F1 Power Rankings: Bahrain Grand Prix

Somehow, someway the 2012 Formula One World Championship will race at the Bahrain International Circuit for the Bahrain Grand Prix. After last year’s race cancellation as a result of the “Arab Spring” riots, the race was back on the calendar but was almost cancelled again because of violence and protests in the country. I think most of the F1 media and bloggers are a little surprised that the race is going forward but when there is money and commercial interests involved, we shouldn’t be shocked.

After last weekend’s dominant performance by Mercedes which included Schumacher’s fastest time in the 2nd practice, Rosberg’s pole, a front-row lockout and Rosberg’s maiden win, it looks as though they’ll be a contender on Tilke track this season. However, those McLarens still look fast and will be a threat to win as well.

#1 Jenson Button (Last Race #1)
Jenson is probably the faster of the two Macca drivers despite what the standings say: “I won this race in 2009 and feel we have a car that’s quite well suited to the track’s characteristics. The track is a good balance of tricky, technical, low-speed corners and faster, high-speed sweeps – particularly two sections behind the pits, which are very satisfying when you get them right. Our car should go well here.”

#2 Lewis Hamilton (LR #2)
Lewis is already looking for passing opportunities for the race. I think he’s expecting to be slower than the Mercedes: “There are definitely passing opportunities. Turn One is a classic late-braking opportunity, and it also gives you the chance to set up the other driver, by forcing him to defend up the inside and then compromising his exit speed, which gives you the opportunity to have a look inside at Turn Two, or even Turn Four at the end of the straight.”

#3 Mark Webber (LR #3)
Leave it to @AussieGrit to give us our detailed breakdown of the changes in coming back to Bahrain: “We haven’t been to the circuit for two years and the last time we raced on the current track layout was in 2009. We also haven’t been there with Pirelli tyres or the DRS, so it’s going to be interesting to see how those new features go; the ingredients are all there for another exciting Grand Prix. It’s going to be important to understand the tyres quickly and you need good top speed and braking. It’s a hot race, hotter than it was in Australia and Shanghai and more like the temperature in Malaysia.”

#4 Sebastian Vettel (LR #6)
The twice-defending WDC talks about the change to the circuit over the weekend: “As the track’s built in the middle of the desert, you have to manage the sand there. It moves with the wind, so it can suddenly appear in new places on the track on each lap – so you’re never quite sure where it will be slippery. For the teams, it’s always a challenge to anticipate the grip levels for the race. In Friday Practice, when the track is still “green”, you often require a different set-up than you need for Sunday. Due to the nature of the circuit, the brakes are in high demand.”

#5 Fernando Alonso (LR #4)
Boy, Fernando sounds downbeat about this weekend: “We can expect another difficult weekend, which is only natural, partly because of the track characteristics and also because the car is the same one we had in Shanghai. Both the Scuderia and I have a good record in Bahrain: the team has four victories here and I’ve got three, the last of which was also my debut race for the Prancing Horse. But the past counts for nothing in this sport and this weekend will be all about damage limitation for us.”

#6 Michael Schumacher (LR #9)
I hate to say it but I think Seven-Time is mulling re-retirement after this season already: “Having experienced a race such as China gives everybody in the team a big push, and we certainly will give our optimum to repeat our performance in the next races. However, the season so far shows that you can never be sure of anything, and having had three winners in three races demonstrates how close together the teams are this year. But then again, it is good to see that we are more and more able to fight at the front, and we will certainly try to transfer our great pace from China onto Bahrain for the next race to come this weekend.”

#7 Nico Rosberg (LR #12)
Talk about your damn win, Nico: “I have really good memories of the Bahrain Circuit. I won the Formula 3 Macau-Bahrain Cup, GP2 Championship and finished seventh on my F1 debut with the fastest lap of the race. I like the track a lot. It’s quite low downforce with lots of big stops and some faster corners too. The track layout definitely fits our car but it’s really a big challenge for us to manage our tyre work well again and find the right set-up as the temperatures will be much higher than in China.”

#8 Kimi Raikkonen (LR #7)
Kimi has hope for this weekend. That’s unexpected because he was completely hosed by not being able to take care of his tyres: “A podium should be possible and I think it has been at all the races we’ve been at so far. We won’t know exactly how good the car is until we get there, but we don’t expect any problems.”

#9 Sergio Perez (LR #5)
Checo is looking for another big weekend in Bahrain: “I have never raced in a Formula One car in Bahrain so far but, I have good memories linked to that circuit because I won a GP2 race there back in 2008. That was the one and only time I have raced there up to now. It is quite a stop-and-go circuit and I think rear tyre degradation can be quite high. Overall I feel that our team has a good momentum and we have to make sure we also keep it for the next race weekend.”

