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I'm sitting in a big white F1 sponsor heading to Bahrain while I write this, hoping for a different result to rounds 1 and 2. Hoping that Michael comes, well �.. anywhere but first. Hoping that Kimi doesn't break his car, hoping that Mark Webber has had his car fixed and hoping that David and Ralf remember they have to impress someone if they want to drive something quicker than a Mr Whippy van next year.

I'm not sure about Kimi and Mark's cars but I'm pretty sure that Michael, David and Ralf will all disappoint me.

Michael will win in Bahrain. The car is ultra-reliable, nobody is better at adapting to new tracks and Bridgestone have shown that they are getting closer to Michelin on warmish tracks. I think they will be just good enough to cope with their first hot track if this actually turns out to be one. Michael won in Sepang with a margin that bore no relationship to his superiority. He's brilliant at conserving his car and tyres and that's what he did. Anyone who thinks that Juan Pablo posed a threat, or that he came second because Rubens blocked him was watching a different race to the one I saw.

The Ferrari was not the quickest car in Malaysia, Montoya's Williams was, after all, he set a new lap record didn't he? Had he ever looked like challenging Michael the record books may well have looked different. Michael didn't do anything he didn't have to in order to win. That's how he will play Bahrain as well. I don't want him leaving the first away rounds with 30 points, but I can't see another result. If Rubens follows Michael's lead on tyre selection we will probably see another red 1-2.

Everybody (else) seems to think that Montoya drove a perfect race in Malaysia to come home 2nd. I don't. There's no denying that he did nothing wrong but I was not impressed. Blame it on the new points system I suppose (see, I do get to pick on Max this issue too), he got comfortable with eight points in the bank and accepted that position. I'm not suggesting that he could have passed the Ferrari, just that he didn't put himself into a position to try. Michael had his buffer and Juan Pablo let him circulate without any pressure. The Williams had something in reserve, as did the Ferrari. Michael can't be blamed for not pushing harder; after all, he was in front. If second place had still been worth 6 points then I think Michael's 10 second margin would have still been maintained, only it would have been over a race that was finished a minute earlier.

Mark Webber must be hoping he can wake up in Bahrain and find Sepang never happened. Jenson will be hoping for some d�j� vu after it. They both drove pretty well in Malaysia. Things went right for Jenson and he drove well right to the end. Things went horribly wrong for Mark and he got flustered. It's hard to blame him for his losing it but if he wants to be a champion, and he's got the makings, then he can't afford too many races like Sepang on his CV. Nobody put in a better effort on Saturday than Mark, Michael's 'perfect lap' notwithstanding. The Jaguar can be very fast, any front row on the grid proves that, but the lack of capital to look after the detail stuff does show. Mark will have some point scoring opportunities this year, unfortunately he will have more DNF's as well. Button deserved his podium, even if it was given to him by the strategists (?) at Renault.

Trulli was the unluckiest man at Sepang, although Mark ran a close second. Neither Fernando nor Jano did anything wrong during the race yet the move to a 2 stop strategy (or a 3 stopper that emulated a 2 in Trulli's case) mid race robbed Trulli of a near certain podium and Alonso a reasonable points finish. Of the others, da Matta did OK, Panis really endeared himself to the team with his drive-by salute, Rubens got caught out on hard tyres and was probably hoping for the sun to break through all afternoon and Bruni showed that even pay for drive pilots can perform credibly sometimes. Actually, I'm becoming something of a Bruni fan. He is getting the job done with the tools he has available and doing so in a tradesmanlike manner.

Bib and Bub, the 360� kids (that would be Massa and Sato to those of you who missed their dodgem cars exhibitions) both showed, yet again, that they can be fast despite a total lack of car control skills. This pair amaze me, how can drivers as quick as they undoubtedly both are still manage to spend half their race thinking it's rallycross instead of F1? Neither are rookies, both drive like them though. Money and influence got them their seats but the type of consistency they show will take them away pretty quick.

