 kgs heavier at the start of the race, we will see different pit stop strategies this season and the top ten cars starting with their qualifying tyres brings many strategy considerations for teams too. In terms of logistics we have new teams and 19 races. The Sakhir circuit layout is different this year, with an additional eight turns, and this will have an impact on tyre wear and car set up. We have the super soft tyre, which is from our lower temperature working range, and the medium, which is from our higher temperature working range. All this sets us up for a very exciting opening race to the season, especially with only relatively limited running in pre-season testing".
It's now time to hit the track for the first free practice of the season. Drivers will now head to track for 1 and half hour, trying to work on the best set up for the weekend and study the new track layout. The air temperature looks to be around the 30-degree mark, whilst the track temperature seems to be between the 37 and 42 degrees. Sutil goes first, with a lap time of 1'56"583 in his Force India. He is followed by Ferrari driver Alonso, with a lap time that is 0.183 seconds off. Third is Kubica in his Renault, followed by the other Ferrari driver Massa and 2009 World Champion Button. Hamilton is right behind his teammate by 0.580 seconds. The two Mercedes driver are respectively 8th (Rosberg) and 10th (Schumacher).
Even Red Bull drivers seem to struggle to shine during this session, but they might have used this first free practice to better understand the track and the tyre degradation in these hot conditions. Both Lotus drivers and Timo Glock set times, but Luca di Grassi fails in completing a single full lap. HRT team as well fails to get a proper lap time, completing only 3 out laps with Senna. This afternoon, the track conditions seem the same as the morning. Rosberg finds back his pace topping the time sheet, with a fastest lap of 1’55”409, followed by McLaren driver Hamilton, who sets a lap of 1’55”854. As Rosberg says after the session:
"We improved the car over the course of the day, but it didn't feel great initially with the new track, lower downforce and the conditions were very sandy this morning. So, we had a few balance issues to work on, but it came together very well this afternoon. There are areas where we can still improve but we have a good comparison with the tyre compounds and on the long runs. Overall we learnt a great deal today so it's a positive start to the weekend".
Schumacher takes chequered flag in third:
"We worked very well this afternoon after having a few issues with the balance this morning. The car felt much better in the second session although I am still a little rusty on one lap runs and need to get back into the routine. On the long runs, the car felt good and once you get into the rhythm, it feels very natural. I'm happy with our work today and feeling ready for the weekend".
Button is 4th, followed by Vettel (1’56”459) who had to change his brakes during the session. Meanwhile, the other Red Bull driver is only 17th as he faced a gearbox problem that didn’t allow him to set a proper lap time. Ferrari drivers come 7th (Massa), and 9th (Alonso). Again, it seems like both drivers focused more on the race pace today, delaying all the work to prepare the qualifying. Indeed, this will be the first race where there won’t be any refueling during the race, which means teams need to figure out what could be the better set up with a full tank. This also means a greater tyre degradation in the first part of the race. McLaren drivers are both confident that they are very close to their rivals, underlying that the only struggle they faced was tyre degradation. Indeed, Lewis Hamilton confirms:
"Out on track, it’s been very hot so tyre degradation of both compounds has been pretty high. But I think the degradation is something we can handle; you build it into your driving style and moderate the approach to each lap. Still, it’s difficult to know what lap time to target when you’re on a long run. The less you push at the beginning of a stint, the more there is left to push at the end. But it’s difficult to know exactly, and we’re still trying to understand that".
Williams has had a limited track time due to some electric problems in the garage:
"It was a very busy day with the usual teething problems. We lost some track time due to an electrics problem in the garage in the morning and we also had minor technical issues to resolve on the cars. We then had a much more productive afternoon looking at race set-ups and qualifying preparation. We have more work to do, but nothing that looks unachievable. It has been a marathon effort from everyone at Williams and Cosworth to get us to this stage and soon the hard work will start to pay off".
Says Sam Michael, technical director. Everyone, after this first day of actions, complained about the track being very bumpy.
The qualifying session starts at 3 pm. Track temperature is 47 degree, whilst air temperature went up to 34 degrees. Everyone is set to start as the green light is displayed. It’s time for the first part of qualifying, where the last 7 positions of the grid will be decided. There is no guess on who will occupy the last 6 positions, but nobody really can predict who will be the first to be eliminated from Q2. First to go out are Glock and Di Grassi. This last one sets the first lap time (2'02"131). Glock improves it by over a second.
