For the first time since the curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, somewhat incredibly, Ferrari succeeded in getting both of its cars into the top ten on the starting grid in Sakhir this weekend – and with one target achieved, the next must be to see the chequered flag in the desert kingdom and get its 2009 challenge off the mark.
For a man who has triumphed in the Bahrain Grand Prix for the past two seasons in succession, eighth position in qualifying may not seem like much to shout about, but for birthday boy Felipe Massa, it marked a small but encouraging improvement for the F60. What's more, with a healthy fuel load on-board his car [see separate story – click here
], the Brazilian now hopes to be able to finally open his account for the year on race day and give the Scuderia
reason to smile at last.
“It seems we have made a small step forward,” underlined the newly-turned 28-year-old, after lapping inside the top ten in all three parts of the qualifying session, “but we know we still have a long way to go. Personally, I'm happy to be back in the top ten and I hope I can have a good race and make it into the top eight.
“This morning the car was handling very well, but in the afternoon it lost a little bit of performance because of oversteer, probably down to the track conditions. Tomorrow it will be very hot, and that will have a considerable effect on reliability and tyre performance. We must try and make it to the finish and bring home some points, maybe making the most of the KERS, especially at the start.”
Indeed, both Massa and Kimi Raikkonen have re-instated KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) for the race, after conducting a back-to-back test with it fitted to one car but not the other in Friday practice. The Finn – never the controversial energy-saving technology's greatest fan – was somewhat nonplussed about his own starting position of tenth, carrying more fuel than his team-mate but unable to make any inroads in Q3 after using up all of his new tyres earlier on merely to ensure that he got through to the top ten shoot-out in the first place.
“It would have been difficult to do better than tenth,” reflected the 2007 Formula 1 World Champion, who featured inside the top six in both Q1 and Q2. “In the first two parts of qualifying, the car handled better than we had expected, but in Q3 I no longer had any new soft tyres, having already used all four sets. The car's performance has improved with KERS. Tomorrow, the race will be very tough because of the high temperatures. Let's see what we manage to do; the aim is to finish in the points.”
That such an outcome – eighth and tenth – is now considered a satisfactory and even marginally encouraging one is a sign of just how far have the mighty fallen, and the Maranello-based outfit's team principal Stefano Domenicali acknowledged that in such intense heat, all elements of the package – chassis, engine, tyres and drivers – will be put to the very sternest of trials on race day. The priority, he stressed, has to be to reach the finish line.
“We were aware of the current situation in terms of the pecking order and how difficult it would be to get into Q3,” the Italian acknowledged. “You only had to look at the times in the second part of the session, with five cars all within half a tenth. The slightest thing and you wouldn't make it.
“Cleary this is not a Ferrari-style result, but we have to make a virtue out of necessity. Tomorrow, it will be vital to ensure that first and foremost we make it to the chequered flag. With these high temperatures, car reliability faces a stiff test. Our aim is simple – to wipe the zero off our score card in the championship.”
“We can't claim to be happy in absolute terms with our performance,” concurred chief race engineer Chris Dyer, “but at least for the second time this season we managed to get both cars into Q3. In the final part of qualifying, Kimi struggled a bit more than his team-mate, as he had no more new soft tyres, but all things considered that's the best we could have expected today.
“We have a good strategy and hope to bring home both cars in the points tomorrow. Yesterday afternoon we decided to fit KERS to both cars. We studied carefully the data from free practice and that led us to go for this solution.”