Formula 1 Insight

Bahrain GP 2009 - Qualifying

The two Toyotas made the breakthrough to the front of the grid in qualifying today, Trulli remarkably quicker than Glock in spite of carrying more fuel. Both are fuelled light and Vettel, in third spot and with enough fuel for a longer first stint, looks pretty threatening. It will be a close run thing, however; Toyota are very strong on this track and, if they can build a cushion in the early laps, they ought to win.

Jarno Trulli
Jarno Trulli on his way to pole

The next four, Button, Hamilton, Barrichello and Alonso, are as light as the Toyotas and may find it difficult to stay with the leaders. That is assuming that the order remains as it is, of course, but we should remember that Hamilton and Alonso will have the benefit of KERS in the run to the first corner. Hamilton especially is in a good position to get amongst the leaders, having done an excellent job in hauling the McLaren up to fifth.

The two Ferraris and Nico Rosberg have gone on the heavier side and must hope that they can keep up until the rest pit. Both Massa and Raikkonen did well to reach Q3 in view of their extra fuel but Rosberg continues to disappoint in qualifying after showing so well in the practices.

Outside the top ten, the strategy is for long first stints, the BMWs in particular being very heavy. The two exceptions to this rule are Webber and Fisichella, the plan being to make up places early on apparently. With Sutil collecting a three-place grid penalty for blocking Webber in Q1, Force India have made Fizzy the hare.

This must surely be Toyota's best chance ever for a win and I must admit that I hope they manage it. It would be nice if the old warrior, Trulli, could gain victory here but Glock does seem to race better and is probably the more likely to come through in the end. The big danger is Vettel, of course - he is performing superbly at the moment and has the best fuel strategy of the lot.

It does look as though the Brawns have been caught by Toyota and Red Bull but one cannot rule them out. The team has Ross Brawn sitting on the pit wall, after all, and we all know his reputation for brilliant strategy. At a guess, I would say that Button will earn a place on the podium.

And then there is Hamilton. It is unlikely that he will win but a podium finish is not impossible, given his ability to press hard for the entire race distance. Alonso will give his all as usual but I think the competition is too fierce for the Renault and he must hope for points only. As for the Ferraris and Rosberg, it all depends on whether they can keep going. Reliability has not been their strong suit of late and poor strategy also seems to catch them out too often.

I can see Kovalainen, Nakajima and Webber making it into the points but much will depend on the fortunes of those ahead of them. And the BMWs must hope for plenty of retirements in the race if they are to feature at all. Get those upgrades ready for Barcelona, Dr Mario!


hello Clive,

does this mean that McLaren are now on a par with brawn judging by the weight to qualification time? Or does this mean that the BGP is not so good on a stop and go track and more efficient on super fast tracks Monza or Hockenheim? Also by the looks of things RB5 does seem to be the overall best equipped 2009 challenger and I am afraid that the new diffuser might not contribute much to its inherent potential.

all the best
Date Added: 25/04/2009

Steve Ellis
Well it looks like you're singing a different tune nowadays Clive! It was just three races ago you were commenting on the "Golden Boy" and stating how "vastly overrated" he was. Hmmm.
Date Added: 25/04/2009

Michael: I think the McLaren is still some way behind the Brawn although obviously much improved. The difference is Hamilton - he is getting the very best out of the car whereas I don't think Button and Barrichello are quite as talented. Kovalainen is a better measure of the McLaren's true performance and he just failed to make it into Q3.

I agree that a new diffuser will not make much difference to the RB5. So much will have to be changed to fit the diffuser that the car might well lose as much as it gains. It might be wiser for Newey to develop it in line with his original thinking.
Date Added: 25/04/2009

Steve: Always ready to have my mind changed - but I still say Vettel is overrated for what we have seen from him so far. He has proved that he can drive the best car in the wet to a win when it rains - now I want to see how he does in the dry (looks as though I'll get the chance to see that this weekend). Yes, he is going up in my estimation but it will be a while before I rate him as highly as Hamilton, for instance.

Talking of Hamilton, it took about eighteen months before he had proved enough for me to say he is one of the best. Same with Ayrton Senna - come to think of it, he took about the same length of time to convince me. Vettel is winning me over but he ain't quite there yet! ;)
Date Added: 25/04/2009

Ditto on Hamilton. It sort of reminds me of the Senna/Hill pairing (this was pre internet when in depth F1 info traveled 3 weeks late via back issues of AutoSport). Hill really was a better driver than the qualifying and performances he was putting in , so it became obvious the car was bad and Senna was just driving through it. I think Ham's going to put together some really special races this year.
Date Added: 25/04/2009

Steve Ellis
I agree we will see this weekend. I might point out though that he seemed to do ok in the dry in Australia. I'm not sure how you can say he's overrated from what we have seen from him. Two victories is what we have seen in less then two years on the grid.I pesonally think Vettel is going to be World Champion one day. Is he better then Hamilton? I don't know. I don't like Hamilton but I have never doubted his ability. A guy who is good enough in his first Grand Prix at 20 years old to get a point seems to me to have some ability. Time will tell how far that will take him.