Everybody is on track, except for the two Red Bulls. Alonso gives the first realistic referment with a fastest lap of 1’55”972, which puts him momentously first. Now even the two Red Bull drivers are out on track. Meanwhile, Chandhok gets the first time of the weekend with a lap of 2’21”793. It doesn’t look like a great race weekend debut so far for the HRT team. The second attempt looks more promising as he goes from 21 seconds off pace to 13, with a lap of 2’08"424.
We are halfway through Q1 and top three at the moment are Massa, Vettel, Webber. Kubica is having some problems of understeer in the middle of the corner and decides to return to the pit before his last try. Momentarily, top four are now Vettel, Webber, Massa and Rosberg. Alonso now improves his lap time going up to P1. As the time runs out, top three of Q1 are Alonso, Vettel and Sutil. The first seven cars eliminated are: Alguersuari who made a mistake sliding in sector 2 on his final lap (1’57"071 ), Glock (1’59"728), Trulli (1’59"852), Kovalainen (2’00"313), di Grassi (2’00"587), Senna (2’03"240) and Chandhok (2’04"904). Virgin Racing seems very satisfied as they qualified best of the new teams with Glock. Alguesari doesn’t hide his frustration after his qualifying:
"We hoped to be in Q2 but I made a mistake on my fastest lap on the soft tyres. The grip level was quite low, I was pushing hard and it caught me out, going too fast into a turn. There is room for improvement of course and I hope I can have a good race tomorrow and move up the order a bit, but it looks like it will be tough to score points. We will have to do better next time".
Kovalainen in his Lotus doesn’t seem surprised by the result:
"Pretty much what we expected. The car was very reliable, which is good, and the performance was roughly where we knew we’d be. I’m reasonably happy - it probably isn’t the best qualifying lap I’ve ever done, and maybe I didn’t get everything out of it I should have done, but we have a good base to work from tomorrow. In practice yesterday the car felt like it would be good over long runs, and with the good reliability we have had we’ll see what happens tomorrow. The most important thing is to finish the race, and then we’ll see where we are".
Coming through to the second part of qualifying, Webber is out first, followed by Buemi. Everybody is out on track. Vettel goes fastest with a lap of 1’54”035. It seems like soft tyres are at least half a second faster than the medium, but with the new regulation the top 10 must race with the tyres they qualify on in Q3. Schumacher is currently 1 second off Vettel, in 9th position. Hamilton is facing some problems with tyre overheating and his car is sliding around. Many drivers are back in the pits to refuel for the final flying lap. Buemi is the first one to start the second try in Q2.
He seems to not improve his lap time, same as Liuzzi. Jenson Button gets 10th fastest lap avoiding the elimination from Q3 and pushing Barrichello out of the top 10, while Schumacher confirms his previous position. Top 3 are Vettel, Alonso and Webber. With only 5 seconds to go, Barrichello is now the last one to try improving his position, without any success. Eliminated drivers are now Barrichello (1’55”969), Liuzzi (1’55”653), Hulkenberg (1’55”857), de la Rosa (1’56”237), Buemi (1’56”265), Kobayashi (1’56”270) and Petrov (1’56”619). It was a disappointment for the team Williams not being able to go through Q3. Indeed, as Sam Michael, technical director of the team, affirms:
"We thought we should be able to get through to Q3, but it wasn't to happen today. Rubens did well to make up some ground after practice and it was Nico's first Formula One qualifying session. Our focus is now on the race, using our normally competitive starts to make position on the first lap and then race hard for points. Thank you also to our mechanics who've put in some really hard hours trackside over the last three days".
BMW Sauber team principal Peter Sauber thought they’d be quicker:
"After our promising testing I expected more from the first qualifying of the season. The problems with this track, which we had already seen yesterday, could not be solved for qualifying".
Renault sees one of their driver (Petrov) eliminated from Q3 down into 17th position. However, this was Petrov’s first ever qualifying. Alan Permane, chief race engineer at Renault, confirms that it was a solid job from the rookie:
"Vitaly had a solid qualifying session for his first Grand Prix weekend. He went comfortably through Q1, which was good. In Q2, he went into turn 9 a little bit too quick on his final timed lap, so he will start P17 tomorrow".