#10 Bruno Senna (LR #11)
Senna the younger thinks he’s growing as a driver now that he’s with Williams: “The amount of pressure is different [at Williams], and it’s a very different type of pressure. I know I have to perform, I know I have to be on top of my game, but these guys give me a great chance to develop, to learn, teaching me as much as they can. We are growing together. They are giving me a great chance and I’m trying everything I can to help develop the car.”

#11 Kamui Kobayashi (LR #17)
Kobayashi Maru likes summer weather. Well, he always seems to do well in warm weather races: “Bahrain is one of my favorite circuits, and its layout is really good. I also like the high ambient temperatures there. It feels like summer. There was no race last year, so we have to guess how the track conditions are. Maybe it will be very slippery in the beginning. We will be driving on the shorter version of the track, where I have never raced in a Formula One car. However, I drove many laps there in testing with Toyota, and I raced in GP2, so I know the track well.”

#12 Paul di Resta (LR #8)
Dario’s cousin said he needed luck to score points last time out yet Vettel went from 11th to 5th: “I don’t think we were too far away in terms of pace, but it simply wasn’t enough to come away with any points. I made a good start, had a good opening lap and battled through to keep in contention with the main pack for the whole race. Points were always in sight and at times I was just ten seconds away from second place, but without any real incidents ahead of us it was difficult to break into the top ten.”

#13 Romain Grosjean (LR #18)

#14 Nico Hulkenberg (LR #13)
Hulkenberg says his car has good race pace. Personally, I think FI and STR are both underperforming this season: “I think we showed that we had pretty good race pace, especially in the final third of the race when I was catching up with the main pack, but it was a long way back after a difficult opening stint. My start wasn’t very good and I had to pit for a new nose which cost me a lot of time. After that it was a race all by myself along with the Toro Rosso of Vergne.’

#15 Felipe Massa (LR #16)

#16 Pastor Maldonado (LR #10)
Williams’ Chief Operations Engineer Mark Gillan on the importance of tyres: “Tyre management is fundamental. The tyres are the number one item on the car, followed by aero and then engine. But understanding the tyres and managing the tyres is the key to unlocking race performance. Qualifying as well, but of particular performance in race. Aerodynamics is still a key driver and better aerodynamic performance and efficiency will deliver more laptime, as long as you don’t upset the tyre balance, and that’s something that’s always a factor.”

#17 Jean-Eric Vergne (LR #14)

#18 Daniel Ricciardo (LR #15)

#19 Heikki Kovalainen (LR #19)
Someone has to make sure that Heikki doesn’t fall asleep mid-race: “Bahrain is another one of the typical modern circuits. It doesn’t have any really challenging corners and you can push hard for most of the lap, particularly over the kerbs which are pretty easy on the cars. As the track surface is rubbered in grip levels improve dramatically, so you’ll see laptimes dropping fast over the weekend, and that means you have to be on it for qualifying, to make sure you can get the most of out the session.”

#20 Vitaly Petrov (LR #21)
Petrov thinks the exact opposite of Teammate Kovalainen: “From the driver’s point of view it’s a pretty technical circuit and one where you need to have a really good balance and make sure you nail every apex to get the best lap times in. That’s particularly true in the last sector and if you can get that right you can make up, and lose, a lot of time there.”

#21 Timo Glock (LR #20)

#22 Charles Pic (LR #22)

#23 Pedro de la Rosa (LR #23)
Pedro just thinks that Bahrain is a difficult circuit because his HRT doesn’t exactly drive well: “The Bahrain International Circuit is a difficult track because it has strong braking corners and it’s very easy to overrun coming into them. The three things we need to work on there are: for the car to brake well, have good grip and achieve a good top speed. It’s a circuit I like because I made my debut for McLaren there, so I’ve got good memories of it, I also achieved my first fastest lap in a race there too.”

#24 Narain Karthikeyan (LR #24)
Fun fact of the day: Narain last ran at Bahrain in 2005 with Jordan when he completed two race laps in addition to his two qualifying and unspecified number of practice laps: “I don’t know the circuit in Bahrain so I’m going to have to be extra focused and make the most of my time in the car. We have an idea of what we think the set-up should be, so we’ll see if this works. We’re going to try a few things in Bahrain and, hopefully, this will help us to improve and progress further. What I do know about this track is that the weather is going to be very hot and we’ve struggled a bit in hot conditions this season so far because of the cooling system in the car, so we’re going to have to work very hard on this.”

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