2010 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix Preview


After months of hype, rumours, predictions, anticipation and excitement, the most eagerly awaited Formula 1 season in recent memory finally gets underway this weekend.

The fact that Bahrain is hosting the opening race for only the second time in the circuit's short history is almost immaterial when you consider what else there is to look forward to over the next couple of days.

Undoubtedly the top story to break over the winter was the return of Michael Schumacher. He will be driving for the team who won both championships last year, who have now been re-branded as Mercedes GP.

Anyone and everyone has had their say over the last few months about whether Schumacher has made a mistake in returning, and if he can really compete with drivers almost twenty years younger than him. The German won the inaugural race in the Gulf desert and on Saturday and Sunday we will finally get a decent indication of his competitiveness.

At the beginning of any season, the return of a seven-time World Champion would be plenty to look forward to, but in 2010 there is also much more. McLaren have the last two world champions, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, together in one team. The all British team and driver combination raises big questions: Will the two drivers get on? Will they be allowed to compete fairly or will someone get number one status? Given the same car, who is the best of the Brits?

Jenson Button won last year's race at the Sakhir circuit during the dominant phase of his 2009 campaign. However, it is not just his teammate who will be challenging him for victory this weekend.

Fernando Alonso, winner of the championship in 2005 and 2006, has returned from the relative wilderness of an uncompetitive Renault team to land his dream drive. He will be driving in his first race for Ferrari, who looked one of the strongest teams in winter testing. He is joined by teammate Felipe Massa, who returns to Formula 1 after eight months out, now fully recovered from his horrific accident in Hungary.

The two Ferrari drivers have four Bahrain victories between them, Alonso won here in his two championship-winning years, and Massa was on the top step of the podium in 2007 and 2008.

Red Bull are the only top team to have retained their driver line-up from last season. Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber won the last three races of 2009 between them. The team also looked impressive in pre-season testing, and could well be challenging for the win in Bahrain.

To add to unknowns, three new teams will be on the grid. The iconic name of Lotus returns, albeit in a completely different, Malaysian-backed form. Virgin Racing have designed a car without a using wind tunnel, relying just on computer simulations – is this the future of F1? Hispania or HRT, until recently known as Campos, haven't even tested their car yet, but will take to the track for the first time on Friday.

Felipe Massa said this week that he thought these much slower cars will be dangerous. Will they be mobile chicanes, or will they be challenging some of the more established teams for points? Many long term fans will hope to see Lotus perform respectively as all the new teams fight it out to be the best of the rookies.

Bruno Senna, nephew of the great Ayrton Senna, joins Formula 1 as part of the Hispania driver line-up, alongside Indian Karun Chandhok. Neither driver has competed in F1 before, and they could both be heading for a baptism of fire this weekend.

To top this all off, there are new regulations, just to mix things up even more. The most obvious of these on Sunday will be the ban on refuelling. All drivers will start the race heavy on fuel, and will gradually get lighter, and therefore quicker, throughout the race. The team with the most fuel-efficient car will have an advantage, and drivers will have to monitor consumption during the 49 laps on Sunday.

The requirement that drivers use both sets of tyres throughout the race will still mean pit-stops though, and whereas previously the time a car was stationary in the pits was dependent on the amount of fuel it was taking on board, it is now purely down to how quickly a pit crew can change four tyres. We can expect racing between pit crews as well as racing on the track, and I wouldn't bet against the odd mistake this weekend.

The victory in Bahrain on Sunday could realistically go to any of about eight drivers. In fact, the only thing that can be predicted safely is that the race will not be interrupted by rain. The Bahrain track also has a new layout; with the expansion of the Sakhir circuit making it the second longest track on the calendar after Spa. Reports so far have suggested that the new section is a bit slow, and hasn't had much praise from the drivers.

Lights out in Bahrain will finally end months of healthy speculation about what looks to be the greatest Formula 1 season in a long time, and finally a picture of who is competitive – and who isn't  – will emerge. Nobody really knows how it is going to pan out, and it would be foolish to try and predict anything. One thing is certain though: it is going to be a very entertaining weekend!