Location, location, location (and a little bit of heat)

For a sport based upon the principle of uncompromising performance, Formula One certainly makes a lot of sacrifices for preseason testing. If you were at all aware of the sport during the hectic months of February and March, the overwhelming sentiment from the paddock was one of frustration.

This frustration was deeply rooted in the fact that over these two months, time that should have been dedicated to scrupulous examination of data was often, though not always, spent rueing freezing track temperatures, pounding rain and degrading track surfaces. If you were wondering why teams were so concerned about the tires going into the first race of the season, there is your answer.

Ever since these stressful two months, critics and enthusiasts alike have taken upon themselves the task of not only debating, but solving our testing dilemmas. A noble task, you might say, but don’t jump to conclusions. Recently, this hotly debated topic has turned into a competitive field of business.

Contracts to host Formula One tests may not seem like quite the lucrative deal, but you would be surprised at how many tracks have been mentioned in recent days. To hold the entire Formula One circus in one place for four days is to endure just as much, if not more, action on track for a longer period of time. Hosting a Formula One test is an extremely tough task, and the opportunities for a track to gain some credibility and publicity are ripe for the picking.

Take Magny Cours. It has hosted the now (unfortunately) obsolete French Grand Prix and established itself as a world class racing circiut. It hosted one of three young drivers’ tests last year, thus keeping itself in the Formula One loop even after its Grand Prix has been off the calendar. This could prove invaluable, especially since plans to revive the French Grand Prix have been on-going for the past few years. Could its recent test experience put it in good stead for a possible return to racing action? It is entirely possible.

One of the tracks the sport uses for testing, the Jerez circuit, has come under fire in recent years regarding its relevance to the season’s calendar. If you analyze the track itself, you will notice that the physical layout is quite dissimilar to a vast majority of tracks on the calendar. Its combination of medium to low speed corners and very short straights makes it an anomaly when compared to the tracks Formula One races on. This is definitely a con for a track that faces fewer and fewer pros as the years go on. Even the surface of the track is irrelevant. Ask anybody who has anything to do with Formula One, and they will tell you about the struggles of the Jerez test this year. Not only was the track so abrasive that a set of Supersofts would not last more than two laps, but the archaic quality of the construction was such that large chunks separated from the main body of the track. As if this wasn’t enough to put a damper on proceedings, red flags added to the stress.

All in all, Jerez offers the sport nothing. It probably offers Formula One a cheap deal on using the circuit, something that his hard to turn down these days, but is that really worth it when issues are so prevalent? Is it worth all the time spent complaining about how the track is useless and unreliable? If you need more proof, just ask Fernando Alonso about his real views on testing at Jerez. He skipped the entire test there this season, saying that he wanted to train some more before getting back into the car, but is that really the case? If there is anyone who doesn’t need to train any harder, it’s Fernando. I wrote about Fernando’s cunning in choosing to sit out the Jerez test. If a driver is willing to “sacrifice” these valuable testing days, it is time to take a good look as to just why he is willing to do that.

Don`t let the misery of Jerez fool you about the rest of the testing season in 2013. If you think anyone’s experience in Barcelona was much better, you would be kidding yourself. The track is certainly much better than Jerez, that’s for sure. General consensus does not say that “any car good at Barcelona is good anywhere” for nothing, does it? Indeed, Barcelona is considered the performance benchmark in Formula One. There is a mix of corners ranging from start-stop to 250 kmh+ that makes the track the ideal place to judge a car’s ultimate potential.

The only problem we ran into this year, though, was weather. If Jerez’s extremes in terms of tire destruction could be converted to temperature extremes, Barcelona would match them no problem. The temperatures were so extreme, that data gathered about the tires had to be taken with a rather gigantic grain of salt. Nothing could be fully relied on, thus adding to the already mounting uncertainty over Pirelli’s 2013 rubber. It may have lasting impressions on the season that, coupled with other things, may see the exit of the Italian firm from Formula One earlier than we expected.

