Shall we do the racing first? Two practice sessions over for Sunday’s Bahrain GP, and Nico Rosberg holds a familiar half-second advantage over the rest. Half a second was of course Nico’s margin in his light-speed pole position lap last week in China. Is that really how much faster the Mercedes is? The others will be hoping not and it’s the fog of free-practice. They, and we, will find out tomorrow.
Perhaps. Despite the business-as-usual note scribbled on Mr E’s trailer door this weekend, it’s clearly not. The Force India team did not take part in second practice for the simple reason a close encounter with a protestor’s Molotov cocktail and ‘security forces’ tear gas deeply upset members of the team, two of whom have been flown home already. Force India did not want to work at the circuit and travel home after dark, especially on Friday, the day on which protests have traditionally escalated since the beginning of the ‘Arab Spring’ a year ago.
F1’s approach to the decision to go-ahead with the race after two cancellations last year has been to make it one of ‘personal security’. It’s simply refused to engage in the greater moral and political issues. You’ll have your view on whether that was correct or not and, arguably, there are other bodies better positioned and more relevant to pass comment. There is no UK government position, although calls from the leader of the opposition today might force them into one. There is not even a Foreign Office travel advisory.
But it is dangerous. Force India’s experience has shown that. And F1’s position, that it is not the one to judge the right and wrongs and need only concern itself with the safety of its family members, has been comprehensively undermined by the Force India incident and another similar alarm for the Sauber team.
No wonder then it looked and felt deeply uncomfortable in today’s two free practice sessions. It wasn’t just Force India who were absent. On Sky TV’s pictures the place looked like a ghost town, the main grandstand seemed to have five men in Hi-Vis vests for every spectator.
What did they miss? Well, potentially a small bounce from the off-form Red Bull team, Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel following Rosberg home. Interestingly and once again, it was Webber ahead of the double-champ. What is going on in Seb’s head this year? They were followed by what are becoming the usual suspects in 2012 — Hamilton, Button and Schumacher – though by the time you get to Michael you are a second behind on the timesheets.
Schumacher himself continues to show a phlegmatic side we didn’t see – ever – in his first career, and he made a good point this week. With so many teams on-or-near the pace this year — Benz and McLaren certainly, Red Bull, Sauber, Lotus possibly — it only takes the tiniest drop in form for a team to fall a long way down the grid and/or the results. You have to be on it from the start of free practice one. That can’t be easy for anyone this weekend.