Early observations from Bahrain


Sitting here watching the morning practice session in Bahrain, I am startled to see the new Lotus-Cosworth running round some eight or nine seconds off the early pace. That’s how hard it is to compete at the highest level, a stark reminder if any were needed.

The most fascinating aspect of the 2010 Grand Prix season, to my eye, is the importance of the pitstops during Sunday’s race. With refuelling banned, you might think that the mechanics will have a less demanding afternoon. Absolutely not.


It is possible that races may be won or lost on the alacrity with which the guys can change the wheels. There will be racing in the pitlane. Tenths of a second will be crucial. Reflexes and physical fitness, especially in the heat of Sakhir, will be at a premium this weekend. Some of the top teams have new wheelguns, new wheelnuts – both designed to save tenths during the process of changing wheels. The crews have been practicing through the winter, day after day, and there are stories of all four wheels being changed in less than two seconds. In the factory simulations possibly, but something under four seconds is more likely during the race.


It is said that Red Bull has put its mechanics through a fitness programme at the British Olympic Association, bringing their fitness closer to that of the drivers. But it’s precision and rehearsal that makes a perfect pitstop, and that comes with having the right people and drilling them into a squad. Sunday afternoon will be a huge test, and there will be the added pressure of knowing how vital these stops have become in the pattern of a race. Time, then, to reflect on what a remarkable job these guys do with little public recognition.

Interestingly, the McLarens and Ferraris look the best of the bunch in this first session of a new season, just as they did in the final test at Jerez. Nico Rosberg is quicker than Mercedes team-mate Michael Schumacher at this early stage. But Schumacher is back in familiar style, searching for the limit, locking wheels and kicking up the desert dust that is constantly being blown onto the track. And let’s not forget that Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello are the only drivers on the grid who have any experience of racing without refuelling. This will mean little as the season unfolds, but it may just count in their favour this weekend.

A man who knows more than most about conserving fuel – and tyres – is former World Champion Alain Prost. And a great piece of news this weekend is that Monsieur Prost will be a race steward on Sunday. This is progress. At last we have experienced Grand Prix drivers making judgements about what happens in a Grand Prix.

Judging by the pace of the new teams, we may well see problems with backmarkers on Sunday afternoon. The stewards may be busy. Thus far it seems that the hype was right. It’s going to be a very exciting season.

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