Taking all these issues in should, in theory, make the big wigs of the sport stand up and gauge the situation. Luckily, for once, it seems they have. Along with the aforementioned Magny Cours, tracks such as Bahrain and even Qatar have been mentioned as potential testing locations. The two former options would be perfect if you ask me. The location, if a bit controversial of late, offers a largely untapped viewing audience the opportunity to see a sport at work. The increased emphasis on making Formula One a show rather than a sport has created a rather disenfranchised sector of the viewing audience, one which has faithfully and sometimes begrudgingly stuck with Formula One through thick and thin. Without getting too emotional, let me draw your attention to the aforementioned “largely untapped viewing audience”.

If you were to pick someone from Bahrain or Qatar off the street and stick them in the middle of the grandstands during a Grand Prix, chances are they would be slightly nonplussed. I don’t want to create controversy or tap into a stereotype I am unaware of, but you have to agree with me there, right? The sport is obviously not as popular in Bahrain as it is in, say, England or Italy. The fact of the matter is, is that Formula One is not a fixture in the public’s conscience. At least not like it is in other countries. Slapping races on the calendar is all well and good, but if there is no audience, and I say audience for a reason, then what is the point? I’m not saying that if Formula One tested in China or Korea it would solve their complete and blatant issues with viewer turnout, but it wouldn’t hurt. If potential ticket-holders can get a glimpse, a miniscule piece of insight into how the sport ticks, it could spark a major interest in the sport as a whole, thus increasing ticket sales and making operation a whole lot easier.

Obviously, Formula One is unlikely to test in either China or Korea, but the fact that The Bahrian International Circuit is in talks with Bernie Ecclestone to install track lights and potentially hold a night race certainly lays its intentions out in the open. Who is to say that the circuit doesn’t want to host a preseason test?

But why should this possibility be open only to tracks in the Middle East?

There will be a hint of bias in this next sentence, but bear with me. Why not have a preseason test in Austin? The track offers all the Formula One teams world-class facilities in a country just itching to catch the F1 bug. What is holding the sport back from testing at the Circuit of the Americas?

If you want to talk about temperature, just ask me what it’s like to live in Texas. I’ve been here for 16 years. If you want a lesson on scorching heat, just give me a call. Granted, Texas in February is not known for its 100+ degree highs, but I will put good money on it being much warmer in Texas in February than it is in Spain. These beautiful conditions alone should at least convince the teams to consider Austin for a testing role.

Without making this sound more like a “Visit Austin” promotion, I would like to make it clear that I believe Austin is an ideal testing facility regardless of my bias to the location. As mentioned before, the facilities are world class and the track itself and the weather are perfect for days of miles and miles of testing. But what makes holding a preseason test in Austin an even more irresistible possibility, is the exposure for the sport.

If you want to raise awareness for a sport many Americans find hard to relate to, let them see the cars testing. NASCAR testing is televised with commentary, for goodness sake. The one time I will advocate that Formula One learns a lesson from NASCAR is when ticket sales are involved. NASCAR knows how to fill grandstands like nobody’s business, which is exactly what Formula One needs to learn how to do in its untapped markets. Yes, the inaugural race in Austin last year was a resounding success and yes, expectations were not only met, but smashed. But go and ask the bosses of the Indianapolis Grand Prix how ticket sales did in the years succeeding that first race back in the early 2000’s and you’ll receive a rather frightening answer. Undoubtedly, the 2005 debacle at Indianapolis ruined any chance of Formula One’s success there, and Formula One is unlikely to make the same mistake again, but what we’ve learned is that one successful race does not guarantee lifelong box office-busting sales. Americans are not easily fooled, and we will know when Formula One has run its course at Austin.

For now, though, the sport has an opportunity, maybe even an obligation, to cater to another untapped viewer market just begging to be discovered. I don’t want to oversell this, but if Formula One allows new fans to come and see the sport at work, maybe, just maybe, it will prove to be the best decision the sport has ever made.


Kubica’s Formula One Future: Reality or False Hope?