Ralf and David are consistent too. Both are locking themselves into conservative roles and being totally outdriven by their (now only slightly) less experienced but vastly more skilled partners. That's not the approach to take if you want a decent drive in 2005.

Kimi will perform well in Bahrain, or his car will break again. Either way he won't be challenging for the driver's gong this season. Even 10 points here, and that won't happen, will not let him overcome the Mac's lack of consistency or pace. With the Ferrari comfortably on top of the tree today, the Williams (Montoya's at least) very quick and more power coming for the Renault, podiums will be just too hard to find. Look for him to continue to give driving lessons to Coultards while he chases down and passes Button's points score in the BAR during this season.

Alonso, if the power-up of the Renault delivers on its promise could be real threat by the end of the season. He won't be a threat at Bahrain though, unless the rain stays, that one kilometre straight will negate the Renaults capability in the twisty stuff and the big horsepower teams with a reasonable chassis, specifically Ferrari and Williams, should shine here.

I hope I'm wrong in my predictions of the outcome but it's not going to snow and unless the Bridgestone's don't work over the dunes then look for 2 sandblasted red cars in the winner's circle with Montoya as the runner-up yet again. Although it IS raining and under 25�C in Bahrain as I type this from the air over Singapore - that being the first precipitation within 5000 miles of Bahrain since the time Noah set up his floating pet shop some years ago. One must assume Bridgestone and Ferrari have a direct line to someone pretty important to keep Michael's back covered come what may.

One thing is for sure though; there will be cars breaking in the Middle East. Those teams that can run 3 cars on Friday will gain a huge advantage, those that can't will have to spend a lot of time on the track. Unfortunately the teams that can run three have no answers for the teams with two. The driver's need to learn the track and the engineer's need data. For probably the last time till China we will see the whole field circulating consistently on Friday. The one-engine rule will bite in Bahrain, assuming we don't get flooded out or have the track disappear behind a sand storm.

The Quali-flyer

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Reader's comments:

i wonder how long it takes till the first of the 5 michelin-teams trying to get at least near ferrari (williams, mclaren, renault, jaguar or toyota) chooses to switch to bridgestone as their tyre-manufacturer. sure bar does consider that move the least of all teams at the moment, because they improved by making the switch the other way round... but i think that's just confusing, we shouldn't read too much into that. maybe bar would have improved since the 2003 car no matter which tyres they were on now. maybe mercedes starts off with an own team by 2005 on bridgestones? they should more than ever AND more than anyone else be in the situation where one begins to think about 'maybe it's coming out better if we'll do that all on our own' or 'maybe we should change *everything*, just for a start?' especially because their achievements in motorsport as a pure mercedes-team are so immaculate. what they did before and after the 2nd world war is even way beyond the superstar-show ferrari's been pulling off the past few years. i'm sure there are quite some guys at DC who'd like to see that repeated. they wouldn't even have to abandon the possibility of winning with mclaren again - just as ferrari does with sauber, they could keep mclaren as their second-class-team - PutAllGuysInFerraris - Germany

Thanks for the comments and apologies for the delayed response.

Interesting idea, but I don't think I can agree with you on most of your comments. BAR I do agree have improved despite, not because, of their tyre change and I wonder if they are looking at current performances and questioning the wisdom of that move. Tyres are not just bolt on accessories and knowledge built up by a fully committed partner over the years is invaluable in optimising a car for a specific circuit or for getting the most out of a set-up change. It is my belief that BAR would have done better staying with Bridgestone, despite the remarkable points tally they have accumulated in the first 3 rounds. It could be argued that Bridgestone have paid the price for their disproportionate commitment to Ferrari. I'm coming to think that the downside of lost data from the other teams is being offset by their ability to focus entirely on the red cars.

As to the rest of the Bibendum Brigade, I don't think they are being beaten by Bridgestones, I think they are being beaten by Ferrari and Michael. From what I have seen I'm still not convinced that the Bridgestone is a superior tyre to the Michelin, the European rounds should show that. What I am convinced of though is that the Ferrari is the superior car today and that the others need to get their development programs together now, or it will be too late.

The Quali-flyer



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