Back from China for a day, of course, specifically to write for you before we go off to Bahrain on Wednesday! Most teams and drivers are going straight from Shanghai to Bahrain, so it’s a quiet, convenient trip with a few hours in the sun on the way. One or two team personnel, plus many of Bernie’s FOM people, were on my Virgin flight back yesterday, so there were probably about fifty more people on the flight than normal. And it allowed me to pop home and find out that I haven’t got any brakes in my Mercedes!
So what of China? Well, the good news was that we did have a race, even if it wasn’t the most exciting. As you know, I was worried that the considerable heat in Malaysia contributed massively to the performance of Ferrari there, which helped Sebastian Vettel to win. Well, the track temperature according to the FIA read-outs in Shanghai was actually higher than it deserved to be; the ambient maxed at about 22 degrees whereas we saw 46 degrees track temperature prior to the race. However, this cooled as the race progressed, ending up at about 40 degrees.
Interestingly, while most drivers started on softs, they were split whether to change to softs or mediums at the first stop. At the inevitable second stop, they all went onto mediums or at least, the first ten or so did so.
Ferrari didn’t expect to beat Mercedes in Shanghai but at least they were very much in touch. OK, there was an eleven second gap from second-placed Rosberg to Vettel’s Ferrari when the safety car came out but they had been a lot closer for quite some time.
The battle between the Mercedes drivers is an interesting one. Remember that Nico Rosberg was the quick guy in qualifying last year but so far he has been shadowed by Lewis Hamilton and the frustration is beginning to show. His reaction to finding he was 0.04s behind his teammate on Saturday and his subsequent tantrum on Sunday are indicative of a guy who thought he had prepared to beat his teammate and finds he can’t.
I have to be on Lewis’s side on this matter. He is driving superbly, seems to have his situation under control, and is happy with the way he’s handling his teammate and his rivals. But in order to make a championship, we want him to have a rival and whether it’s Rosberg, Raikkonen or Vettel, we need one of them to make a championship and you suspect that Lewis would like that as well.
A year ago, it was his teammate who was his major rival; remember the duel they had in Bahrain? We wouldn’t mind that again, would we? It was a great battle and no matter whether it’s the two Mercedes or just one of them and a Ferrari, that’s the kind of action we want to see.
I’m told the TV reaction to Sunday’s race was pretty lukewarm and I’m worried if that is going to be the situation this year. But we’ve seen Ferrari bounce back, and you can be sure that Red Bull Racing and Williams are both planning similar comebacks. We’ve only had three races so far, so it’s too early to say that a status quo has been established but this weekend in Bahrain might be similar. However, looking at the temperatures there at the moment, there could be as high a track temperature as in Malaysia which would liven things up again.
Bahrain has four straights which means that emphasis is on straightline speed, and Ferrari seem pretty good at that, as is Williams. In China, the middle sector consisted of fast curves which would have favoured a good handling car like the Mercedes. There aren’t quite the same corners in Bahrain, and the cars aren’t likely to be much different in Bahrain to what they were in China, so given the gap between the two we might see a similar race.
Bahrain is actually remarkably small, something which perhaps people don’t realise. The main island is only 55kms long by 11 kms wide. This makes it about half the size of West Sussex, but it’s now a known country in the world thanks to its Grand Prix. China was celebrating its 12th Grand Prix this time; this will be the 11th Bahraini Grand Prix.
It’s quite an important country when it comes to motor sport in that there are several tests there; GP2 begins its campaign this weekend having had a couple of days’ testing here recently, and Porsche were also testing here for their WEC programme a month or so ago. There is a very good kart track right beside the Grand Prix circuit – it’s one of Daniel Ricciardo’s favourites – and of course the president of the CIK – Sheik Abdullah – comes from Bahrain. Furthermore, there is considerable investment in McLaren from Bahrain, so it’s quite a big deal.
There really is only one town which is Manama. The majority of people stay there and drive to the circuit every day, a fairly flat road with various towns and villages along the way. Security is very tight; you can pass as many as 80 or 90 police cars on the way. Petrol, not surprisingly, is very cheap but not very plentiful. You quite often queue at filling stations but an entire tank is £4. You can but dream!
We tend to stay at a good hotel call the Best Western The Olive in Juffair region; a lot of the media stay there and it’s quite reasonable. There is an Indian restaurant in the hotel but a Bennigans and an Italian restaurant nearby. Not far away is a Thai restaurant and a restaurant which concentrates purely on meat, imported but of high quality. Alcohol is not a problem, you can usually get it in most restaurants.
It’s a pretty good Grand Prix to attend as the locals try to ensure that there is lots to see and do. It’s one of those GPs where there is a big area behind the main grandstand where there are lots of stalls and street acts, imported from all over the world. Spectators tend to wander off around this area during the race, so the grandstands might be a bit empty but purely for that reason! They do have quite major pop concerts after racing, even though the Arab weekend is actually Friday and Saturday and Sunday is a normal work day.
Remember that after Bahrain there is now a three week gap to the Spanish GP and I think that’s when we will see a shake-up in the order, as teams bring updates to their cars. When they’re testing, they all say ‘wait until Melbourne.’ When we’re in Melbourne, they say ‘wait until Spain’ as that is the first European Grand Prix. There may not be many upgrades in Bahrain so we could well see a similar order as we saw in the last couple of races, although that temperature may well intervene. We shall see…
By Bob Constanduros