Robert Kubica’s road to Formula One has been a fluctuating cycle of promise and practical realization. Many were confident of Robert’s return to the sport was just a matter of time, but the series of surgeries that seemed to drag on dampened many of the hopes of his eager fans. Once the myriad of operations were complete, hopes started to come back. Robert’s mobility was extremely taxing, with the severity of his injuries seriously hindering his ability to operate normally. The crux of his problem was arm mobility, however, and the extent to which his accident reduced, and almost eliminated, his arm movement was shocking. His right arm was almost severed completely in the accident, so it was a miracle that any measure of movement was restored at all. Surgery dragged on longer than most expected, however, and the anxiety over whether Robert would ever return to competitive action started to set in.

Up to this point, the coverage of Robert’s rehabilitation was often conflicting. Some said he could definitely return to Formula One and others kept their expectations low. Simply driving a road car would be a victory in itself. When that eventually happened, it was only a matter of time until Robert returned to the wheel of a racing car again.

When this return eventually happened, at the wheel of another rally car, he was immediately impressive. While only a regional rally, the fact that Robert won was a testament to the work by the doctors who helped him and the sheer grit and determination to return to what he knew best: racing. There was a notable increase in optimism once this first hurdle was overcome, but Robert was still a long way off being able to return to action in a Formula One car.

Even Robert himself has done his best to keep his expectations low. The nature of single seater racing is such that his injuries, no matter how much improvement, will always hold him back for the rest of his life. The restricted confines of a Formula One car make arm movement one of the most important aspects of driving. Whereas in a road car or even a rally car movements to turn the wheel could be accomplished with the help of shoulder positioning and alterations, the confines of a Formula One car restrict all steering to be accomplished exclusively by the arms. The fact remains that if Robert cannot recover enough to gain full mobility of his arms, he will be restricted to rally cars for a long time.

After his fantastic, winning return to racing Robert and his story of recovery fell out of public awareness for the most part. His progress was still covered and when he participated in rallies he was always covered by the media, no matter how small the rally may have been. However, popular sentiment had (and still is) started to accept that a return to single seater action was unlikely, if not impossible. His progress, while still tangible, was not happening fast enough to truly warrant more hope for a Formula One return.

This year, though, has seen a significant step in his rehabilitation process. For 2013, he is contesting the European Rally Championship along with select World Rally Championship events in its junior category. This step back onto the world stage is reasserting Robert’s ambitions. Maybe he knows that a Formula One return is now a hope rather than a goal, but he will not back down from trying his best to get there.

This backstory has led to the news today that Robert has partaken in a Formula One simulator test in Mercedes’ factory in Brackley. This is a surprising step forward not only in the type of machinery he has been using in the recent months, but Robert’s confidence is certainly back. He says that his injuries have healed to the point where he believes he could drive a Formula One car at certain tracks. This is a bold claim, and hopefully the simulator put it to the test.

Robert’s return to the sport, however, depends on a team’s gamble just as much as on his ability. Robert can pound around on the simulator as much as he wants. That is great. But once you get him out on a real track, with real pressure mounted on him, will he be able to deliver and make sure that his safety remains? Odd are on yes, but how many teams will be able to take that gamble. There is no denying that Robert is a fantastic driver and one who certainly performed better than the statistics convey, but the odds are also that this performance may be lost forever. How are we to know for sure if Robert is still the superstar of Formula One or just another driver. These are the types of unanswerable questions that can only be answered on track, in real racing conditions. By then, it would be too late to take back an offer for a Formula One drive.

These types of uncertainties are what Formula One teams really hate. If someone does take a leap of faith in the next couple of years and signs Robert to their Formula One team, then they have all my support. The thing is, however, I just don’t see it happening. This sport is all about taking measurable certainties and combining them into a whole that not only delivers, but delivers consistently. If there is one uncertainty, even a small one, this whole dynamic can be thrown off. That takes away confidence, efficiency and, most importantly, money.

I sincerely hope Robert can return to Formula One. His time in the sport was cut off entirely too short and he deserves to see his career out. However, hurdles still remain and it is more likely than not that Robert will never return to Formula One. The very nature of the sport he is trying to return to is working against him. If Robert thought all the obstacles so far were difficult to overcome, he still has one more which could trump them all.