Webber has a miserable middle sector and he sets a lap that is over a second and a half slower than his teammate. Massa takes second place (1’54”242). Lewis Hamilton is up to 4th (1’55”217). Alonso stays in third place, being 0.507 seconds off the pole position. Rosberg comes 5th (1’55”241) in front of his teammate Schumacher, who is 7th, by 0.283 seconds. Webber slices off between the two. Button qualifies 8th behind Schumacher. Last two are Kubica (1’55”885) and Sutil (1’56”309). What a great first qualifying session for Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel, taking pole with his Luscious Liz (that’s the way he named his car) and he doesn’t hide his excitement:
"It’s a big surprise to get pole; we didn’t know where we were with performance during the winter testing. Yesterday was a tough day for us, as we didn’t do as much running as we would have liked. It was a long night for the mechanics and there were some tired faces this morning, but everyone was still so keen. I knew we had a good car, Qualifying went smoothly and I’m very happy to be on pole. Thanks to the team, they have been so busy during the last month with a lot of testing - to be on top now is a nice feeling. I also want to dedicate my pole position to Massa. He did an incredible job, coming back on track and going very fast straight away".
Even team principal Christian Horner is satisfied with the job done today:
"A brilliant job today. It’s great to be starting the new season in pole position. Sebastian drove faultlessly through all three sessions and delivered three laps that were good enough for pole; it’s testimony to all the hard work that’s gone in over the winter. The guys have worked wonders within Red Bull Racing and first on the grid is a great place to be starting the new race format tomorrow. Mark was looking good in the first and second qualifying sessions, but unfortunately he dropped a bit of time in the mid-sector of his last lap, which was the difference between the front row and sixth. I’m sure he’ll be strong tomorrow".
Ferrari qualified 2nd with Massa and 3rd with Alonso. Felipe Massa had a wonderful comeback on track after a difficult period, being very close to the pole lap:
"It’s a good way to start the new season and a nice reward for all the work the team has done over the winter. The race will be very difficult, but I am happy to be in with a chance of fighting for the top places. Yesterday, we did good work in preparing for the race and I think we went in the right direction, but this is only the first Grand Prix and there are still many unknown factors to work out, for example, finding the right moment to change tyres. Today, I gave it my all, doing a great lap on my last run, while the previous ones had not been so good. I wish to thank Sebastian for what he said about me at the start of the press conference. It pleased me a lot and shows the great respect that exists between we drivers".
It was the first qualifying session dressed in red for Alonso, who admits to be very pleased with his result:
"Up until today we did not have a clear reference as to how competitive we were: with our cars on the first and second rows we can be satisfied because it means our championship is getting off on a positive note. I am pleased with my qualifying debut for my new team. The F10 was strong in Q1 and Q2, but then Vettel managed to do better than us. On my last run I lost precious time in a couple of corners, losing a couple of tenths, which can happen when you are fighting for pole. I am not surprised to find Felipe ahead of me: he is my team-mate and we all know how good he is round this track. We know we have a good car which we finetuned during the February tests: today we showed its potential and now we have eight months of work to develop it".
Nevertheless, also Lewis Hamilton seems pleased with today’s performance:
"I’m surprised by this afternoon’s result: while we didn’t have the pace of the faster cars, I definitely wasn’t expecting to be fourth quickest, but it’s a good starting point and tomorrow I hope to keep the position or gain at least one more. I don’t think a win is going to be on the cards - but we’ll be giving it the best we can".
There are some mixed feelings in Mercedes. Rosberg has beaten his teammate and went 3 tenths quicker than him. However, it’s also true that Schumacher has been away from Formula 1 since 2006 and it takes time to be back at it. As Ross Brawn confirms too: "It was a reasonable qualifying session today although we hoped for more after this morning's practice. The balance of the car suffered between practice and qualifying, possibly due to the increasing track temperatures, and we lost some pace as a result. Nico drove very well today in all sessions and Michael, taking part in his first qualifying session since 2006, is getting back into the rhythm as he gets more miles in the car.
