Reigning Formula 1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton is pinning his hopes of a strong finish in this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix on McLaren-Mercedes' KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) package giving the team an advantage over its immediate rivals in the desert kingdom.
Hamilton endured a torrid time in Sakhir twelve months ago, when after a poor getaway from the grid he then clattered into the back of the Renault of former team-mate Fernando Alonso on lap two, requiring a new nosecone and leaving him down in an unlucky 13th spot at the chequered flag – one of only four outings over the course of the campaign in which the British star failed to trouble the scorers.
The 24-year-old is encountering even more difficulty in getting amongst the points-scoring positions in 2009, with a best finish to-date of a lowly sixth place in the rains of Shanghai last weekend as McLaren's aerodynamically inefficient MP4-24 continues to languish in the mid-pack – even if improvements are slowly beginning to show on-track. Hamilton is hopeful the heavy-braking nature of the Bahrain International Circuit will at least play in the squad's favour – as he bids to belatedly kick-start his stuttering title defence into gear.
“I'm looking forward to Bahrain,” the Stevenage-born ace underlined. “It's a circuit I enjoy and I think it should be good for us – the nature of the circuit, the long straights and the heavy-braking zones mean it is theoretically a strong place for KERS. In fact, it's got the highest brake-wear of the season so far, so it will be interesting to see how well KERS can be exploited around the lap.
“Most importantly, we seem to have a solid direction within the team – all our upgrades invariably bring a lap time improvement and our direction on set-up and strategy shows what a strong group we still are. I still think we are several races away from being truly competitive, but a straightforward race at Bahrain would give us a very good opportunity to accurately assess where we sit among our rivals.”
“There's a real mix of corners at the Bahrain circuit,” agreed team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, who set the first and thus far only fastest lap of his fledgling F1 career in Sakhir last year en route
to fifth position, “and the long straights followed by tighter corners mean it's a good place for overtaking. It's quite tricky to find the right set-up – it's a medium-downforce circuit, so that always brings a compromise – and the wind can be quite strong, which also makes it harder to get the car working over the whole weekend.
“Still, it's a circuit you have to attack to get a good time – I really enjoy the high-speed esses and uphill sweeps around the back. I'm looking forward to another strong weekend and the opportunity to put some more points on the board.”
Indeed, with just eight points to its credit from the opening three grands prix of the season, McLaren currently sits a distant fourth in the constructors' world standings, a full 28 points adrift of the championship lead, albeit ahead of traditional rivals BMW-Sauber, Renault and Ferrari.
With a 'double-decker' split-level diffuser and a number of aerodynamic modifications on the way for its underperforming challenger, the only way surely has to be up – and, suggests team principal Martin Whitmarsh, there could even be a further step in the right direction in the Middle East, where the squad has achieved three rostrum finishes in five previous appearances.