It does seem the Brawn is starting to slip a bit. I expected it but not this soon! I'm looking foward to seeing if they can turn it around. It also looks like that at this time in their respective careers, the who's better, Button or Barrichello debate has been settled.
Date Added: 25/04/2009

Vera: Yes, it is this season that is really showing us how good Hamilton is. This was the last thing we all wanted to see - how good is he when he hasn't got the best car? I think the answer is fairly obvious after the races we've seen so far - he is very, very good!
Date Added: 25/04/2009

Michael: How highly do you rate Webber? I reckon he is pretty good and so it matters that Vettel has been marginally quicker than Webber so far. But Webber's bad luck continues and makes Vettel look better than he is, I think. If Mark hits a run of good luck (unlikely, I know), he is still capable of beating Vettel.

Of course, if you don't think much of Webber, then Vettel is hardly worth writing home about, is he? ;)

The problem with Vettel's wins so far has been that both were achieved in very wet conditions and the car he was driving was the best in those circumstances. At Monza last year, Bourdais set very similar lap times to Vettel's and would probably have been second or third had his car not stalled on the grid - and how good is Bourdais? Then, in China this year, Webber was not far behind Vettel, in spite of having the disadvantage of driving in spray. So Vettel might be a bit quicker than Webber - but how good is Webber?

It's a similar thing to assessing Hamilton in his first eighteen months or so. Everyone said, "Well, he has the best car..." But that did not really wash since the rookie was at least equal to his double world champion team mate. We could not ignore him since he was so quick straight away.

Vettel is more difficult because he has not yet had an acknowledged elite driver as a team mate - I rate Webber very highly but plenty of people don't. Der Seb is winning me over, as I say, but I need to see quite a bit more before I'll admit it.

As for the Button/Barrichello comparison, I never doubted Jenson for a moment (I lied)! :D
Date Added: 25/04/2009

Steve Ellis

You said Michael but I assume you meant me.

I don't agree with you that the Torro Rosso was the best car in the wet last year. I think the Mclaren was myself. Kovalainen (sp?) just proved he's not that great of a driver. He should have handled Vettel no problem. As for Bouordais he had that one good qualifying moment. He didn't do much else. I agree he had rotten luck stalling and I did feel bad for him, but remember this was Vettel's first year in a upper echelon series. Bourdais is a multiple Champ Car/Indy Car (I don't recall which) champion yet he still was roughly treated by a 20/21 year old.

I don't rate Webber as much as you. I remember years ago F1 Racing magazine had Webber on its cover stating "The next Australian World Champion". I wasn't so sure then but I have been for several years now convinced that he is overrated. He had that one good run in a Minardi and hasn't done squat since. I'm not saying he's a bum, just not a top tier driver. Solid but not spectacular. Frankly I assumed Webber would have the better of Vettel for the first part of the season as Sebastian settled in into his new job. I agree Vettel is just shading Webber now, a man with what, seven or eight years experience on him? Imagine how it will be by the end of this season with Vettel established in Red Bull.

Now that doesn't mean I think Vettel will go 17-0 against him, just that by the end of the year, the consensus will be that Vettel had the upper hand over Webber. Webber made one small mistake in China, Vettel none. As a side note, even Barrichello beat Schumacher once in a while. I assume you don't think Rubens was better then Michael? Alonso is probably the only man that will beat his teamate every time this year.

Even though I don't like Hamilton, I rate him highly. Obviously up to now, he has had the best car on the grid. He did however give a double world champion all he could handle as a rookie. That in itself proved he was very good. Just don't forget who passed him in Brazil almost costing him his championship!
Date Added: 25/04/2009

Yes, sorry, Steve - I meant you, not Michael. A senior moment, I guess.

Looking at the various races last year, I think you'll find that the McLaren was the best on damp tracks, the Toro Rosso when it was very wet. But the point is really that Bourdais is now proving to be much less than we had thought, in spite of his Champ Car championships; I am seriously disappointed with his performance this year. The fact that Vettel eventually came out on top in the STR team is pretty meaningless therefore, especially as he was the golden boy in the management's eyes from day one and Bourdais received correspondingly little attention.

Webber will never be champion for one reason only - he has the worst luck in F1. The guy is known for qualifying above the level of his car yet races well, if a little aggressively (perhaps the cause of his luck). There is no doubt he is quick. But again, he is the yardstick for Vettel this year and the worse you think of Webber, the less you must rate Vettel. It is precisely because I rate Webber that I am beginning to be impressed with Vettel - if Webber is ordinary, Vettel is little better than that.

