Renault is the team to beat
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In Sepang Alonso may have been under pressure but it never looked like it. He led the race from the start and soon had a commanding lead. Fisichella, in the other Renault, seemed to have set up problems. The balance of his car did not look right from the start of the race and he rapidly lost ground whilst struggling with a very loose Renault through the corners. His retirement was no surprise, it is just a pity that he took Webber out with him, but as they say: "That is racing"
I was surprised to see that Toyota have finally found pace. For long we have been expecting it and for the last two years I have been commenting that they need to get faster sooner but this was very soon. Admittedly Trulli never looked as if he could challenge for the lead and had Raikkonen's tyre not gone down he may have been challenged for second but to have two cars finish in points with one in second place is a huge step forward for Toyota.
Heidfeld in the Williams also surprised. Williams may not be that slow after all.
At the end of the day I felt that McLaren were much faster than the results showed. Raikkonen set the fastest lap of the race and would have finished on the podium if he did not have to change a tyre and Montoya, in his normal style, probably pushed too hard from the start and did not have any rubber left towards the end of the race. It is going to take time for Montoya to learn to manage tyre wear but do not discount him yet. He will get better and tyre development may help him out too.
Ferrari proved conclusively that it was a mistake to start the season in last year's car. It may even have been a mistake to take focus off their new car by preparing the 2004 car for 2005. Now they have to roll out the new car with almost no testing time for Michael and Rubens.
Bahrain is a moderately fast track. It will be hot and the probability of rain is very low.
The pit straight ends in a very slow right-hander followed by almost an S onto the first of the back straights that leads to an almost identical, slow right hander. This section is probably the best for overtaking as it should be possible to set the car up through turns 2 and 3 to gain from the slipstream and as turn 4 is slow, slipping through under brakes could be pulled off. After that is will be processional all the way to turn 13. There may be some slight opportunity to overtake between turns 10 and 11 but as turn 11 is reasonably fast it is unlikely.
The second major back straight ends in turns 14 and 15 (actually a single, double apex corner) which leads on to the main pit straight. Overtaking should also be possible on this back straight.
Although the pit straight is the longest and, all things being equal, should give the best overtaking option the very high speed turn 15 that leads on to the main straight is fast and needs a lot of downforce. It is going to be difficult to match the leading car's exit speed from this corned in turbulence.
We may see cars reach 300km/H (186mph) down the main straight.
Track temperatures are likely to be very high and tyre and brake wear may be a problem.
Renault are likely to be fastest in Bahrain. Their whole package seems to be very balanced and they are certainly no longer down on power. I suspect that their traction control is very superior to other teams (best demonstrated as their start launch control where they inevitably make up a space or two) and this gives them the ability to aggressively attack the exits from corners without too much concern that it will cook their tyres.
Alonso is very fast and Fisichella may lack Alonso's aggression but his car control is excellent. Although it was possibly the set up of his car that spoilt his race in Malaysia I believe that there is a good chance that Fisichella had defective traction control which could explain the looseness of his car (tendency to oversteer under power).
McLaren do not seem to be far behind the Renaults. Raikkonen set the fastest lap in Malaysia and in my opinion has a very good chance of getting onto the podium in Bahrain providing that he is not unlucky again.
Montoya is very fast but his driving style and the
new rules are not compatible. To get one race (as well as qualifying) out of a single set of tyres and two races per single engine
needs a conservative attitude which is totally against Montoya's nature. He may learn eventually but it is going to take a few more
races. I predict that he will either finish off the podium, but still in the points, or slide off and get trapped in the kitty
litter because his tyres did not make it. As he will start with a new motor this weekend he will probably not break that.
Williams are not as fast as McLaren but not that far behind either. They could well come up with an enhancement or two to suddenly be fast enough to compete at the front.
Although both Mark Webber and Nick Heidfeld are very competent drivers I do not feel that they are in the same class as the likes of Alonso, Raikkonen and Schumacher. On the other hand it is becoming clear that as formula one cars are developing the flair of the driver matters less and less and the ability of the car is gaining in importance. Given the right car both Webber and Heidfeld can win races.
Toyota managed to find pace in Malaysia. I wonder if this was just a flash in the pan or if it is a sign of things to come. Trulli and Ralf Schumacher drove well and both finished where they started.
This is a rapid rise for Toyota that looked as if they were hardly making progress through all of last year. If they keep this rate of improvement up they could be the team to challenge Renault for the constructors' championship.
Ferrari are in trouble. They are now definitely on the back foot.
Ferrari has told us that they will be competing with their 2005 cars in Bahrain and that is a major gamble. Obviously their 2004 cars are no longer competitive and they had little choice but the cars are hardly tested. Both Michael and Rubens had only a single day each in the new car. A far cry from what we are used to from Ferrari. There are only two cars and if anything happens to either they will only have one so one of the drivers will have to start with the 2004 car (which may mean, because of the engine rule that he will have to do the next two races in the 2004 car). If that happens I wonder who will get the new car?
But that may not be the problem at all. How do we know that it is the 2004 cars? They seemed pretty fast last year and the cars are not that much faster this year. What if the problem is not the car but the tyres?
Are Ferrari hoping for a faster car to make up for slower tyres? Will the 2005 car be fast enough to make up the difference?
Red Bull performed relatively well too. They certainly did not embarrass themselves and again I was amazed at Coulthard who seems to have had an injection of enthusiasm. We have seen more inspiring driving in the last two races from him than in the preceding two seasons.
The rumour mill has it that Red Bull are looking for another engine supplier. If they do so it would be a pity as it is then likely that Cosworth, like Lotus, Brabham and Cooper, will be another traditional name that will no longer be associated with the sport.
On the other hand there is no question that the Cosworth motor is not producing the needed performance.
Honda almost looked as if they were going to overcome a long history of engine failures with BAR in 2004 but if Malaysia in anything to go by they did not start too well this year. Those were fresh engines and they both expired pretty conclusively in two laps.
Sauber are struggling but that is not surprising seeing that Ferrari have proved that the 2004 package does not work.
Jordan and Minardi? Well they make up the numbers.
Agree or disagree ?
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