Bahrain Grand Prix 2005

Michael Schumacher, Bahrain GP, Saturday April 2nd, 2005.

Bahrain Grand Prix

Schumacher gambles on new car to survive heat
From Kevin Eason in Bahrain

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER has had time to get used to the pressures of winning in Formula One. Losing is proving to be an experience he is having to drag from the memory banks. Six times in a row, a Ferrari has won on its debut but the car rushed into action for the 2005 season made a less than auspicious start yesterday in practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix. Schumacher posted the fourth fastest time of the day, but there was an increasing feeling that the real stress test will come tomorrow afternoon.

Schumacher had done only 80 laps in testing back in Italy, topped up by a measly 21 around the dustbowl of a Sakhir circuit yesterday. Rubens Barrichello managed to run only five laps on a circuit where Ferrari need crucial data — not least about Bridgestone tyres, which have proved their worst failing — before his gearbox gave out. Ferrari are going into the third grand prix of the season almost blind against a rampant Renault team and other rivals who have at least been able to explore the limits of their cars, particularly in the heat of Malaysia, which has provided a template for this race.

Ferrari tested the 2005 car at the end of a European winter and have now brought a car that will be burnished by a searing sun that can play havoc with the most sophisticated machinery. Even Schumacher acknowledged that rushing out the 2005 car ahead of schedule was a gamble, but, with just two points to his name, it was one he had to take. “It’s a calculated risk,” he said. “The car is quicker than the old one and handles better, so I am keeping my fingers crossed.”

If the pressure is on Schumacher to keep up Ferrari’s winning record, the man many believe is his natural successor is finding the pressure of winning daunting. Fernando Alonso watched with mounting disbelief television pictures of Spanish fans and journalists surrounding the home of his parents in the city of Oviedo. The house in a quiet suburb was under siege after his win in Malaysia a fortnight ago propelled him to the leadership of the World Championship for the first time in his fledgeling career. “It went too far,” he said. “I don’t want people in front of my house wanting a picture. I was not even there. I was with a friend and I watched what they were doing on television. It was ridiculous.”

Practice yesterday was a relief for Alonso, refreshingly down-to-earth about his new position as Formula One’s leading driver at the age of 24. Not even the shadow of Schumacher looming across the bleached horizon of this blazingly hot Sakhir track was enough to knock Alonso from his stride. For once, it was Schumacher playing catch-up to a Renault team that have started this season at a gallop, with Giancarlo Fisichella taking victory in the first race in Australia to complete a double-header for the team.

Sure enough, practice — part test session and part double-bluff so that nobody can tell which cars are truly fastest in race trim — could not conceal the all-round capabilities of the twin Renaults. The question is whether there are others in good enough shape to take the fight to them. The formbook compiled in Malaysia provides a pointer with the temperature of the track — made of unyielding granite imported from Wales — soaring to 52 C (125F) yesterday afternoon, which means tyre wear will be paramount and the driver that can nurse his car through all 57 demanding laps will be in good shape.

Alonso and Fisichella will be there, barring mishap, but will Jenson Button? His BAR Honda was quick in Malaysia for two paltry laps before expiring, but he has been assured that his car will be reliable tomorrow and he is aching to put right the ills of the first two races he has failed even to finish.

PRACTICE TIMES

* denotes test driver

FIRST SESSION: 1, *R Zonta (Br, Toyota) 1min 31.449sec; 2, M Schumacher (Ger, Ferrari) 1:32.120; 3, *V Liuzzi (It, Red Bull) 1:32.509; 4, *A Wurz (Austria, McLaren-Mercedes) 1:33.106; 5, R Barrichello (Br, Ferrari) 1:33.111; 6, P de la Rosa (Sp, McLaren-Mercedes) 1:33.270; 7, M Webber (Aus, Williams-BMW) 1:33.427; 8, K Räikkönen (Fin, McLaren-Mercedes) 1:33.836; 9, J Button (GB, BAR-Honda) 1:34.002; 10, N Heidfeld (Ger, Williams-BMW) 1:34.722; 11, C Klien (Austria, Red Bull) 1:34.722; 12, D Coulthard (GB, Red Bull) 1:34.984; 13, *R Doornbos (Neth, Jordan) 1:35.432; 14, F Massa (Br, Sauber-Petronas) 1:35.531; 15, N Karthikeyan (India, Jordan) 1:35.766; 16, T Monteiro (Por, Jordan) 1:36.534; 17, J Villeneuve (Can, Sauber-Petronas) 1:37.112; 18, C Albers (Neth, Minardi) 1:37.778; 19, P Friesacher (Austria, Minardi) 1:38.603. No time: T Sato (Japan, BAR-Honda); G Fisichella (It, Renault); F Alonso (Sp, Renault); J Trulli (It, Toyota); R Schumacher (Ger, Toyota).

SECOND SESSION: 1, *Wurz 1min 30.695sec; 2, Alonso 1:31.969; 3, *Liuzzi 1:32.319; 4, De la Rosa 1:32.333; 5, M Schumacher 1:32.431; 6, Trulli 1:32.595; 7, Fisichella 1:32.708; 8, Räikkönen 1:32.988; 9, Button 1:33.037; 10, R Schumacher 1:33.077; 11, Heidfeld 1:33.152; 12, Sato 1:33.205; 13, Klien 1:33.436; 14, Zonta 1:33.443; 15, Webber 1:33.563; 16, Coulthard 1:33.708; 17, Massa 1:33.726; 18, Karthikeyan 1:33.981; 19, *Doornbos 1:34.222; 20, Villeneuve 1:34.300; 21, Monteiro 1:34.727; 22, Friesacher 1:35.325; 23, Albers 1:36.094. No time: Barrichello.

LEADING CHAMPIONSHIP POSITIONS: Drivers: 1, Alonso 16pts; 2, Fisichella 10; 3, Trulli 8. Constructors: 1, Renault 26pts, 2, Toyota 12, 3, Red Bull 11.

TELEVISION: ITV1: Today: Live coverage of the first qualifying session, 10.30am-12.10pm. Tomorrow: Live race coverage, 11.40am-2.35pm.

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