The Vettel/Webber contest is far from over - we have witnessed only the first few rounds so far. I expect that Vettel will emerge on top but, equally, I'll be surprised if Webber doesn't get the better of him sometimes. We shall see.

As for the Brazilian race, that was a very special circumstance in which the McLaren team had gone ultra-conservative to ensure that Lewis finished no lower than fifth and so bagged the title this time. The strategy was working until it began to rain, Hamilton running in a comfortable fourth. And we all know what happened then.

I still believe that, had McLaren gone for the win, Massa would not have had an easy cruise to victory - but, equally, there was a good chance of disaster for Lewis similar to what happened the year before. In the end, the careful approach was probably best, even if it meant that Vettel could get by him (in the wet, please note!).
Date Added: 25/04/2009

Steve Ellis

Well we agree on something! I too am disappointed by Bourdais. With Buemi seemingly able to handle him with ease, the future doesn't look good for him. I wouldn't call Vettel beating him last year meaningless though. If I recall correctly, most pronosticators had Bourdais wiping the mat with him. It's true Bourdais hasn't amounted to much but he is still a multiple champ, a good measuring stick for a rookie. All Vettel can do is beat who he has for a team mate. He overcame Liuzzi, then Bourdais.

I do think Webber is his strongest competition so far. If he can beat him, then it's on to the next one. If not, then I will be wrong and he'll probably end up in a mid field team for his career, like his current team mate. Since the Red Bull seems to be a strong car right now, here is Webber's chance to make hay. If he fails, I hope you will concede that perhaps you overrated Webber.

I am curious about your comment that you think Vettel will come out on top. Did you believe that prior to the start of the season? I get the impression from past comments that you never rated Vettel. Maybe I misremember. Anyways it doesn't look like this will be the race Webber challenges thanks to Sutil.

BTW, I was just needling you about the Brazilian race. I know Mclaren went conservative with Hamilton. Just sending a zinger to a Hamilton supporter, thats all. :)
Date Added: 25/04/2009

I'm sure we agree on much more than just one thing, Steve! But I fail to see what relevance Bourdais' Champ Car record has for F1. We thought it must mean something, four championships in a row but it turns out to be much like too many graduates from CART, IRL and CC racing - for some reason, they don't hack it in F1.

As for Liuzzi, I don't agree that Vettel saw him off at all. The fact is that Liuzzi was often faster and came out of his few races as Vettel's team mate with about equal results. It was one reason I had doubts about the wonder boy and am waiting for him to prove me wrong.

If Webber does not beat or equal Vettel by the end of the year, that must elevate my opinion of Vettel rather than force me to re-evaluate Webber. Webber has been quick throughout his F1 career and has beaten many team mates; nothing changes that.

I think you read too much into my statement that Vettel is overrated. It means merely that he is given too much credit for his limited achievements so far, not that I don't think he will prove to be exceptionally good in time. The idea is to bring a little realism into the overwhelming hype surrounding the youngster. Before the season began, I said that the Webber/Vettel battle would be the most interesting team mate combination to watch and that, if Vettel won, Webber would probably retire, if only from injured Australian pride. And, if Webber won, we would have to re-assess the younger driver. Does that sound like I underrated Vettel? Unless I am supposed to follow the herd and give him superstar status before he has done much at all, of course... ;)

I guess I am a bit hard on Vettel for two reasons. Firstly, I too was impressed by his single outing for BMW and thought he would be something special - but then he was unable to put Liuzzi to shame on joining STR. Secondly and also STR related, he replaced Scott Speed who I supported against all opposition. Speed was already much better value for money than Liuzzi by the time Tost found a reason to get rid of him and so Vettel had to prove himself much better if I were to forgive him. The bitterest irony is that Scott was also very good in the wet and would have produced all the results that Vettel did in the rain.

Well, I guess I have forgiven Der Seb now, especially as Scott will probably be offered a drive with USF1 next year and will have another chance to prove himself if he accepts (which he says he won't, at the moment).

Finally, I object to being called a Hamilton supporter! Never have been and am not now - I merely recognise his talent, just as you do. I try to be dispassionate in my assessment of drivers but, if forced to say who I support, I would have to say Heidfeld, even though I know he's not the best one out there. But he earned my respect for his determined approach, consistency and the fact that he, too, was underrated by most.

Easy enough to be a groupie for the one who happens to be winning at the moment, not so easy to support someone whose talent is not so obvious...
Date Added: 26/04/2009

Steve Ellis

We do agree on something else! I also liked Speed and thought he had the better of Liuzzi. I too hope he ends up with USGPE. I wish Vettel had teamed with him instead of Liuzzi. I have the impression that Vettel was slightly better then Liuzzi but maybe I'm wrong. I'll check their stats while team mates.

