Following a trying start to the 2009 Formula 1 World Championship campaign, BMW-Sauber is hoping for a change of fortune as it returns to a circuit that holds happy memories for it – the scene of its breakthrough pole position in the top flight this time twelve months ago.
In only the Bavarian marque's 38th appearance at the highest level as a team in its own right, Robert Kubica stormed to the top spot on the starting grid in the 2008 Bahrain Grand Prix by barely three hundredths of a second from Ferrari star Felipe Massa, and the Pole and team-mate Nick Heidfeld went on to take the chequered flag third and fourth respectively on race day.
Though such a result this time around would look to be little more than a pipe dream given the F1.09's current lack of competitiveness – with Heidfeld yet to make Q3 in qualifying and Kubica even missing the Q1 cut in Shanghai last weekend – optimism nonetheless remains that a considerably better performance than was the case in China may be on the cards. With still no points to his name in 2009 – indeed no finish better than 13th place – Kubica certainly hopes so.
“I am looking forward to going to Bahrain,” the 24-year-old enthused. “Overall I really like the track, although it is not really challenging. The Bahrain International Circuit has a couple of long straights and three characteristically low-speed corners that require heavy braking.
“Wind can play an important role in Sakhir as it influences the balance of the car. Also, the wind blows sand onto parts of the track, which leads to changing grip conditions. Luckily we had the chance to test the F1.09 in Bahrain in February, although weather conditions were unstable and windy then. Last year we performed quite well in Bahrain – after securing pole position in qualifying, I managed to finish the race on the podium.”
“I enjoy driving in Bahrain,” echoed Heidfeld, who took the chequered flag just shy of the rostrum in the desert kingdom on consecutive occasions in 2007 and 2008. “I like the modern complex and the circuit. The section from the fifth to the penultimate corner is particularly well-designed.
“This time I'll again be arriving quite early to allow time for my fitness training. It will be interesting to see what the weather brings. Usually the climate in Bahrain has been very pleasant, but we've also had incredible heat, and during winter testing there was a huge sandstorm.”
BMW has a paltry four points on the board thus far in 2009 – courtesy of Heidfeld's somewhat opportunistic and fortuitous podium finish in Sepang – compared to 30 at the same stage last year, and with no development having been possible over the opening four races, the Munich and Hinwil-based outfit knows it will be Barcelona before any substantial improvements are forthcoming. That notwithstanding, it is hopeful of ending a tough few weeks on a 'positive' note this weekend.
“In Bahrain we aim to bring the first major overseas stint to a positive end,” affirmed BMW Motorsport Director Dr Mario Theissen. “It also marks the end of the second set of back-to-back races within five weeks. We look back on the previous Bahrain Grand Prix with satisfaction – in 2008 Robert gained his first-ever pole position with the BMW Sauber F1 Team, achieving another milestone.