Time for spotlight to fall on F1 — Ian De Cotta
APRIL 22 — Whether or not Formula 1 should be in Bahrain is no longer an issue.
The whole cast of teams, drivers and FIA officials have landed and ran two practice sessions yesterday without incidents, at least on the track.
Off the circuit, there have been reports of clashes between protesters and government security forces and at least one team, Force India, came close to an incident on Wednesday when a Molotov cocktail was thrown near a car taking staff back to their hotel.
Shaken, two crew members of the team took the next flight home to the United Kingdom, but the close encounter did nothing more than rattle a few nerves at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Adversities sometimes throw up opportunities and Formula 1 must now rise above the political turmoil in the Gulf kingdom and put its best foot forward to stage a race worthy of the sport.
This must have weighed in the minds of FIA president Jean Todt and Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone when they decided to go ahead and stage Round 4 of the 2012 season at the Sakhir circuit.
Having travelled to Bahrain, the 12 teams must surely agree.
And they are taking a championship battle that is shaping up into a classic, with three different winners coming from as many teams since the first race in Melbourne.
The monotony of the last two years, when Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel dominated almost every race and reduced the spectacle to a battle for second place, has not been forced down our throats so far. The young German has yet to find his mark and was even outpaced by team-mate Mark Webber in the last two races.
McLaren are the form team and after 2009 world champion Jenson Button posted an opening season win, along with Lewis Hamilton’s constant presence on the podium, they must be the early title favourites for both the drivers and constructors’ championships.
In terms of reliability and efficiency, they are setting the benchmark.
But if last week’s race in Shanghai, when Nico Rosberg took victory in a Mercedes, is anything to go by, it will take more than fancy aerodynamics and engine power to win races in a long season.
Team principal and master tactician Ross Brawn puts it down to tyre management.
Understanding how the Pirelli rubbers perform in different weather conditions and applying it to their pit-stop strategies is proving to be a challenge and the biggest obstacle to overcome.
In the heat of the desert in Bahrain it will continue to dictate pace and if Brawn is right, and if someone else comes to terms with his tyres, it could yet throw a new winner tomorrow.
And it could very well be seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher.
Luckless in the first three races, Rosberg’s maiden win in Shanghai — also Mercedes’ first after two seasons — has given the 43-year-old racing legend belief that he’s next in line for honours, especially with Brawn plotting tactics.
Vettel cannot be discounted as well, especially if he finally finds the sweet spot in his Red Bull to put his championship campaign on track.
There is enough drama on track to serve another action-packed race and shift the attention from events outside of it.
If Formula 1 manages to give the Bahrainis some respite from their troubles, even if it is for just one weekend, then it has done its job as ambassador of sport, despite what its critics may say.
I hope this will be the case. — Today
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