The best indication of the kind of season the 2012 Formula 1 World Championship will be is, perhaps, the fact that three different drivers have won three opening races of the year.
Ferrari Formula One driver Fernando Alonso of Spain drives during the qualifying session of the Bahrain F1 Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit in Manama April 21, 2012.
The McLaren duo of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton carried their pre-season pace over to Australia, for the season-opening Qantas Australian Grand Prix, where they locked out the front row of the grid and Button secured the win, with team mate Hamilton coming in third.
However, a much-changed circuit type and chaotic weather conditions at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia meant a previously uninspiring Fernando Alonso (who could only manage 12th on the grid in Australia and fifth in the race) stormed the field from eighth to score an unlikely win for the Maranello outfit. Sauber's Mexican rookie, Sergio Perez, sent out a statement of career intent with a stunning second place, while Hamilton was once again third.
It was all change again last weekend, at the UBS Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, when the promise of an excellent season for the Mercedes team came to fruition in clinical fashion. The German duo of Nico Rosberg and former seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher qualified first and second respectively and Rosberg drove to an imperious first win of his career, leaving the Button and Hamilton trailing by over 20s. Schumacher, unfortunately, retired on Lap 12.
Build-up to Bahrain Grand Prix
Fast forward to the weekend of 20 April - 22 April and the drama, style and speed of the Formula 1 road show has run into significant off-track problems at the venue for their fourth race of the season - Bahrain.
The stark realities, political and otherwise, which have characterised the Bahraini socio-political landscape since the 2011 uprising and subsequent police action resulting in the deaths of protestors campaigning for human rights, led to the cancellation of last year's Grand Prix.
In the build-up to the 2012 race, there have been numerous protests, debates and arguments over not only the validity/need to host the race this year, given the significance and size of ongoing civil struggles but also over the assurances of safety of all team members and personnel. The latter came into sharp focus after employees of the Force India Formula One team asked to be sent home following a Molotov cocktail attack; the details of which were reported by an earlier IBTimes UK report. However, the FIA (the sport's governing body) insisted the race will go ahead, according to an official statement they released. Meanwhile, the Bahraini government has also stepped into assure concerned parties of complete safety during and after the event, according to this more recent IBTimes UK report.
Free Practice Re-Cap
The Bahrain International Circuit, at Sakhir, is right in the middle of the desert and despite being superbly equipped, in terms of infrastructure and air-conditioning, to help keep drivers, team members and machinery at optimum operating condition, once the cars go out on track, the dust and the sand blowing across turns can prove to be a difficult proposition.
The Free Practice sessions (two of them) on Friday saw interesting results, with McLaren and red Bull seemingly reviving their early season dominance and rivalry after the Mercedes blip in China and the Ferrari win in Malaysia. Hamilton was fastest in FP 1, with a time of 1:33.572s, while Sebastian Vettel was 0.308s off for Red Bull. The surprise in that session was Paul di Resta placing his Force India third, with a best of 1:34.150s.
The second session saw Rosberg return to the top of the pile, with a time almost 0.6s faster than the morning - 1:32.816s. Webber and Vettel continued Red Bull's revival with second and third places, albeit .446s and 0.709s off the pace. The McLarens slipped to fourth and sixth, broken up by Schumacher's Mercedes, while Ferrari continued their dismal start to the year. Alonso was their fastest man and he was 1.6s off the pace.
The final Free Practice session was a lot closer and more indicative, perhaps of the kind of race to expect. Rosberg continued to head the sheets, albeit with only a 0.147s advantage over Vettel. Webber, Hamilton, Schumacher and Button rounded out the top finishers.
Check out details of FP 1 here.
Check out details of FP 2 here.
Saturday's qualifying session was dominated by the Red Bulls and McLarens, as may be expected, with Vettel, Hamilton, Webber and Button pushing the hitherto impressive Rosberg to fifth. The big surprise here was the presence of STR-Ferrari's Daniel Ricciardo and Lotus-Renault's Romain Grosjean, who qualified ahead of Alonso's Ferrari. Meanwhile, it was a disappointing session for Rosberg's team mate, Schumacher, who managed a poor 18th and an equally worse day for Alonso's team mate, Felipe Massa, who qualified 14th.
Check out details of the qualifying session here.
The race, for those in the UK, will be available via live stream on SkyGo. You can also follow the race live and get real-time information and feeds at the Formula One Web site. You can also follow the race, via text updates, at BBC Sport.
Expect temperatures, according to Weather2, to be in the high 20 degrees Celsius range, with a maximum of 30 degrees Celsius, when the race starts. Humidity should remain constant at about 61 percent to 63 percent through the race, as will air pressure (at 1009mb). The circuit has an open layout, meaning wind conditions could create problems for drivers, particularly through high-speed turns. With that in mind, expect winds of between 18kph and 20kph (northerly) when the race starts, although this should drop to about 16kph by late evening.
The race is scheduled to start at 3 pm local time (12 noon GMT).
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