The battle for the grand prix championship is heating up, literally, as the teams prepare for the Bahrain Grand Prix and high temperatures on and off the track. This report by Steve Rogerson looks back at last week's race in China and forward to what fans can expect as the Formula One racing teams prepare for a race that could have distractions off the track due to an uncertain political climate in the country.
Bahrain Grand Prix 2013 in Sakhir Preview
The Formula One racing teams head for the Middle East and the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday 21 April 2013.
Fernando Alonso practices in Bahrain
Photo from Ferrari
Three races down and three different winners, now the Formula One racing teams prepare for a trip to the Middle East and the Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday 21 April 2013. World champion Sebastian Vettel still leads the drivers championship despite only a fourth place finish for his Red Bull last time out in China. But he is just three points ahead of Lotus driver Kimi Räikkönen, who won the opening grand prix, and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso is another six points behind after an excellent race saw him top the podium in Shanghai.
Red Bull still lead the constructors championship, but only by five points from Ferrari, whose other driver – Felipe Massa – managed sixth place in China, where just one Red Bull reached the line following Mark Webber’s retirement in controversial circumstances.
After Red Bull had failed to punish Vettel for disobeying team orders in the Malaysian Grand Prix, Webber was notably fuming in pre-race interviews. Then, in final qualifying he mysteriously ran out of fuel and was relegated to the back of the grid. As he started to make progress during the race, a pit stop left him with a loose rear wheel that forced his retirement, leaving some to speculate that the team had deliberately ruined his chances to stop him taking revenge on Vettel by forcing him out of the race, accusations that Red Bull have strongly denied. Ironically, when the wheel eventually broke free it nearly did cause Vettel to crash, coming within a whisker of hitting the German driver’s car.
Mercedes was again competitive, with Lewis Hamilton coming in fourth, but reliability problems forced an early retirement for Nico Rosberg. Only an intelligent tyre strategy saved more embarrassment for McLaren as Jenson Button managed a creditable fifth but his team mate Sergio Perez was out of the points. Don’t expect much from McLaren again this weekend as the next major upgrade is scheduled for the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona on 12 May 2013.
Bahrain Grand Prix
There was no Bahrain Grand Prix two years ago due to the unstable political climate in the country, and many believe that the situation is still not much better, causing some to question the wisdom of the FIA going ahead with the race. Security issues could well make the headlines rather than what happens on the track but the only known threat has come from Anonymous, which has again promised to hit the official FIA web site; nobody will be shivering in their boots, but some IT staff might be ordering extra coffee.
For drivers, the hot and sticky conditions make it a test of stamina as well as racing skills. Brakes too are likely to overheat, but long run-off areas make it kind to those who venture off the track. An added problem is wind-blown sand that can create sudden slippery areas of track.
The teams will be happy at a change of heart from tyre maker Pirelli. The initial plan was to use the soft tyre that struggled badly in China, only lasting a handful of laps. Instead, the tyre choice on offer will be hard and medium.
Sebastian Vettel won this race last year.
News From the Pitlane
Rumours are strong that disgruntled Red Bull driver Mark Webber is set to hang up his Formula One hat at the end of the season and switch to Le Mans sports car racing. Kimi Räikkönen is favourite to take over the Red Bull seat should that happen.
Heikki Kovalainen has returned to Formula One racing as a reserve driver for Caterham and is expected to take practice sessions in Bahrain and Barcelona. This will worry first choice drivers Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde, who have both struggled so far this season.
Standings After Three Grands Prix
Constructors: 1. Red Bull 78, 2. Ferrari 73, 3. Lotus 60, 4. Mercedes 52, 5. McLaren 14, 6. Force India 14, 7. Toro Rosso 7, 8. Sauber 6.
Drivers: 1. Sebastian Vettel 52, 2. Kimi Räikkönen 49, 3. Fernando Alonso 43, 4. Lewis Hamilton 40, 5. Felipe Massa 30, 6. Mark Webber 26, 7. Nico Rosberg 12, 8. Jenson Button 12, 9. Romain Grosjean 11, 10. Paul di Resta 8, 11. Daniel Ricciardo 6, 12. Adrian Sutil 6, 13. Nico Hulkenberg 5, 14. Sergio Perez 2, 15. Jean-Eric Vergne 1.