It's the 14th of March and the first 2010 race is about to start, precisely at 1 pm CET. The first race of the season always promises excitement. The first surprising news of the day is that both Ferrari drivers have replaced their engines. Ferrari explains that this is a precautionary step that they are taking. In fact, the data related to the engine has showed some abnormal parameters. The replacement won’t lead to any sanctions for the team, however since the change has been done under parc ferme conditions, the removed engines can now be only used in free practices. Both HRT drivers will start from the pitlane after suffering some technical problems.
What everybody will look at during this race is the different strategies teams will use. Indeed, with the ban on refueling, strategies are up to air. The top 9 drivers will start on the softer compound, on a full tank of fuel, carrying a weight of 160 kg. It seems like these tyres aren’t likely to last long, especially in hot conditions with a very high tyre degradations. Most of the drivers will suffer from blistering early on during the race. Drivers who are out the top 10 will most likely start on the harder compound.
It’s now time to head to the grid. Timo Glock is surprisingly on softer tyres. Drivers are preparing themselves for the start of the race, concluding their formation lap. The tension increases, and with that the adrenaline too. When the red lights go out, the 2010 season starts in Bahrain. Vettel has a brilliant start and he is in front of the two Ferrari into turn 1. There are some engine problems on Webber’s car as it started to smoke heavily. He is now losing two positions. Meanwhile, Alonso passes his teammate and Rosberg overtakes Hamilton in the opening corners.
Tonio Liuzzi and Vitaly Petrov have an incredible start and go up respectively to 9th and 11th places. On the other hand, Adrian Sutil has made a poor start which saw him dropping down to 22nd position. Vettel is now creating a gap of over 2 seconds on Alonso. On lap 3, Chandhok has made contact, breaking his front wing. His race is already over. Nico Hulkenberg spins, but as he rejoins, Luca di Grassi pulls off the circuit and goes out of the race too. The overheated tyres force Nico to pit and he gets back on track in 22nd place. He is the first one to stop.
On lap 4, Sutil and Kubica make contact and both driver spin losing few positions. Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton is catching Rosberg, constantly being just 0.5 seconds behind the German. The other Mercedes is also under pressure with Webber closing up to him. It’s currently lap 9 and Vitaly Petrov is doing a brilliant job holding the 11th position, he is close to Barrichello by 1 second. One lap later, Massa clocks the fastest lap and he is now closing the gap to his teammate. Meanwhile, McLaren informs Hamilton to save the tyres if he cannot pass Rosberg. Vettel continues to pull away extending now his gap to 3.5 seconds over Alonso. In fact, he is trying to create a gap that allows him to be save if Ferrari decides to undercut him.
On lap 14, Kobayashi’s race comes to an early end as he has to stop in the middle sector due to a technical problem. At the same time, Timo Glock is able to overtake Kovalainen for the 17th place and he is now leading the new car battle. Vettel is gaining important tenths every lap, being currently 4.1 seconds in front of Alonso. Unfortunately, after a great start of the race, Petrov has to retire as his car faces some engine problems and it switched off. Robert Kubica is now flying after his pitstop and this is a crucial information for the drivers in the top positions. Indeed, Hamilton decides to stop chasing Rosberg and pit for fresh tyres. Same decision goes for Schumacher.
During lap 17, Ferrari calls Alonso into the pit for a change to the hard compound. Vettel will surely react to this stop. In the same lap, Rosberg pits too, but his release is delayed by Button who decided to pit as well. Hamilton goes through and Rosberg exits the pitlane placing himself between Hamilton and his teammate Schumacher. Vettel stops now and he is away without any problems and Massa goes to pit too. Seems it’s the end of the race for Timo Glock as he has had some problems with his Virgin. Indeed, he was losing some track positions. The new car battle is still open.
Bruno Senna is the next one of the new team drivers to retire on lap 20. His engine blew up in the main straight. This means that Lotus has won the battle thanks to their reliability: Kovalainen is 17th and his teammate Trulli 18th. Webber is closing on former world champion Button and at the same time Massa is edging closer to Alonso being 1.4 seconds behind. Halfway through the race on lap 25, the top ten are Vettel, Alonso, Massa, Hamilton, Rosberg, Schumacher, Button, Liuzzi and Barrichello. Webber continues to put pressure on Button for the 7th place. Meanwhile, Kubica is continuing his come back and he has now overtaken Buemi with a move on the outside in turn 4. His next target is Barrichello, who is 5 seconds in front.
