Maranello, 16 April – The routine of packing up in the Formula 1 paddock at the end of the first leg of a back-to-back run of races is a well-practiced one, with every team member knowing his set tasks during the slick operation that can see an entire paddock move from one continent to another in a matter of a couple of days. It’s a difficult and unrewarding job at the end of the long race weekend, but if you have had a good result that afternoon, everything seems to go more smoothly and tiredness is banished to the back of the mind. Cases don’t seem so heavy and time flies by when you have just won a Grand Prix. That was definitely the case for Scuderia Ferrari on Sunday night, after Fernando Alonso’s win in China, as the forklift trucks rushed around in the dark, loading everything on the trucks that would take the precious cargo of cars and equipment to Shanghai’s Pudong Airport for the flight from Far East to Middle East, from China to Bahrain.
“It was a great weekend for us, the team did extremely well, Fernando drove an extraordinary race and I am just sorry for Felipe who was robbed of the chance to finish nearer the front, because of an issue with tyre graining,” said Scuderia Team Principal Stefano Domenicali a few hours after the Chinese Grand Prix. “The result is definitely a nice boost as we prepare to start again in just a couple of days in Bahrain.” However, Domenicali has spent too much time on the F1 frontline to get over excited with a single win. “The F138 produced a good performance, but we are not going to get carried away, as it’s just one race, one win in a season that’s got a very long way to go yet,” he warned. “We are not yet at the level we need to be at in qualifying, but it’s hard to judge the level of our competitors because we have seen no one team dominate in the three races so far. Clearly some of our rivals are very strong and matching them is a target we need to achieve very soon. Because it’s only by securing the best possible grid positions that we can use the full extent of the potential offered by our race pace. If you start from the front, you can manage the tyres in a better way too.”
As from Tuesday, the job starts all over again, as the garages are prepared at the Sakhir circuit on the outskirts of Manama, Bahrain. The Ferrari crew will still have a spring in its collective step thanks to the Shanghai win, but the preparation work will proceed in the usual down to earth and routine way. As for the Scuderia’s engineers, they will be preparing for this next challenge, opening up their Bahrain notes from previous years while also incorporating lessons learned so far this season, including the fact that Pirelli will be bringing the Medium and Hard tyres. In the past, these compounds from the harder end of the range were the least suited to the Ferrari cars, but the way the scenarios change so quickly this year means that might not be the case this week. “As the conditions will be very different with much higher temperatures, we can expect this to affect the way the tyres perform,” confirmed Domenicali. “Cooling requirements also need to be looked at in Bahrain and in general, we will be doing all we can to ensure we are as well prepared as possible and that we make no mistakes when it comes to finalising the set-up on the F138 for this weekend.”
Apart from tyres and the heat, another important factor this weekend is braking performance, dictated by the layout of the track. It’s a motor racing truism that, in order to go quickly, you need to be able to stop quickly. Here in Bahrain, it’s not a question of brake reliability, because the heat does not really affect a component of the car that already operates at incredibly high temperatures. But giving a driver brakes he has confidence in, allows him to attack the track much more and in order to achieve that, the cars run with relatively high downforce this weekend. High temperatures are not the only unusual feature at this event: sometimes, when one approaches the Sakhir circuit, it is hard to see because of all the sand swirling around and that sand can affect car preparation as precautions have to be put in place to prevent too much of it getting in the engine.
As Domenicali mentioned earlier, at the moment there is no accurate form guide one can look to, when it comes to predicting a winner on Sunday. However, while past results mean little, the Sakhir circuit has certainly been a happy hunting ground for Ferrari and its current driver line-up. There have been eight Bahrain Grands Prix to date and the Scuderia has won half of them. Michael Schumacher won the inaugural race in 2004 and Felipe Massa made it to the top step of the podium in 2007 and ’08. As for Fernando Alonso, he won with another team in 2005 and ’06 and secured his first ever victory at the wheel of a Prancing Horse car here in 2010. On that occasion, Felipe finished second to give the Scuderia a one-two finish and the Brazilian also started from pole in 2007.
Past successes are good to have, but they are precisely that, something from the past. Back in the present, Domenicali has the final word on Scuderia Ferrari’s approach to the fourth round of the World Championship. “If we want to achieve our ambitious targets over the course of the year, we need our drivers to perform well and the fact that both of them are in the top five of the classification after three races is important, but it is down to us to give them a good car. So we need to knuckle down to work to ensure we are well prepared and keep the momentum we found in Shanghai running all the way through this Bahrain weekend.”