Bahrain GP - Preview

World champion Kimi Raikkonen is hoping he can further build on the momentum gained from his victory in Malaysia a fortnight ago and make it two in a row at this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix.

The opening two races of the 2008 World Championship has seen the pendulum swinging between Raikkonen's team, Ferrari, and rivals McLaren-Mercedes.

With Lewis Hamilton taking a commanding victory in Melbourne, the latter outfit made the stronger start - Ferrari enduring something of a nightmare Down Under after both Raikkonen and team-mate Felipe Massa failed to finish.

But the Scuderia bounced back at Sepang, with Raikkonen taking the chequered flag in a style as dominant as Hamilton's performance had been a week earlier.

The Finn currently lies just three points behind Hamilton as the pair prepare to resume hostilities at the Sakhir circuit - a track on which Raikkonen has never savoured victory.

"I have finished third in three successive Grands Prix in Bahrain. Time and again something has gone wrong. Sakhir is one of those circuits where I really want to win - finally," Raikkonen said.

"Obviously, we should have speed enough to fight for the top place in Bahrain, too. I have a good touch with that circuit and Ferrari has traditionally been strong there."

Ferrari head to the Middle East having set a blistering pace during pre-season testing at the circuit - something commonly perceived as handing them an advantage this weekend.

Nevertheless, Raikkonen was at pains to play down any gains that might have been made.

"Obviously, our test in February does not harm us. But, of course, now it is different weather, different circuit and, obviously, our car is different, too," he added.


McLaren were well off Ferrari's pace a fortnight ago, with Hamilton suffering a string of problems - poor balance, a grid demotion following qualifying, a sticking wheel nut delaying his first pit stop - on his way to a fifth-place finish.

The championship leader also has an ever-improving team-mate in Heikki Kovalainen to contend with, the Finn out-qualifying the Englishman (on a heavier load of fuel) before scoring his first podium finish for the team.

Nevertheless, Hamilton said he cannot wait to take to the Sakhir track, where he finished second last year and also did his burgeoning reputation no harm at all when racing in the F3 Euroseries back in 2004.

He said: "I love the Bahrain race, it is one of the ones I really look forward too, like Monaco and Spa and that is what I care about.

"I have a lot of good memories of the track, last year I had a fantastic race. It was great fun and I took my third podium in Formula One and took the joint lead of the championship.

"It felt a bit unreal at the time. But my best memory here is from 2004, I recovered from a disastrous qualifying in F3, and I ended up in 23rd.

"I worked my way back up the grid to win the race. That was one of the most emotional races I had been involved in up to that point."

Hamilton finished second behind Massa in 2007, the Brazilian on that occasion using the victory as a riposte to those who questioned his ability after he had flown off the track in Malaysia whilst trying to pass the Englishman.

Fast forward 12 months and Massa needs much the same scenario this weekend after an awful race a fortnight ago, his Ferrari spinning off the track having again started on pole position at Sepang.


The truth is that Massa made an error trying to match the pace of his team-mate but, with the rumour mill already speculating about a possible replacement at season's end, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has given his driver a vote of confidence.

"Felipe Massa is absolutely not under any scrutiny," di Montezemolo told Gazzetta dello Sport.

"In fact, we at Ferrari have the best driver pairing in the world. I expect a great race from Felipe in Bahrain, after his wonderful qualifying session in Malaysia."

One team and driver to profit were BMW Sauber and Robert Kubica, the Pole taking a career-best second-place finish at Sepang.

Nevertheless, Kubica has stressed that, despite their promising start to the season - team-mate Nick Heidfeld also finishing second in Australia - the German-Swiss outfit are still not on the pace of Ferrari or McLaren.

"I think to win you have to be the fastest and in both occasions, in Australia and Malaysia, we were there but we did not have enough speed to win," he said.

"Of course you can win after benefiting from the problems of others, or through luck, but the goal is to win by our own force."

One more team to look out for this weekend are Toyota, who scored their best result - Jarno Trulli's fourth place - in almost two years in Malaysia and who, alongside Ferrari, were the only team to test at Sakhir pre-season.

Finally, after the incident in qualifying in Malaysia which saw both Hamilton and Kovalainen demoted five grid places for impeding Heidfeld and Renault's Fernando Alonso, qualifying has been altered slightly for Bahrain.

A maximum laptime - likely to be 120 percent of a normal lap - is to be imposed to prevent drivers who have set their laps in Q3 from touring slowly to the pits in an attempt to save fuel.

Bahrain Grand Prix:

Track length: 3.363 miles (5.412 km)

Number of laps: 57 (191.539 miles/308.238 km)

Lap record: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) 1 min 30.252sec (2004)

2007 winner: Felipe Massa (Ferrari)