On lap 30, we have another retirement as Pedro de la Rosa’s car is wheeled back by his mechanics into the garage. Meanwhile, Alonso is starting to close the gap to Sebastian Vettel. After setting the fastest lap of the race (1’59”583), he is now 1.1 seconds off the German. Hamilton is fourth and he remains 15 seconds behind Massa. Vettel is told on the radio that Alonso is likely to overheat. In fact, the lap after, both Massa and Vettel set their best lap times and Alonso is starting to lose again. Sutil is 12th, Alguersuari 13th with STR teammate Buemi 14th. Hulkenberg is 15th and Kovalainen comes into the pits from 16th place in the Lotus.
It’s lap 34 and Alonso is now right being Vettel. It seems like the Red Bull might have some problems. Indeed, the German is having a loss of power due to a broken exhaust. What a turn of events! In the final corner of the lap, Alonso dives past Vettel and takes the lead. In the same lap, Massa passes Vettel too and takes second place. What seems like a great day for the Red Bull driver, it now turns into a nightmare. Hamilton is just 4.5 seconds behind him.
Vettel’s engineer confirms that it is an exhaust failure. It’s just a matter of time before Hamilton passes him. In fact, on lap 38 the Briton overtakes him down the main straight. Vettel is falling down and Rosberg is closing to him. Indeed, he is gaining 3.5 seconds per lap. With 7 laps to go, Alonso is leading with a gap of 8.8 seconds on his teammate Massa. Hamilton is now the fastest man on track, but he is still 8 seconds behind Massa.
Rosberg is only 4.8 seconds and it looks like he will get Vettel soon. At the same time, on lap 46 Alonso sets the fastest lap (1’58”287), while Massa has dropped to 11 seconds behind. Only one lap to go and it seems like Vettel manages to hold back Rosberg. Button is making a final push on Schumacher, but without any success. Unfortunately, with only two laps to go, Sebastien Buemi pulls off the track due to mechanical issue. He was 14th, before he was out of the race. Alonso is on to his final lap. Schumacher has the gap in hand to Button which means he will surely cross the finish line in 6th. Rosberg still can't get Vettel and it looks like the Red Bull will hold on to fourth.
It’s the end. Alonso takes the chequered flag and he is now the first 2010 winner. What a debut in Ferrari! It’s a 1-2 for the team, and this season couldn’t start better for them. Lewis completes the podium with his McLaren, while early leader Sebastian Vettel makes it to 4th, followed by his compatriot Rosberg. Schumacher comes 6th, Button 7th and Webber 8th. Tonio Liuzzi gains 2 points for his team finishing 9th and Barrichello achieves the last point in 10th. Robert Kubica was the first driver to finish out of the points, ahead of Sutil and Alguesari. The last four classified are Hulkenberg, Kovalainen, Buemi and Trulli. It’s now time for the champagne shower and the Spaniard national anthem, followed by the Italian one. What a great race for them.
"A very special day for me. Coming back the top of the podium is always special but even more special with Ferrari. We have history behind the team and all the expectations a driver has when he drives for Ferrari. There is no better way to start the relationship. This is the best team in the world, we worked hard all winter, the guys did a very good job in winter testing. This result is very, very positive. want to dedicate this victory to President Montezemolo, who believed in me and to our mechanics who did a really great job, especially this morning, when they changed the engine on my car in a very short time. Jumping onto the top step of the podium was a special feeling and I hope I have matched the expectations of the whole team. We worked so much this winter and now we are beginning to see the results of that. The first races of the season are very important: we must get to the European part of the year with a lot of points in the bag and a high level of understanding of how the tyres work at various types of track. The key to winning will be to continue to develop the car race by race. Today, on the harder tyres, we went very well, but with the softer ones, I was struggling a bit to stay close to Vettel. I was planning to attack in the final ten laps, but luck gave me a hand: you always need a bit in every race. At the start, I got away well, making the most of being on the clean side of the track and I managed to pass Felipe, going for a space that was big enough to pull off the move without any risk. Then I was lucky not to have any problems with the car, while my team-mate had a more difficult time and had to ease up a bit. Now it’s time to think about Australia. We will see who has the best car at that track, but I think the four top teams will all be in the fight".
