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Posts Tagged ‘Bahrain’

So last week’s Bahrain Grand Prix was good, then?

No, of course that sentence is inaccurate. Partly because there isn’t really such a thing as a “good” Bahrain Grand Prix, but mostly because of the distinct lack of Bahrain Grand Prix that took place. And despite the deeply unpleasant reasons behind the race’s cancellation, I can’t help but, from a Formula 1 perspective, be a little happy about it. I didn’t buy into the nonsense that ‘professional’ ‘journalists’ spouted after last years opening event at the wealthy island monarchy. It was by no means the “worst race ever” or “a sign of Formula 1’s continuing decline” as we were told by the same group of predictable sensationalists who told us that the following race in Australia was stunning. It was an unsurprisingly disappointing event after 4 months of build-up, but average by Bahrain standards. What that race did give us though, is a very good indication both of why Bahrain should not be the opening race of the season, and why it shouldn’t really be a race at all. Or at least those are the lessons it should have given us. Instead we had weeks of team managers, drivers and others telling us they would “improve the show”, which damaged the credibility of F1. These people were basically saying “F1 is boring, and to make it more interesting we must make it less of a sport”. Of course the following race in Australia was exciting, as it always is, and the fuss ended. Everyone forgot about Bahrain, the real questions of why that fuss occurred were not answered, and no lessons were learnt. Fast forward a year and F1 is somehow faced with exactly the same situation of Bahrain being the opening Grand Prix, and the inevitable disappointment and damage to F1’s public image that will arise as a result. A repeat of that has been avoided however, and I’m sure Australia will provide the thrilling season opener that it always does.

Of course to suggest the situation Bahrain finds itself in is a good thing because F1 fans won’t be bored for a couple of hours on a Sunday, would be mind numbingly selfish. The Grand Prix is insignificant compared to the situation the country is currently in, and far more important is the issue of human rights that the people of Bahrain have been denied. It does raise an important question though. Is Bahrain the kind of country F1 should be involved with? The actions of the corrupt monarchy (members of which we are used to seeing walking down the grid and telling us how wonderful Bahrain is) and the way in which they have reacted to the incredibly reasonable demands of the protesters with force would suggest no. There is also a very strong argument, however, that politics (real politics, rather than F1 politics) should not interfere with sport. It’s a question that will always spring up for as long as Bernie’s money seeking brings us to more and more countries with questionable leadership. It’s also a question I’m not going to answer, because I don’t have an answer, but it’s one we should continuously ask ourselves. Or we could just not go to Bahrain because the Grand Prix is a bit rubbish and leave it at that.

I still think F1 fans should be happy about the cancellation, however, purely because the race would have been dull, and that dullness would be exaggerated by the fact we have been deprived of F1 for several months. In recent years Melbourne has established itself as the rightful location of the opening race, and we should make the most of it. Especially seeing as it may not be around much longer, a great shame that will deprive Melbourne residents and politicians of the wider economic benefits that the race brings (which they appear to have failed to notice) and deprive Formula 1 of a popular, exciting and successful event. We should also make the most of the season finale returning to it’s rightful place at Interlagos this year, after two strikingly uneventful concluding events at the enthusiasm-crushing Yas Marina circuit. Presumably they failed to pay the extra 700 billion pounds or something. Either way, with a race schedule increasing dominated by money, it’s nice to get the ‘bookends’ right, even if there are still some issues with the ones in the middle.

As far as Bahrain is concerned, with violence and suppression continuing in the country, Bernie’s aim of holding the race this year is increasingly unlikely. The future of F1 and Bahrain is unclear, and if the much criticised 2010 event was the last race we see in the country for a while, I don’t think Formula 1 should be disappointed. There’s increasing demand for a slot on the F1 calendar, and I think everyone agrees Bahrain needs to do a lot more to deserve a place ahead of, say, Spa or Montreal. I also highly doubt the real people of Bahrain would be particularly disappointed either. There are more important things that the Bahraini people need than a Grand Prix.

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Kimi Raikkonen in Ferrari F60 at Bahrain

The four day tests at Jerez and Bahrain concluded on Friday, with the Bahrain running resumed after a two day sandstorm, and all teams starting to set some competitive lap times. In Spain, Sebastian Bourdais set a 1:17.472 in his 2008 car, whilst Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso battled it out for the fastest time in an ’09 car.

