Is Ferrari up for desert duel at Bahrain Grand Prix?

2019-03-27 06:00

IN a sport as complex and involved as Formula 1, it’s difficult to believe that one decision can have a major impact.

But the decision in 2014 to convert the Bahrain Grand Prix into a night race was the best thing that could’ve ever happened to it.

First held in 2004, the Bahrain Grand Prix made history as the first F1 race to be held in the Middle East. Michael Schumacher took the race victory for Ferrari en route to his fifth consecutive world title in what was probably his and Ferrari’s most dominant year.

Since then much has changed for Ferrari and the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The Sakhir International circuit is a gloriously technical mixture of medium.

To mark its 10th year on the F1 calendar in 2014, the race was held at night under thousands of floodlights. Ironically, as the sun set the race came alive.

Who could forget the literal wheel banging battle for supremacy between Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, or Kimi Raikkonen’s record seven appearances on the podium, or the fact that Sebastian Vettel has won the last two Bahrain Grand Prix.

It’s as good a segue as ever to size up Ferrari’s chances this weekend.

The Australian Grand Prix didn’t go anywhere near to what Ferrari would’ve planned. In fact, it would come as no great surprise if there were quite a few questions to answer in Maranello following Sunday’s race.

Not only did Mercedes beat Ferrari to the flag by nearly a full minute, but the Italian team’s cars were also easily swept aside by the Red Bull of Max Verstappen. Yes, Albert Park is unique in its layout and somewhat shrouds the true pace of respective teams. Still, Ferrari will be smarting after such an emphatic beating.

There are several suggestions as to what Ferrari’s issues were around the semi-street circuit in Australia. One of the rumours suggested that the front-wing concept, starkly different to that of Mercedes, just wasn’t working to its full potential.

In pre-season testing at the Circuit de Catalunya, the Ferrari looked the class of the field and this could be down to the fact that the car was running on a purpose-built and importantly a high-grip track that rewarded aero efficiency.

In Spain, too, tyre warm-up wasn’t as big a problem as it was in Australia.

And already Ferrari and Charles Leclerc are fielding question after question of team orders. This comes after the new Ferrari driver was told to hold station behind Vettel in the opening round of the season.

Ferrari has reopened an unnecessary can of worms with the call so early in the season. It just serves as another distraction at a time they can ill afford to take their eye off the prize.

There are no such qualms at Mercedes, yet. Though the 2019 season is only one race old, you cant help but feel that Valtteri Bottas’ dominant win is a resounding statement of intent.

It will still take a monumental effort to beat Lewis Hamilton in a season-long duel, but he has importantly taken the first step in the right direction.

Confidence in any sport is an incredible boost and to that the aggressive and fiery edge to Bottas’ demeanour this season and there is nothing to suggest that he won’t be the man to beat again this coming weekend. After all, it was here in 2017 where the Finn scored his first pole position.

And these are just the stories around the big three. There are even more subplots where it concerns the midfield.

The Australian Grand Prix revealed an exceedingly tight midfield separated by only a few tenths of a second in most cases.

It will be interesting to see if McLaren has made the sort of progress that was suggested in pre-season testing.

Keep a keen eye on Alfa Romeo Racing, too, as they are expected to bring a relatively big upgrade package to this weekend’s Grand Prix.

There are stories, speculations, and expectations up and down the field and the best thing about all of it is that this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix marks only the second race of the 2019 season.

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