Thai F1 Track Approved

Local authorities in Bangkok have approved the layout for the potential Formula one track set to run throughout the city. The plans are to have the race debut in 2015. In that time, the Sports Authority of Thailand will need approval from the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone.

Thailand is a promising location for a Grand Prix, as well. In 2010 Red Bull did a demonstration run throughout the downtown area of Bangkok, attracting more than 100,000 spectators. If this is any indication of Formula One I Teresa in Thailand, then it is only a matter of time before the race is approved to go ahead.

The track itself will be 5.995 kilometers in length and will go by many popular tourist attractions.

Thailand in, who is out?

As we have seen before, the F1 calendar has a limit. 20 races is the feasible maximum number of races that is safe for the teams and accommodating for time to build next season’s cars. If Thailand is in, along with several other proposed tracks like New Jersey and Russia, the question of who will be booted off the calendar is raised.

Some obvious candidates would be Korea or maybe India. Both have struggled to generate a lot of income for the sport, as attendance of the races has been well under the tracks’ capacities.

One would think Bahrain would be another track in danger. The political conflicts in the area have made getting to the race and operating at the track less than ideal. Even if conditions in the area are better than the media portray it, the image Bahrain is given is very negative. Plans to make it a night race in 2014 indicate that there is a desire to keep the track in the calendar for the long run.

The sport has ally of thinking to do. The FIA and Bernie Ecclestone need to put their foot down and either restrict the number of tracks vying to get on the calendar or to eliminate races that are unprofitable or unpopular. These will be tough decisions as money will always be invoked, but in the long run, the benefits of having the right tracks on the calendar will help the sport on the whole.

New Hard Tire from Pirelli

Pirelli have announced that a new hard tire will be introduced from the Spanish Grand Prix onwards. In response to a few teams (mostly Red Bull) Pirelli have opted to make some changes to the hard tire to make it more durable and flexible in terms of operating temperatures. this has been done in the hopes of allowing teams to run a wider range of strategies throughout the races.

When speaking of the current generation of Pirelli tires, Christian Horner has said they are “too on edge”. He criticized the recent necessity to do a 4-stop race and, even though his team has never had to do such a strategy, is adamant that changes need to be made.

In response, Pirelli have opted to steer the hard tires more in the direction of last season’s hard tires. They will be more durable and, hopefully, more readily accepted by the teams. Pirelli has been cautious about the situation, however. A majority of the teams have been happy, albeit a bit flustered’ with the 2013 tires and made it clear that they did not want too many drastic changes to be made.

Is this really the right solution?

While this change is noble and self-sacrificial and all, Pirelli now face the fear of even more criticism. Need I mention the Austin Grand Prix? While the racing was great at the Inaugural race at COTA, Pirelli’s criticism reached an all-time high as the chosen tire for that race proved to be far too durable. Every single car ran a one-stop strategy on the Sunday which put Pirelli in the spotlight for the Wei g reasons again. This race arguably was the trigger that launched Pirelli’s program to soften the tire again for 2013. Now, Red Bull is unhappy with the solution to a problem they were unhappy with as well. To make the conspiracists happy, maybe the notion that Pirelli is working with Red Bull in a Bridgetstone-Ferrari-esque is not totally baseless.

This cycle has been unending ever since Pirelli entered the sport. Red Bull’s criticisms have been largely overly exaggerated this season, as they have stated their struggle switch the tires. The fact of the matter is, Red Bull have not had to make a single extra stop because of tires. They are leading both championships relatively comfortable, and seem to be in no danger of losing that lead without a hard fight. If Red Bull are truly against the tires, it will take a true disaster of a race for them to be believed.

Mercedes Unfazed by Bahrain Struggles

Mercedes had a weekend mixed fortunes in Bahrain. After dominating qualifying with Nico Rosberg, the team discovered their race pace was well below than that of the true front runners’.

Nico Rosberg dropped from pole to third after four laps and continued to do so lap after lap until he was 9th when the checkered flag dropped. This type of tumble through the field is in stark contrast to the team’s performances in the opening three races, where they were in the fight for podiums.

Ross Brawn was understandably frustrated by Mercedes’ poor performance in Bahrain, saying that the lack of pace was unexpected. “To be honest, we didn’t anticipate quite such difficulty. It was worse than we expected,” he explained to Autosport.