His teammate Felipe Massa had a great race too, finishing into second place:
"I am very happy with this result and I want to thank all the team and our fans. It is my best opening race of a season since I started in Formula 1 and, given all the problems we had, I am very pleased. We had to manage the temperatures on the car, and for around thirty laps, I was not able to push as hard as I could. At the start, I lost a place to Alonso, but then the car worked well with both types of tyre. With the softer tyres, the Red Bull was quicker than us, but on the harder ones we were much better. I want to thank one more time all those who have been close to me over these past months, writing and sending me messages. Now we must look to Australia to be as well prepared as possible".
Even Ferrari president Montezemolo can’t be more satisfied by this result:
"I am happy but above all really proud of my men who have done an extraordinary job. This victory has been pursued and wanted after months of hard work. I am extremely happy for them and for our fans. Ferrari is always Ferrari. I am delighted for our drivers too. Alonso starts with a victory and Massa still so fast in a tough race after last year’s terrible accident. A first and second place which encourage us to look forward and keep up the hard work".
On the other hand Stefano Domenicali knows that this is the first race of the year, and that the championship is still long:
"Now we can enjoy this wonderful day for a few hours, but as from tomorrow, we must start preparing for the next round in Australia, adopting our usual approach which involves keeping calm, with our feet on the ground and working hard. We have a very long season ahead of us, in which reliability will be crucial, as indeed we saw yet again today and where we will be fighting very strong and determined adversaries".
"It’s a pity today. It was positive all weekend, except for the exhaust failure. From Saturday morning onwards, we were one of the quickest cars on track in all conditions. We had control of the race today and we were on top of the strategy - everything was running smoothly. I think at every point I knew how my tyres were, so we kept good control of the tyres and brakes. At some stage, I think about 15 to 20 laps from the end, you could see my lap times were getting slower. It seems something mechanical broke, luckily, we could continue and finished fourth, but we should have won today. It cost us a lot, but we’ve got 12 important points".
However, after a deep investigation on Sebastian Vettel’s car the team has found out that the loss of power has been cause by a spark plug failure and not by the exhaust. His teammate Webber lost two positions during the race, dropping down to 8th and he was stuck behind Button and Schumacher:
"It was a bit of a traffic jam out there. I had a fight with the two Mercedes in Turn one and Michael (Schumacher) had the inside for two; after that it was just about working out how we were going to jump them. It was very, very difficult to stay close to the cars in front. We got hurt yesterday in qualifying; we still managed to get a few points today, although not as many as we would have liked. We definitely learned a lot as a team today. It wasn’t the most exciting grand prix I’ve driven - following gearboxes all afternoon - but the world class drivers who were ahead don’t normally make mistakes. I tried as hard as I could to make Jenson (Button) and Michael make mistakes, but it wasn’t happening. We have a long Championship ahead and the boys are working incredibly hard; we showed last year we can fight, so I’m looking forward to Melbourne".
As the Bahrain Grand Prix came to an end, both drivers and team are already looking at the next one and will try to get the result they missed out. It was a strong race for McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton, who managed to get the third place although he suffered from some vibrations during the second part of the race:
"Third place was a very strong result for us today. I feel that we did a good job: our reliability was great, and the pace today was pretty good, but we still need to push very hard to close the gap to the cars in front. My race was decided on the first lap when I locked up at Turn Four, ran a bit wide, got in a bad position and Nico [Rosberg] got past me. After that, I spent the whole first stint close behind him, but just couldn’t get close enough to pass him. After the pitstop, the guys were able to get me out ahead of Nico - which was a fantastic job, thanks guys - and I had some clear air and was able to make up quite a bit of ground to Felipe [Massa]. If I hadn’t been sitting behind Nico, I think I might have been able to challenge Felipe for second place. I had a slight vibration towards the end of the race, but I think it was just the result of a locked front wheel. When you’re pushing to close the gap, you lock the tyres just once and it takes several laps to get over the flat spot. But it wasn’t a big problem. It’s going to be difficult for us to close the performance gap immediately, but I think I’ll go back to the factory and give them the biggest push. I know they’re all pushing flat-out as it is, but we need to get some upgrades, and we need to bring as many of them forward as we possibly can".
