Bahrain Grand Prix: Weekend Preview

Incredible to think that this weekend marks the fourth race of what has been an enthralling 2013 season so far. Since Australia, the action has had everyone on the edge of their seat, with the first three Grand Prix’s resulting in three different winners. The championship standings reflect the tight competition between all of the teams up and down the grid. With intense rivalry’s up and down the grid, there is plenty to play for in Bahrain this weekend.

Heikki Returns To Salvage Caterham’s Season

Caterham have had a dire start to the season. Rather than challenge for an established midfield position, the team have fallen behind rivals Marussia. Since the downturn in form has been largely a result of a misguided winter, the team need to search for a solution through Research and Development. Consequently, the team have recalled the experience of Heikki Kovalainen, who has been appointed as Caterham’s reserve driver. While it appears to be an act of desperation from the team, Kovalainen may be the missing piece of the puzzle. His experience may be key to launching Caterham back in front of the impressive Marussia squad. 
Caterham are evidently searching for immediate improvement and Kovalainen will return to the track in the FP1 session tomorrow morning. He will complete the same duties once again in Barcelona, with future appearances not yet confirmed. While we are accustomed to seeing the young talent make ‘wildcard’ appearances in FP1, it will undoubtedly be interesting to see observe how Caterham schedule the track time with Kovalainen. 
Caterham Team Principal, Cyril Abiteboul, stated “Having invested in Heikki for our first three years of competition it would be a waste not to leverage the valuable expertise he brings. As F1 is a team sport, he will also provide support to Charles Pic and Giedo van der Garde, who are both doing a good job in their first months with the team.”
The Finn exclaimed his delight to rejoin the team, stating, “It’s good to finally be able to announce how I’ll be helping the team in 2013.” Following Caterham’s decision to ditch Kovalainen towards the end of last year, some considered the news to be highly surprising. Whether Heikki has totally forgiven the team for his abrupt dismissal is yet undetermined. He may view this as his only opportunity to attract the attention of another team in the hope of attaining a seat in the future. Considering his age, it is a long shot. However, Kovalainen has bought the ticket. Now, can he win the lottery?  

Sergio Perez Hits Back At Criticism

Following Martin Whitmarsh recent outburst, Sergio Perez has hit back against the strong criticism  angled at him proceeding his mediocre start to the season. The Mexican has not been exuding confidence so far this season, yet has shown determination and bravery to speak out against Whitmarsh.
Another lackluster performance in China prompted some strong criticism from Martin Whitmarsh, who stated that the young Mexican needed to “toughen up” in order to find success. However, Perez has expressed his displeasure at being targeted so soon in his McLaren career. Moreover, he has stated his belief that the MP4-28 has significantly hampered his opportunities to perform at the peak of his abilities.
The Mexican admitted that “at McLaren everyone is watching your performance – in every single practice session, every single race.” He continued, stating, “I find it quite amazing that after three weekends when I had two good weekends in terms of maximising the car potential, that after one bad weekend I received so many criticisms. But I think this is quite normal and usual for a team like McLaren.”
After writing an article regarding Whitmarsh’s abnormal statement, it is quite clear that key figures within McLaren are beginning to lose patience with Perez. These ideas are no doubt catalyzed by the MP4-28’s underlying flaws, yet publicly criticizing a driver as young and as susceptible as Perez may not be the wisest choice. Perez knows that any mistakes this weekend will be noted with the spotlight fixed firmly upon him. Rather than galvanize his performances, McLaren may have hampered his progress.

Button: “F1 Is Great At The Moment”

Despite being widely criticized since the start of the season, Pirelli have finally been praised for their efforts in developing the high degradation 2013 tyres. While Red Bull have claimed that the tyres punish teams for having high downforce cars, Jenson Button has gone against the grain, stating that “Formula One is great at the moment” due to the radical tyres.
Jenson stated, “We are not going to be happy with everything in this sport, or in any sport, but I think the racing has been good fun. I was on the receiving end of it in the last race because I was doing less stops and running old tyres most of the race, but if you were doing a three-stop it seemed like it was a pretty fun race and they were able to push pretty hard. In the past, we had tyres that would last the whole race and there wasn’t any overtaking. It’s very difficult to get the balance right, but we are having two or three stops, which I think is what the idea was for racing in 2013, and there are a lot of teams fighting at the front. I think Formula 1 is great at the moment.” 
Jenson’s opinion of the Pirelli tyres may have been altered by McLaren’s lackluster car. Since he cannot compete against the pace of the Red Bull’s and Ferrari’s at the moment, he has so far relied on strategic advantages in order to attain solid points scoring positions. Consequently, it is to be anticipated that he will favor the compounds which offer the greatest variables. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see a driver reflect a similar opinion to that of the fans. 

Final Thoughts

Lotus are typically the dark horses for any race weekend, however, on this occasion they can surly hold the mantle of outright favorites. The E21 is famed for having excellent traction, similar to that of its predecessor  Their incredible performance in the 2012 Bahrain GP, will undoubtedly fill them with confidence. After a mediocre start, this weekend will mark the perfect opportunity for Romain Grosjean to discredit his doubters, with a solid performance. In terms of victory, he will struggle to overhaul his teammate Raikkonen.
While I have always stated, “never count Fernando Alonso out”, this weekend I am willing to rule him out of the victory. Since Jerez, the F138 has struggled in the traction zones, which will significantly hamper their performance this weekend. Ferrari will still secure solid points, however, this will be as a result of the teams around them (such as McLaren) continuing to struggle. Anything other than damage limitation is difficult to foreshadow this weekend for Ferrari.
Red Bull and Mercedes are likely to be the only two teams who can take the fight to Lotus. The Mercedes may be able to find performance in Qualifying, but their race pace may suffer as it did in China. It is an area in which the team needs to develop. Meanwhile, Red Bull will inevitably be strong, with Vettel looking to seal a second successive victory in Bahrain. Raikkonen will be looking to avenge last year’s failure to topple the German, despite having the faster car for the majority of the race. Expect fireworks between the fiery German and the Iceman this weekend.  
As always, you can keep track of all of the weekend’s action on the blog, with in-depth analysis of each and every session going up soon after the flag drops. Miss nothing this weekend, on the KGibbsF1 Blog!        

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