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Ted Kravitz behind the scenes at the Bahrain Grand Prix

Ted Kravitz
By Ted Kravitz
BBC pit-lane reporter

Ted Kravitz gives his inside line on the Bahrain Grand Prix, bringing you the stories behind the headlines from the opening race of the Formula 1 season.

RED BULL

The Red Bull pit wall, post-race, resembled a betting shop where eight smartly-dressed men had all lost equally large amounts of money on the same horse.

I've never seen teeth gritted so firmly as when team principal Christian Horner said "well done" to Stefano Domenicali, his opposite number at Ferrari.

Sebastian Vettel
Vettel had to settle for fourth place in Bahrain last weekend

It's understandable - Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull had the race under control, only for another engine problem to rob him of victory. The same Renault engine Horner spent much of last year trying to replace.

The team say the problem was traced to a spark plug, after initially blaming an exhaust problem. But there must have been some hot exhaust gasses leaking somewhere to explain the amount of bodywork missing from the back of the car in parc ferme.

While Red Bull will be annoyed about the engine, they cannot criticise it too much - Renault has gone a long way to improving the power before homologation took place on 1 March, while remaining the most fuel-efficient engine on the grid.

Williams technical director Sam Michael confirmed the Renault as best in this area, followed by Mercedes and Cosworth, with Ferrari the thirstiest. That means the Red Bulls started the race with 10kg less fuel than the Ferraris.

That would have been worth nearly 0.4 seconds a lap in the early stages of the race around the extended Bahrain track. Averaging out at 0.2secs per lap, reckoned Michael, Renault's fuel efficiency would have given Red Bull a 9.8-second advantage on Ferrari over the whole race distance.

No wonder eventual winner Fernando Alonso was waiting until the last 10 laps to mount an attack. At any other stage of the race, it would not have been a fair fight, as Vettel would have been significantly lighter on fuel.

We should bear this in mind in the inevitable debates about the first race being boring.

Had Vettel not had his problem, we would likely have enjoyed a fight for the lead between Alonso, who had been nursing his tyres throughout the race, and Vettel, with his rear tyres starting to fade. The fuel would have equalised, so performance would have been similar.

It would have been rather exciting.

FERRARI

As it was, Red Bull's unreliability made it an easy one-two for Ferrari, who were ecstatic to put the boot in with maximum points at the first race in what promises to be a season-long title fight with Red Bull.

606: DEBATE
Jamie De Freitas

Alonso took first blood in what promises to be an epic battle with team-mate Felipe Massa, but the Brazilian won't let Alonso off so lightly in future.

Massa just wanted to finish. He has a thing about the first race of the season - his previous best finish in the opening round had been sixth place in 2007. It's been an unlucky charm for him, almost as if he expects not to do well in the first race.

In this context it is understandable that Massa did not want to fight Alonso too hard at the second corner, and jeopardise a solid podium finish.

As Eddie Jordan pointed out in the F1 Forum, Massa will not be that generous every race.

McLAREN

I understand McLaren have kept their fuel rigs in serviceable condition in storage at the factory, so sure are they that refuelling will be brought back next season.

As it was, they probably gained the most from the new rules banning it during the race, especially the way all the pit stops now happen together as teams react to each other in a panicked few laps.

Lewis Hamilton passed Nico Rosberg in the pits because Mercedes had to hold Rosberg in his box when Mark Webber's Red Bull and Jenson Button's McLaren came past to make their stops.

Button passed Webber in the pits because Red Bull had a slow stop. The front left tyre wouldn't come off cleanly, which resulted in the Australian's stop being nearly two seconds slower than Jenson's.

McLaren's Jenson Button
Button will want to improve on his race debut for McLaren

Even with this good fortune, third and seventh was a disappointment. Button in particular was uncomfortable in the car and posted only the ninth fastest race lap.

Team principal Martin Whitmarsh hit the nail on the head when he said that the team under-reacted to the problems Jenson was having with the bump in Turn Six.

Button had complained about this when we interviewed him on Friday.

Rather than hit the bump at full speed, he ended up having to come off the power, coast over it to settle the car, and then get back on the throttle the other side.

This, along with the car's general lack of downforce, explains their poor second sector time - the McLaren was a second slower than the Ferrari in the twisty middle sector.