Brawn admits the problem lies with the tires, which are proving to be the determining factor of success in 2013. The Mercedes is known to be harder on its tires than the other front-runners, but still manages to obtain good results from the first three races. This made the race in Bahrain all the more puzzling.

Asked if he felt a repeat of Mercedes’ performance dip of 2012 was beginning to repeat, Brawn was keen to avoid defeat, but admitted there are things to work on. “We just overheated the tires. We could have more races like that unless we improve our performances in this area, because when you are at one end of the scale, then whenever the tire become compromised because of the temperature, you’ll be the ones meeting that limit earlier than other people,” he explained.

What could happen?

While Nico’s journey from here to zero was disappointing, Lewis Hamilton’s race made the predicament all the more confusing. Having started from 9th, poor pace in the first two stints transformed into prodigious speed in the final half of the race. The change in fortunes was good enough to propel him to 5th place.

In juxtaposition, the races of Nico and Lewis make no sense, and that is something to be concerned about. Bahrain marked the last race of Mercedes’ true competitiveness in 2012. Other than the one-off successes in Monaco and Valencia, Bahrain was the last race Mercedes achieved a truly decent result. There is no midseason test this year, so Mercedes need to find a way to fix their tire troubles.

I personally Mercedes face the same fate as they endured last season. There is nothing to suggest anything different is being done to remedy the situation at Mercedes and, if the past is to be believed, nothing should change.

Tires have been the Achilles heel for Mercedes since they refutes to the sport in 2010. The problem was at its worst last year, but their underlying problems have been restricting them for the last three years. If 2013 ends up being a repeat of last season, Mercedes will have even more to think about for the 2014 regulations overhaul.

Why Mark Needs a new German Partnership

It has been a rather tumultous season for Mark Webber so far. The way he has kept himself composed amidst all of his team’s controversy is comendable and it puts him in stark contrast to his rather, at times, immature teammate. Mark has also been particularly controlled in the face of the aftermath of said controversy; controversy which, unfortunately, will stay around the paddock like a lingering stench for the rest of the season.

None of this sets up anything close to an ideal environment in which to mount a championship challenge. Having the fastest car in the field can only do so much in the face of shaken confidence and lost trust within a team. His relationship with Red Bull will obviously never be the same and, if rumors are to be believed, this final year with the team should bring a certain amount of relief to Mark. If he does leave the sport at the end of this season, his life will be vastly different. He won’t have to deal with the tremendous amount of pressure brought on by Red Bull and his teammate, he won’t have to deal with the reprehensible inequality he faces alongside Sebastian and he won’t have to face the internal battle between his desire to fight for the championship and the unfortunate reality that a championship will never happen.

A move to another Formula One team would seem a logical solution to the troubles Mark now faces in the coming months. Certainly, the Australian garners a huge amount of respect in the paddock, and his work ethic is on a level of which many drivers should be envious. Unfortunately, Mark has reached a point in his career at which he is less desireable than his natural talent can make up for. Formula One is a cutthroat world to live in and you have to be on the absolute top of your game at all times to cement a long-term place in the sport. Mark has performed admirably since his debut in 2002 but, arguably his championship potential was wiped out with the arrival of Sebastian Vettel to the Red Bull team in 2009.

The rumors surrounding Mark Webber have only grown with the passing years. His close relationship with both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button have spawned many a suggestion that he could see out the end of his carrer at either Ferrari or Mclaren. But, as we know, at Mark’s age friendships do not get you race seats, it’s talent and potential. Mark’s potential saw its end at the conclusion of the 2010 season in which the championship was well within the realm of possibility. With Sebastian’s total domination in 2011, Mark’s confidence in his ability to cope with pressure and an ever-increasingly talented teammate was becoming too much to thrive alongside.

This left Mark in a very tricky situation in 2012. Rules implimented for the new season designed to negate Red Bull’s technical monopoly gave him a slight advantage at the beginning of the season, but once Red Bull brought a transformative upgrade to Singapore, Mark was not able to compete. Arguably, his downward slide in 2012 began before the Singapore upgrade, but there is no denying that 2012 was the year Mark lost his ability to compete for a championship.

