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Lewis Hamilton nightmare goes on

The Bahrain Grand Prix turned into yet another self-imposed defeat for Lewis Hamilton — as was amply prefigured in the qualifying sessions.

Hamilton increasing resembles the nursery rhyme character who, “When she was good, she was very, very good. When she was bad, she was horrid”.

In Bahrain, Lewis Hamilton was horrid. What’s more he knows it.

Starting third on the grid, he appeared glued to it as other cars drove around him. Then he crashed into old antagonist Fernando Alonso in the Renault, before finishing out of the points in a dismal 13th place. There were strong suspicions that Alonso had brake-tested him, but the McLaren driver would not be drawn on that.

Felipe Massa, overcoming a barrage of criticism on his abilities, led a Ferrari one-two.

But Hamilton is the story yet again. Asked how disappointed he was, he replied, “It was a disaster. I let the team down today. It went badly from the beginning. As a professional you start off badly and you need to pick up the pieces and deliver points. I didn’t do any of that for the team.

“I had a collision with Fernando which cost the whole race. I am always the first to blame myself. That’s the right way to go.”

BMW now leads the Constructors’ Championship, continuing a very unpredictable season. Maybe Hamilton needs a spell in Max Mosley’s torture chamber.

Barcelona is next and could be make-or-break for the English driver.

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The Red Bull Charge

Perhaps the biggest surprise in Bahrain was David Coulthard’s drive through the field to seventh before having to retire the car. Add to that Mark Webber’s unexpectedly high qualifying positions in the Red Bull RB3 so far and one begins to suspect that Adrian Newey’s design is a lot better than it looked in pre-season testing.

DC

David Coulthard in the office

At this moment, the Red Bull are the most interesting of all the teams. We are becoming used to Ferrari and McLaren being at the front with BMW just behind them, but Red Bull are currently the most likely to emerge from the tussle behind the leaders and become a front-running outfit. The car gets better all the time and the team’s intention is to solve their niggling reliability problems during the break before Barcelona. If they can do that, they could be amongst the top teams for the rest of the season.

Now Red Bull’s oft-criticized choice of drivers does not look at all bad. Webber is wringing the utmost from the car in qualifying and is always good in the race; Coulthard is playing his usual game of disaster in qualifying but magnificent performances from the back of the grid. Don’t write off the old guys just yet!

The big question mark remains on reliability – but, if you’re going to have a weakness, this is more desirable than the mystifying handling difficulties being experienced by Honda. At least if something breaks, you can tell immediately what it is and find a fix before the next race; Honda, however, can only try a range of solutions to see what works and what doesn’t. Consider how worried BMW were about their gearbox failures in testing and how they have managed to find a solution.

So I see Red Bull becoming the fourth contender for podiums by mid-season. And, if that turns out to be true, we may have to watch Toro Rosso as well. Whatever excuses are given, the fact remains that their car is an RB3 clone and it has the same potential therefore. Should the team share in the knowledge gained by their parent team, the TRs too could become a whole lot more competitive, perhaps even running with Webber and Coulthard.

Which could be a lot of fun, too, considering the drivers involved; one team of experienced veterans and the other composed of young bloods eager to prove their worth. None of them will be champion this year, but they might score enough points to have some influence on the championship race. Considering how close that race is at the moment, a few points lost here and there to drivers coming through from the midfield could easily be the deciding factor in where the championship ends up.

Yes, I hope Red Bull solve their reliability problem – that would be one more factor to take into account in the resolution of this brilliant season.

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A Thought or Two on Speed

With the off season nearly at an end, it is time to step back and make our predictions based on the testing we have all been following so avidly. Or so it seems, judging by the number of experts pronouncing the obvious.

Of course Ferrari look the team to beat and McLaren and Renault are their nearest competitors – anyone could work that out after a quick look at the timesheets from the various testing venues used. And it is hardly controversial to suggest that Massa will be faster than his teammate in 2007 – again, that is pretty clear from testing.

Speed

Speed – ambiguity intended

It is so easy to forget that this is just testing and that the truth will only emerge once the season gets underway. Many a team has been embarrassed by their race performance after having a brilliant winter and others come good after a race or two. That’s what makes for a great season, after all – the unpredictability of racing.

That is what I keep telling myself, anyway. F1 could really use a closely-fought championship with several drivers and cars battling for honors – so I hope that all the indicators are wrong and Ferrari will not have the enormous advantage in the races that is so obvious in testing.

But allow me to point at one last interesting fact from the final day of testing in Bahrain: Scott Speed’s 8th fastest time in the Toro Rosso. Not only was he quicker than the Red Bull duo (which must be incredibly frustrating for them) but he has also given an answer to Gerhard Berger’s doubts about his commitment. I stand by what I have said about Speed in the past – our resident American is much better than anyone gives him credit for.

But it also vindicates the psychological skills of that man, Berger…

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Surprises in Testing

With little else to focus on, the spotlight moves to Bahrain and the first day’s testing for the nine teams that made the trip. Ferrari are fastest and Massa quicker than Raikkonen, confirming both the team’s position as pre-season favorites and the increasing expectation that the Brazilian will beat the Finn. But what’s this – Button next up? Have Honda been “doing a Red Bull” to impress some visiting dignitary?

Apparently not, for there in fifth spot lurks Barrichello. It must be that Honda are making progress with the new car and we are beginning to see its true potential. With McLaren and BMW still right up there, we could be in for a real dogfight of a season – a fine way to celebrate Michael Schumacher’s retirement.

Super Aguri

Davidson and Super Aguri

Renault and Red Bull must be worried, however. They may claim that the times mean nothing because they’re still learning the characteristics of the cars and getting them set up right, but the same is true for the other teams. With everyone getting to grips with their new cars, they are all going to go faster, leaving the Renault-powered teams that much more to do.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is the speed of Davidson in the interim Super Aguri. I begin to wonder if this team’s real talent is in taking old machinery and making it more competitive than it ever was in its heyday. And, if that is true, they might get the Honda 2006 chassis to perform wonders – reason indeed for Spyker and Williams to be concerned. In fact, if SA can continue to beat Renault and Red Bull, there might be a long line of legal writs awaiting the Japanese team at the Australian GP.

It is to be hoped that the threatened litigation fizzles out when it comes to practice in Melbourne, however. Lawsuits do nothing for the image of the sport and only make lawyers richer. Given the lateness of the launch of the SA and Toro Rosso cars for 2007 and their lack of testing therefore, it is unlikely that they will do better than make up the tail end of the grid – in which case, it hardly seems worth anyone making a fuss over the legality of their cars.

Never mind the hype and speculation – let the races begin!

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