Where they picked that up was on the straight. Thanks to their clever system that 'stalls' the rear wing at speed - thereby reducing drag on the straights - both McLarens topped the straight-line speed trap.

In a nutshell, a snorkel on top of the chassis in front of the cockpit channels air up into the engine airbox, which then vents out of the back of the engine cover. The driver is believed to operate the system with his left knee, allowing extra air in on the straights, which increases the airflow to a point where the rear wing stalls.

In the race, Hamilton was 5.5mph quicker than Webber's Red Bull on the main straight.

This puts into context Whitmarsh's comments that he believed, in retrospect, that his cars ran too little downforce.

We'll see in future races if McLaren can crank on some wing to be quick in the corners while using their stalling device to maintain good straight-line speed.

MERCEDES

Compared to 2009, there was a very different and slightly strange atmosphere around the ex-Brawn team at the weekend, caused by lots of new things changing their routine.

Firstly, the team are in a goldfish bowl with much more scrutiny than they're used to.

Mercedes driver Michael Schumacher
Schumacher speaks to the media during the Bahrain race weekend

The arrival of Michael Schumacher has meant that the Mercedes garage is now the focus for photographers, TV cameramen and reporters, so much so that Domenicali could not get anywhere near the front of the garage when he stopped by to say hello to Schumacher at the start of Friday practice.

Then there is the Mercedes influence. Small things, like the catering and hospitality staff who had been there for years, since the BAR days, and who were friends of the engineers and mechanics. They're gone, replaced by a more German outfit.

Then there are the big things, like the weight of expectation and the pressure to succeed from the corporate owners.

The chairman of Daimler and head of Mercedes-Benz, Dr Dieter Zetsche, was a large presence with his trademark white bushy moustache on Saturday and Sunday, as if to remind team bosses Ross Brawn and Nick Fry who is in charge and what they expect.

In that respect, it's a very different team than the privateer, light-on-its-feet, self-determining, Brawn Grand Prix. And it feels it.

The car has mechanical issues with the suspension that are hurting tyre management and losing the drivers lap time.

Rosberg can handle the resulting understeer, but Schumacher is further compromising the car's set-up as he tries to tailor the car to the way he likes it, with immense front-end grip.

This team is going to take a bit of time to settle in. Trouble is, the championship might have a couple of runaway leaders by then.

FORCE INDIA

A remarkable performance from Force India went un-noticed in Bahrain. Had he not spun on the first lap, Adrian Sutil would have been well inside the top eight, and might have done better, as he was on an opposite tyre strategy to the top four teams, going hard, then soft.

His pace on the soft tyre at the end of the race was very good -he set the second-quickest race lap on the final tour.

Tonio Liuzzi deserved his two points for ninth as he set the seventh fastest race lap, better than Button, Rosberg and Schumacher.

RENAULT

A quick final word for Russian Vitaly Petrov, who did a better job on his debut than Romain Grosjean or Nelson Piquet, his predecessors in the second Renault, managed most weekends in the previous two years.

Renault's Vitaly Petrov
Petrov was forced to retire after 13 laps at the Sakhir circuit

Easily into second qualifying, Petrov was up to 11th on the first lap and was just as fast as Rubens Barrichello's Williams in the race (albeit on a bad weekend for Williams).

Petrov's reason for retirement was unusual: He rode the kerbs too aggressively, which damaged the front suspension.

He was very apologetic after the race, feeling it was his fault, before engineers reassured him that it was a car failure, and that the suspension should have stood up to any punishment as a result of riding a few kerbs.

With team-mate Robert Kubica unable to show his true pace after a spin on the first lap, and the same 10kg weight advantage as Red Bull at the start due to their fuel-efficient engine, we can expect a strong season for Renault.



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see also
Bahrain Grand Prix in 90 seconds
15 Mar 10 |  Formula 1
We can match Ferrari - Hamilton
14 Mar 10 |  Formula 1
Schumacher questions rule changes
14 Mar 10 |  Formula 1
Wednesday's F1 gossip column
17 Mar 10 |  Formula 1
Too soon to judge Button v Hamilton
16 Mar 10 |  Formula 1
Give the new F1 a chance
15 Mar 10 |  Formula 1
Alonso triumphs as Vettel fades
14 Mar 10 |  Formula 1
Prost backs race refuelling ban
14 Mar 10 |  Formula 1


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