Sakhir, 19 April – A fourth race of the year, a fourth circuit and a fourth set of questions for the eleven teams in the World Championship, because the Sakhir circuit in the sands of Bahrain definitely presents challenges we have not yet encountered this season. It is therefore encouraging to note that, despite a very long list on the engineers’ job sheet, the two F138 seemed to sail calmly through the first three hours of free practice today, with no real problems emerging and a general feeling within the team that, although there is still work to do, the car is again well adapted to yet another type of track and should be competitive over the rest of the weekend.
In the hands of Chinese Grand Prix winner Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa they ended the day fourth and sixth on the time sheet, having taken the virtual front row in the morning, when the Brazilian pipped the Spaniard to the fastest time. On a Friday, laps are more important than times and the Scuderia Ferrari duo amassed 93 between them. What today’s times do tell us is that the field is very close and only 8 tenths of a second separate the fastest, Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus and the tenth man on the FP2 time sheet, Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes. Behind the Finn comes the Red Bull duo with Mark Webber, taking part in his two hundredth Grand Prix this weekend, in second place ahead of Sebastian Vettel. Splitting the two Prancing Horse cars in fifth place is Paul di Resta for Force India.
Tyres and tyre wear look set to be less of a talking point than in China, although inevitably in this heat, there are signs of degradation both on the Prime choice, the Hard Pirelli and the Option, Medium. In addition, even after the cars produce a relatively rubbered-in line around the track, the wind is constantly blowing a fine layer of sand back onto its surface. Clearly the softer of the two will be the choice for qualifying, as already today the differences in lap time between Hard and Medium ranged from around 0.4 to 1.0 seconds. However, unlike Shanghai, there will not be a mad rush to do as few laps as possible on the softer of the two come Sunday afternoon. Before then, we can look forward to what should be another thrilling and closely contested qualifying session on Saturday afternoon.