I do not hold out any hope for Mark to fight for the title this season. If his disappointing trend continues, Red Bull run the risk of losing out on the Constructors’ chapionship, something that is basically the only reason Mark is still at Red Bull. If Mark can rediscover the spark that kept him in the fight for the championship in 2010, I will be a happy man, but there is nothing apparent to suggest that this is within the realm of possibility. No matter how vehemently Mark denies it, Mark will not win a world championsip. I am sure this will have upset many Webber fans, but deep down, they must know it is true.

This introduces a feasible direction for Mark’s future. While the rumors suggesting move to the World Endurance Championship for the Australian in 2014 are not new, they have not been backed up with concrete evidence that they’re true. Nevertheless, this would be an intriguing partnership and one which would hopefully rejuvinate his racing career.

Mark had a very successful career in endurance racing before he made the switch to Formula One and, in all likelihood, Mark would be open to a return to the sport in which he first tasted success. I firmly believe he would thrive in the series. The competitive nature of the racing is just as intense as it is in Formula One, and his 10+ years at the pinnacle of motorsport would make him a huge asset to any team in the WEC. With Porsche, the team planning a return to the WEC in 2014 and the team with which Webber is linked, Mark would enjoy all the benefits of a huge manufacturer team in a highly competitive racing series, while also being fully appreciated. These are two things Mark has been unable to enjoy during his years in Formula One, and I am sure they would be welcome reprieves from the tension he faces everyday at Red Bull. He fights an uphill battle day in, day out in Formula One. If he finds that this year should be his last in the sport, there is a new home waiting for him with open arms. Even if they don’t acknowledge it yet.

Bahrain: The Aftermath

While this may seem a rather dreary title to a blog post about a fantastically enjoyable race, there is a lot to take in after a race such as the one yesterday making it seem like the end of a very chaotic experience. Will Sebastian Vettel resume his dominance for the rest of the season? Has Romain Grosjean officially found his mojo again? What happened to Ferrari? Will the Mclarens solve their problems in Spain? These are the questions I aim to answer, though, if you end up more confused, I apologize in advance.

Pre-race, Sebastian was on the radar for the win, but all eyes were on the two Ferraris for ultimate victory. Their contrasting strategies made for a very tasty end-of-race scenario with Felipe’s two-stop and Fernando’ three-stop both legitimate paths to winnin the race. I personally had Felipe Massa for the win (providing the team played nice), so his deflatingly miserable slump to the back of the field was a disappointment for both of us.

All of this, however, made Sebastian’s victory all the more surprising. Like I said, he could never be counted out of the fight for the win, but throughout practice he was neither entirely happy with the one-lap nor the long-run pace on his Red Bull. His front-row qualifying position was the spoil of a determined effort on Saturday and set up a long and hard battle for Sunday.

He can thank the lack of pace of the Mercedes and the terrible luck of the Ferrari for his win rather than sheer dominance of pace, but that is not to take anything away from the immaculate drive he put in yesterday afternoon. Arguably, getting by the Mercedes early on in the race was what allowed him to really push for the win. The surprising drop in pace of pole-sitter Nico Rosberg early on in the race set Sebastian free in the lead. He worked his magic from then on and never looked back until the checkered flag. Had Fernando not had his problems with the DRS and had Kimi Raikkonen started up higher on the grid, we might not have had to see that infamous finger from the German.

Will this type of performance happen again? It’s possible. But what is not probable are more reliability issues for Fernando Alonso. The competition this year seems to be stiffer, even if the cars aren’t quite as close as they were last year and I would be surprised if Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull ran away with the championship this season. His fastest laps in both Bahrain and China were rather ominous, but Lotus and Ferrari look to be on par with the triple world champions and, if things go well for them, a titanic battle will ensue all they way to Brazil.

