Fernando Alonso is in a Ferrari because Ferrari didn’t believe Kimi Raikkonen could follow up his 2007 championship win with another. And fair enough too; Kimi rapidly lost interest in becoming the next Michael Schumacher as Ferrari had wanted him to be. As he ambled off to an only-occasionally impressive career in the WRC (on a huge Ferrari pension) it was hard not to side with the Italian team.
Ooops. On the basis of three hours of practice on the tidy but apparently deserted Sakhir circuit in Bahrain today, Raikkonen looks like the man most likely to put a stop to Alonso’s most convincing title bid yet. Kimi ended the day fastest at the end of Free Practice Two, looking good on both of this weekend’s tyres, the medium and the hard compound. There is no soft option this weekend, much to the relief of all involved.
On the medium he set the fastest time on a lap that could have been faster still. And then kept on going, asking to come in but being told to stay out, managing 15 laps in total without destroying the tyres. He was consistent on the hards too. As indeed was Alonso. On the softs the Ferrari was maybe not quite as quick as the Lotus, but there really was so little in it. Game on? Let’s hope so.
The top ten in FP2 were all inside eight tenths of each other: Webber and Vettel behind Raikkonen ahead of Alonso with an impressive Paul di Resta in fifth in the Force India. After that it ran like this: MAS, GRO, ROS, SUT, HAM.
If Ferrari and Lotus were quickest, Red Bull were next up, Sebastian Vettel admitting as much, as he usually does just before nailing it on Saturday. Mercedes, who nailed the pole last weekend, did not look so convincing today — there was plenty of whining going on about understeer on the carphone, the Merc back to its old tricks of destroying its tyres in the heat.
It is very hot in Bahrain today and is set to get hotter still, many suggesting that Sunday’s race might be the hottest yet recorded in F1. Lewis Hamilton was first to point out that the driver’s own degradation might be more of an issue than the tyres. The heat was no doubt one of the reasons the cars appeared to circulate in glorious isolation.
There were problems again for the rookies, Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez side-swiping Charles Pic’s Caterham in a repeat of last weekend’s penalty-earning pedal misapplication incident. And countryman Sergio Perez once again trailed Jenson Button in a McLaren that’s still best described as being at the front of the midfield. Meanwhile at the back of the midfield, this year’s Williams continues to do its best to take the shine of the formidable reputation of Valterri Bottas.
Behind Bottas and Guiterrez the Marussia/Caterham battle hotted up this morning with the return of Heikki Kovalainen in Van de Garde’s Caterham as a ‘Friday Driver’ with a brief to let the team know just how good/bad this year’s car really is. We’ll see how long he stays in that role. Meanwhile in the Marussia Max Chilton finally outpaced rookie-of-the-year-so-far Jules Bianchi, though to be fair Bianchi sat out FP1.
Qualifying will be tight. More to the point, it will have some value as the medium compound tyres will allow drivers starting on them to complete a meaningful first stint. We don’t expect to see Q3 drivers giving it a miss this weekend. We do expect Q2 to be equally tough, the Force Indias likely to make it hard work for the McLarens and possibly even the Mercedes to make it through to the final ten.
Yup, after a difficult week in out relationship with F1, we are in danger of being a little excited.
The qualifying hour starts at 12.00BST and is on Sky and BBC Radio. Highlights are on BBC1 at 17.30BST.