Its here again! This weekend, the 25th and 26th of April, the desert of Bahrain will echo to the scream of engines as the Formula 1 cars, the elite of motor racing, race around the Sakhir Circuit in Bahrain.
The event will be even more exciting and unpredictable than usual as the "old order" has been overturned by the new rules which came into force this year, designed to bring about more overtaking as well as reducing the costs of competing and make things a bit more even between the smaller teams and the big spending, car industry sponsored giants such as Ferrari and McLaren.
In a previous post I wrote about the uncertain future of the Honda team. This was only resolved just before the start of the season when Ross Brawn bought the team. Who would have predicted that this team would now be leading both the driver's and constructors championships? Yet that is precisely the case.
Last year, Bahrain brought about a change in the fortunes of Ferrari, who had made a poor start to the season. This year, they have had an even worse start with a car which is well off the pace. Will Bahrain prove to be the turning point or will it take until the teams return to Europe before their improvements start to take effect?
Of course, the major controversy this year has been the subject of diffuser design. Three teams came up with a so-called double-decker (DD) design which has given them a major advantage over the other teams of up to a second a lap (which in F1 terms is huge). This has now been passed by the F1 governing body, the FIA, as legal, following a challenge from some of the teams. Thank goodness, because the season would have been a farce if the results of the first 2 races had been overturned and also because over the last few seasons there were only 2 teams likely to win every race.
Now the whole thing has been thrown wide open. What's more, the claims that the controversial DD diffuser gave those teams an unassailable advantage was disproved last weekend in China when the Red Bull team, who do not have it, scored a one/two as well as securing pole position. This, together with the fact that the other teams are developing their own versions of the DD design and fitting it to their cars as quickly as possible (Renault already had a version fitted to Alonso's car in China and achieved second on the grid in qualifying) is what makes this year's Bahrain GP so unpredictable. As Mark Webber told the BBC, "All the teams have got new stuff coming and that is going to move the performance barrier from team to team".
The other great thing about this season is that at last Jenson Button has a competetive car and is showing that he has got great talent, in spite of what the disgruntled, aging playboy, Flavio Briatore says about him. The same goes for Barrichello, who for so many years had to play second fiddle to Schumacher.
While talking about the drivers, China gave the supremely talented young German driver, Sebastian Vettel the opportunity to score his second GP victory and for his team mate Mark Webber to score second - both for Red Bull. The Brawn's of Button and Barrichello were 3rd and 4th respectively and the next 2 places were filled by Kovalainen and Hamilton for the improving McLaren team.
So, who will win in Bahrain this year? Even the most hardened of F1 experts would be foolish to hazard a guess. The competition is wide open. Will it be one of the double decker diffuser teams or can Red Bull be dominant again? Will Brawn continue their remarkable start to the season or will the rapidly improving McLaren team come to the forefront? How many other teams will have managed to develop their own DD diffusers and will they make them competitive? Will Ferrari make sufficient improvements to turn round the season as they did in Bahrain last year? There is only one way to find out - be there - or at least watch it on Bahrain TV!
Update: Check out our guide to the Abu Dhabi Formula One race.
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