While Sebastian ran away to his 28th career victory, Romain Grosjean did indeed find his mojo again. A chassis change before the Grand Prix weekend ensured that if problems continued for the Frenchman, it wasn’t down to the car. Luckily, they didn’t, though qualifying may have suggested otherwise. Confusion between Grosjean and his team during Q2 resulted in the Lotus driver only doing one run in that session. Had he made a second run, chances are he would have been confortably in Q3 and thus, in a better position for the race. In the end, Romain got his choice of tires for the start of the race, thought that can only do so much.

Romain made an average start to the race, but given the tire he started the race on (mediums), it looked like he was going to be racing a three-stop strategy. His first stop on lap 9 confirmed this. Even without an alternate strategy, Romain did a fanastic job to come from low down on the grid and climb on the third step of the podium. His performance yesterday reminded us all that when he is confident, Romain Grosjean is a force to watchout for.

The Frenchman’s fourth career podium should also give him more confidence in the upcoming races. He will need to emerge from the shadow of his illustrious teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, if he is to cement a long-term place in the Lotus team. There is still a lot of opposition towards the team’s decision to keep Romain for 2013, but the team’s faith in him and his abilities should further add to his confidence. If there is one thing other than a fast car that makes a driver fast, it is confidence. We know he has the first of these, now he just needs to build upon his success yesterday to make sure he can be happy with himself throughout the season.

In contrast to the two success stories mentioned above, Ferrari had a miserable day in Bahrain. They were hotly tipped to win the race yesterday, with both Fernando and Felipe on very solid strategies. Unfortunately, the gremilins of unreliability, both apparent and mysterious, plagued the team when it looked like they could prevail.

For Fernando, an unfortunate problem with his DRS meant that when he hit the brakes, the flap on his rear wing would not close. This puts him and many others in a dangerous position, as the immediate loss of downforce turns the car into a very slippery machine, indeed. After the first incident with the system, the team brought him into the pits, put the flap down, and sent Fernando on his way. Sure enough, though, the next time he used DRS, the flap would not close when he hit the brakes. This resigned him back to the pits once again. As a precaution, he was told to not use DRS for the rest of the race. Regardless of this setback, though, Fernando still managed to climb through the field and take a hard-fought 8th place. Certainly not what he and the team wanted, but considering the circumstances, his effort was comendable.

As for Felipe, it is still unkown what reall caused his tire problems in Bahrain. The Brazilian’s start to the race was solid, if not spectacular, but his strategy was certainly good enough to put him in contention for major points, if not the win. Unfortunately, he ran into trouble with his right rear tire early on in the race causing him to pit before his strategy would effectively allow.

His progress after that was minimal, and another similar incident would not do him any good whatsoever. As if on que, however, he ran into similar problems later in the race. This time, though, his tire completely, and rather suddenly, came apart. The rubber completely broke down and came off the rim. The Brazilian finished way down the field with the Williamses and Toro Rossos.

Reliability issues like this are unprecidented in the Ferrari camp. They are known for mechanical reliability and consistency in terms of car life. Fernando Alonso’s continued run of nearly 60 races without a mechanical retirement is a testement to this rock solid reliability.

Finally, the Mclarens. Their lacklustre start to the season has been the biggest talking point of the season so far, and their struggles to make any dignificant ground in the first few races made them painful experiences. It wasn’t all bad in the first four races, but everyone at Mclaren will have taken a major sigh of relief after the checkered flag flew in Bahrian.

The ultimate source of Mclaren’s problems lie in the car’s inability to create ultimate downforce. As the car slides around, the tires are worn just that little bit more. That type of car quality is not exactly beneficial in Formula One these days.

The Woking squad’s hopes are pinned on a major upgrade coming at the Spanish Grand Prix. Think Germany in 2012. That upgrade completely transformed Mclaren’s hopes last year, after the team’s competitiveness dropped in the preceding few races. If the upgrade in Spain works in a similar fashion, don’t be surprised if you see either Jenson Button or Sergio Perez on the podium. If the upgrade does not do what it was intended to do, then 2013 may be a year to write off in order to focus on 2014. Mclaren’s fortunes are treading on a very thin line. On one side is unlocking their car’s rumored potential soon. On the other is failure. Failure to perform in Spain will mean almost certain failure for the whole season.