Former double Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso has points in his sights – 'and maybe even higher' – in the Bahrain Grand Prix as he lines up seventh on the starting grid in Sakhir, but for under-fire team-mate Nelsinho Piquet there was only more heat and misery under the desert sun.
Alonso has triumphed twice in Bahrain – on both occasions en route
to title glory, in 2005 and 2006 – and though he knows a third success this weekend will likely be out of reach, he nonetheless remains confident that following a tough start to the 2009 campaign, Renault is now on the comeback trail.
“Once again we saw a very close qualifying session,” the Spaniard remarked. “It's difficult and stressful inside the cockpit, but I guess it's very interesting for the viewers. We haven't made many changes to the car since China, but the team has been working late into the night once again to give me a competitive car.
“Qualifying went more-or-less as we had expected, and starting seventh is about what we had imagined was possible. Now we need to do everything we can to finish in the points, aiming for the top six and maybe even higher.”
After lapping an encouraging sixth-quickest in the morning FP3 session, Piquet – a driver coming under increasing pressure to hang onto his seat at the Enstone-based outfit off the back of a poor start to his second season in the top flight – made it through to Q2 for the first time in 2009, only to go on to destroy his chances of joining the sister car in the top ten Q3 shoot-out by running wide and off-piste in the last corner on his final flying effort, leaving him to start the grand prix from just 15th.
“I pushed a bit too much to try to get into Q3,” confessed the young Brazilian, like Alonso now benefitting from Renault's new split-level diffuser prototype. “I had four cars around me and I really couldn't do much, so I had to take some risks and pushed hard, but it wasn't good enough to go through to Q3. Hopefully we will have a strong start to the race and can adopt a good strategy so that I can challenge for the points, which is what we need right now.”
“We had very warm conditions in qualifying, with ambient temperatures reaching 38°C and track temperatures around 50°C,” summarised the Régie's
executive director of engineering Pat Symonds. “Both cars and tyres were therefore tested severely.
“Our performance was mixed. Fernando's position in qualifying again reflects where we think our level of competitiveness is at the moment, but Nelson unfortunately made a mistake during his important lap in Q2 and is probably not showing everything he is capable of.
“The race will be difficult. The wind has already caused problems and is forecast to be even stronger on Sunday. Strategically it will be important to look after the tyres, but I'm confident that we can have a strong points-scoring finish.”