It was McLaren and Hamilton that came out on top, again by a small margin, but not quite as small as the previous day. His 1:19.632 was two tenths of a second faster than the R29’s best time. Alonso did a lot of work in the Renault and said afterwards: “Overall, we have to be very happy as we managed to do lots of laps and the car responded well to the set-up changes we made, so I think we’ve found some good solutions. Every day the driveability of the car is improving and although we still have a lot of work to do before the start of the season, we are definitely moving in the right direction.” Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber were having their own battle for third place. Rosberg put his Williams ahead by two tenths after Webber’s RB5 stopped out on track and brought out the red flags. Kazuki Nakajima was also out for Williams but, despite completing 34 laps, he failed to set a time, by driving through the pit lane on each attempt.

Meanwhile, Ferrari, BMW and Toyota were back in action at Bahrain, after being forced to sit out for two long days. Kimi Raikkonen posted a 1:33.325 in the F60. Of the days running, he said: “I immediately had a good feeling although it’s still too early to say where we are compared to our competitors. The car is improving and there are no especially critical areas. We used the KERS also today and I’m happy with how it works, apart from some minor childhood disease.” Jarno Trulli was out for Toyota and just a tenth down on Kimi’s time, whilst BMW’s Christian Klien was a further couple of tenths behind. Another four day test at Bahrain kicks off this Monday.

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Fernando Alonso in Renault R29 at Jerez

The four day test at Jerez continued into Thursday, with newly re-signed Sebastien Bourdais taking over the running of Toro Rosso’s 2008 car and, of course, setting the fastest time.

Reigning champion Lewis Hamilton was back in the cockpit and only just managed to keep the McLaren MP4-24 ahead of the other ’09 cars by the very smallest of margins. Sebastian Vettel was back for Red Bull and just 0.001 seconds away from Hamilton’s best time. “Today’s test gave me the first opportunity to drive MP4-24 in warm, dry conditions – and I’m very encouraged by what I felt. The car feels strong, very similar to last year’s car, in fact. It doesn’t take long to get used to the new buttons in the cockpit [KERS and front wing flap adjustments] but the real test for everyone now is to understand the slick tyres ahead of the first race in Melbourne next month,” said the Briton. Kazuki Nakajima was also out for Williams and over half a second faster than than the Renualt R29 which continued at the back of the time sheets, this time in the hands of Fernando Alonso.

Meanwhile in Bahrain, testing was completely stopped as the sandstorm continued at the track. All three drivers (Felipe Massa, Robert Kubica and Timo Glock) could only complete 1 installation lap each, before packing away and hoping for the weather to clear on Friday.

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Felipe Massa in Bahrain during sandstorm

The four day test in Jerez and Bahrain continued on Wednesday as, to nobodies surprise, Sebastien Buemi took to the top of the time sheets in his 2008 Toro Rosso at Jerez as he completed a full race simulation, whilst Heikki Kovalainen improved the pace from the previous day, and set the fastest time in an ’09 car.

Mark Webber took over from Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull and was just over half a second behind the McLaren in his first appearance in an F1 car after breaking his leg. Of the days testing he had this to say: “I’m very relieved of course. It has been a tough few months for me, but I’ve had good people around me and the team have been fantastic as well. There were a lot of questions asked going into today, but I answered some questions for myself and it turned out to be okay.” Nelson Piquet Jr once again sat at the bottom of the times, behind Williams and Kazuki Nakajima, who had taken over from Nico Hulkenburg and did the most running of anyone in a 2009 racer.

Meanwhile in Bahrain an unexpeted sandstorm severly reduced testing in the desert, where teams had headed to avoid bad weather, albeit rain, in the first place. Felipe Massa was fastest, but was only able to complete 14 laps. Robert Kubica and Timo Glock were out for BMW and Toyota, but all three now have some catching up to do.

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Sebastian Vettel in Red Bull RB5 at Jerez

Tuesday saw the latest pre-season tests begin with Toyota, Ferrari and BMW moving to Bahrain in the hope to avoid rain, and Red Bull, Toro Rosso, Williams, McLaren and Renault sticking in Spain. Sebastien Buemi added to his huge amount of mileage in last year’s Toro Rosso, and finished top at Jerez with his 3 second advantage, whilst things were a whole lot closer in the desert.

Fellow Seb, this one named Vettel, was busy giving the Red Bull RB5 it’s first few runs after the car was launched earlier that morning.  He set the fastest time of all the ’09 contenders before he was forced out of the car early due to a gearbox problem. Nico Hulkenburg was a busy man as he put the Williams Fw31 just three tenths behind Vettel’s shiny new Red Bull. Heikki Kovalainen put his McLaren half a second ahead of Nelson Piquet Jr’s Renault, with rain only making a brief interruption in the day’s running.

Meanwhile at Bahrain, Timo Glock put Toyota’s TF109 on top, just 0.1 seconds ahead of Felipe Massa and the F60, who was in turn just 0.1 seconds ahead of Robert Kubica and the F1.09.

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