"At the start of the race, I didn’t know what was going to happen to my tyres so I took it a little easy. I was a bit disappointed that we pitted when we did, because I’d probably looked after the tyres a little too much - because, in the last five laps of the stint, I was able to push to catch Mark [Webber] and Michael [Schumacher]. At the stop, I jumped Mark, which was great. It was a really good pitstop from the guys - both for Lewis and myself actually, because we each jumped the car in front. I then paced myself on the tyres until there were about 20 laps to go. I caught up with Michael but didn’t have enough pace through the middle sector to stay with him and have a go at him in the last sector, which was disappointing. But it was fun all the same. Overall, I think our car is pretty good at looking after its tyres, but there’s always room for improvement and I think everybody in the team wants more speed and more downforce".
Talking about Mercedes, the team seems not satisfied at all with the race pace. Nico finished 5th, but he struggled to overtake Vettel, even though the Red Bull driver had an important issue. Anyway, he still believes that the season is long, and the team can make big improvements:
"I had a great start today and was happy to be running in fourth position by the end of the first lap. However, I lacked pace on the option tyres in the first stint and struggled for pace. Lewis beat me on strategy in the pit stop which we need to analyse later and see what happened. I couldn't quite get Sebastian at the end as I lost grip in the dirty air when I got close. However fifth place is a good start for us and I am confident that we can develop well from here".
His teammate Schumacher still needs to get used again to drive an Formula 1 car, after three years since he raced for the last time:
"After three years away, I'm happy to say that I had fun out there today, especially at the beginning with the good start that I had. I can live very well with sixth position and it gives both me and the team a good base to make progress. I have every confidence that we will improve the car. Working with the team for our first race together was very positive and the guys did a great job so I would like to thank them for their support in my comeback race. We all know that we have some way to go but we will get there. The season is long".
The Force India F1 Team has opened its points account at the first race as Liuzzi drove a faultless race:
"I'm really pleased. We achieved our target and scored some points, which is a great result for myself and for the team. It was a difficult race as with this amount of fuel and the tyres, plus the heat, we had a bit to control but overall I think we can be pretty happy about how we handled it and to be in the points is magic. All the top teams finished ahead of us and there were no failures or reliability issues so it was the maximum we could have achieved. I'm now looking forward to Australia where we will get some more updates and it could put us in an even better position for the next race. Overall a great result for the team".
"It was today good to get both cars to the finish and one car in the points. Cosworth will also be happy with engine reliability after all their hard work over the winter. We went for a different strategy with Rubens on the prime tyre, but it looks like the option was quite strong. Nico had car damage after an early spin, so he spent the race learning about the tyres. We are looking forward to Melbourne and taking a step up in performance".
After a call for immediate corrections to the current regulations made by several team principals, including Mclaren's Martin Whitmarsh, the press has confirmed that the new rules need to be changed after what they called a boring race at the Bahrain International Circuit. More precisely, British newspaper Daily Mail wrote:
"The FIA and teams must look at the problem urgently and see what can be tweaked. The sport is in danger of missing out on its greatest bonanza. There are four champions on the grid, all in competitive cars. The racing should be sparkling rather than as dry as the desert".
The critic of the The Times, Kevin Eason said:
"Far be it for us to worry you, but it might be wise to dig around in the garden shed and find that old tin of Dulux and splash a bit of it on the living-room wall around the start of the next grand prix in Australia in case you need something to watch if the racing is as dull as it was here in Bahrain. It was difficult not to imagine the click of millions of remote controls around the globe as viewers started scouring the channels for an alternative sporting event a little more exciting, such as international conkers from Rutland or celebrity cheeserolling from Amsterdam".
Last but not least, Italy's La Gazzetta dello Sport wrote:
"Looking at it objectively, this new and highly anticipated Formula 1 produced a rather boring race, with very few passes and most of the field bunched at the back. But Sakhir is an odd track. We'll see how the season unfolds".
However, as Felipe Massa said:
"I think it’s too early to make conclusions: we only raced once! It’s true: at the start of the race you are 6/7 seconds slower than qualifying, where you race with low fuel and you have a lot of grip. Everything changes on Sunday: the car is overloaded, grip is low, especially in the first laps. As usual, if you are too close to the car in front you lose aerodynamic load, and everything gets more complicated. But let’s see in the next couple of races".
Indeed, the next race is only two weeks away and everybody is thrilled to see what’s going to happen. Has Ferrari finally found back what they were missing? We have 18 races to find out.
Caterina Masetti Zannini