My point on Bourdais is that he had alot of singel seater experience and was a champion yet couldn't see off a 20 year old. I'm not sure you give enough weight to Vettel's extreme youth. Also, for every Bourdais and Zanardi there was a Montoya and Villeneuve.

I don't recall all of Webber's team mates but I don't recall any highly rated ones. I'll check on that too.

As for Vettel's hype, surely that pales in comparison to Hamilton's! How many times did I hear in 2007 that Hamilton was the next Senna and he hadn't even won a championship yet! In a way it was appropriate though; I don't like Hamilton and I didn't like Senna.

Finally I apologize for calling you a Hamilton supporter. But Heidfeld?! Yikes? I admit I never rated less then "Quick" Nick. But just to show you that I don't always support a front runner, I will say I was a Ralf Schumacher supporter. That should dispel any thoughts on my groupie status!
Date Added: 26/04/2009

A Ralf supporter? Wow, that really beats me for supporting the underdog! Full marks for giving support where it was most needed though...

I'll give you Montoya as the exception that breaks the CART rule. But Villeneuve I am not so sure about - he was pretty well seen off by Heidfeld in the BMW team. He looked great to begin with but it's the old problem of having the best car: how much was due to the car, how much to the driver? I'll pass over the BAR years when he didn't have a half decent car but he did very little thereafter.

Yes, Hamilton had far too much hype to begin with, even more than Vettel. But none of that is the fault of the driver - he just has to live up to it or fail miserably. And I think Hamilton is living up to it quite adequately (while the adulation turns to hate amongst those who worshipped him before!).

I ignore the hype and watch the results. Hence my respect for Hamilton and my growing respect for Vettel. Does age come into it? I suppose it matters at first, when a young rookie gets in a car and does better than expected. But it wears off quickly and the results begin to matter more than youth. No matter how young, every driver has to sink or swim in F1 - it's a hard taskmaster.
Date Added: 26/04/2009

Steve Ellis
Well Villeneuve had the best car I agree but he did what your supposed to do with the best car-win! By the time he got to BMW he was well past his use by date.

I also agree it's not Hamilton's fault for the hype, it's the jingoistic British press. Since I only read Enlish, I'm forced to endure all the fawning.

I just checked the Vettel/Liuzzi stats. You are correct, Liuzzi had the better of Vettel overall, but Vettel seemed to get the better of him by the end of the season. Japan must have stuck out too much in my mind.

As for Webber, here are his team mates:
2002 Yoong
2003 Pizzonia & Wilson
2004 Klein
2005 Pizzonia & Heidfeld
2006 Rosberg
2007 Coulthard
2008 Coulthard

As you can see, not exatly Hall of Fame material. Webber did what he had to-beat his team mate, which he did every year except for 2007. I would rate Coulthard his best team mate up to this year and he was past his prime when he teamed up with Webber. It remains to be seen what Rosberg can do but other then that fast lap in his initial GP and a lucky second place, he has been disappointing. One question though, who did you root for in 2005, Webber or Heidfeld? If you rate Heidfeld, I can see why you think so highly of Webber.
Date Added: 26/04/2009

To be honest, I hardly noticed Heidfeld in 2005. I had watched his arrival from F3000 but he was not exactly spectacular so I just sorta shelved him. And Villeneuve was the cause of bringing him to my attention again. I always wanted the son to be another Gilles so I was rooting for him when he went to BMW. And then Nick made him look very ordinary.

When Kubica got Jacques' seat and had such good results to begin with, everyone raved but I noticed that Heidfeld was suddenly much quicker too. There were only two possibilities: either the competition from Kubica had goaded Nick to greater efforts or the car had made a coincidental improvement at that exact moment. Watching Heidfeld carefully over the next six months or so, I realised that it had been the car - Nick never gives less than his best and he outraced Kubica in 2007. The conclusion had to be that Nick was better than his reputation and he became my underdog of choice as a result.

Webber did the necessary, whoever his team mates. And Nick was the only one he failed to beat conclusively. It's the guy's speed that convinces me, however. He is exactly what we expect of an Ozzie - athletic, outspoken and determined. Add the talent to go quickly in uncompetitive cars and I have to rate him about the same as Heidfeld. Not superstar quality but very good even so. If Vettel beats him this year, he will have proved himself something pretty special.
Date Added: 26/04/2009

From what it's worth Heidfeld beat Webber in 2005. He missed the final 5 races, but till then he had 28 points to Webber's 24 as well as 3 podiums (Mark had one) and one pole.
Date Added: 26/04/2009

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