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Friday Practice in Bahrain

There were few surprises in practice at Sakhir, Kimi Raikkonen quickest in both sessions, although his advantage decreased in the second. Times were much affected by varying fortunes amongst the drivers but we are beginning to see a pattern emerge this season. Essentially, it looks like being a season of three halves, as the soccer commentators might say.

Kimi

Kimi Raikkonen

At the front we have a fairly closely-packed bunch comprising Ferrari, McLaren, BMW and Williams – in that order, but the slightest mistake by any of them can mix everything up and confound predictions. That has to be good news and augurs well for the battle royal we all hoped for this year.

Just behind is a midfield group, less predictable in order but generally competitive with each other: Toyota, Renault, Honda and Red Bull. Renault and Red Bull seem to be having great difficulty in adapting to the Bridgestone tires but the Japanese teams’ problems look a little more fundamental than that. If any of them manage to overcome their problems, they could easily join the leading bunch – which would make the racing even more interesting.

Then there are the tail enders, Super Aguri, Toro Rosso and Spyker. Liuzzi surprised everyone with his eighth fastest time in the first session but fell back to TR’s more accustomed hunting ground in the second. There is potential there, however, and I will not be surprised to see the TRs improving to the point where they can fight with the Red Bulls in later races. Super Aguri, however, have not looked convincing to me, their early form indicative of running a car that was well-sorted last year, and they will most likely have a season of squabbling with Spyker to avoid being last.

Qualifying looms tomorrow and we can bet that there will be some disappointments as the dustiness of the track takes out a few of the hopefuls. My money is on Raikkonen for pole with Massa and the McLarens fighting over the next three positions. Kimi hated having to take it easy in Malaysia and he is showing extra determination now – he will be a hard man to beat on Sunday.

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Practice Sessions for the Malaysian Grand Prix

Friday Practice in Malaysia was another inconclusive event, apart from proving that the Ferraris are still fastest. Felipe Massa was quickest in both sessions with Raikkonnen giving his impression of a man merely waiting until it counts before revealing his hand. No prizes for guessing who will be on pole, particularly as the team maintain there will be no engine changes this time round.

The speed of the Renault and Williams cars was interesting, even though both teams insisted that it meant nothing. No doubt they will be a little slower with race fuel and tires but the signs are still hopeful that things are improving for them.

David

David Coulthard in the Red Bull RB3

In contrast, BMW hit problems, finding it difficult to set the cars up correctly and slipping down the time sheets as a result. McLaren too lagged a bit behind their usual performance but that will prove a temporary thing, I’m sure.

The award for consistency has to go to Honda and Toyota, both mystified as to why their cars behave so badly and outpaced by their “B teams”. It must be very tempting for Toyota to borrow Alex Wurz from Williams to find out what they’re doing wrong. Honda, unfortunately, does not even have that possibility although, if Colin Kolles manages to stop Super Aguri running last year’s Hondas, the parent company could always ask for their ball back.

In qualifying we can expect it to be business as usual, with the Ferraris at the front, McLaren just behind and either BMW or Renault thereafter. Williams should be a little closer, perhaps with both cars this time, and Toyota will fight with Red Bull and Super Aguri for the next spots.

It sounds as though the season is becoming predictable but I think all that will change once they get to Europe. Expect some sudden improvements in some of the teams at that point and some shuffling of the order as a result.

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A Friday in Melbourne

First practice day of the new season and form in testing is confirmed on the track so far. The two Ferraris fastest, Massa ahead of Raikkonen, the McLarens quick, with Hamilton third and Alonso seventh, it’s business as usual. Well, apart from a few minor anomalies, that is.

Melbourne

There’s Fizzy in fourth, for instance – wasn’t he supposed to be blown away by Kovalainen this season? But Renault had a disastrous practice, so maybe Heikki didn’t get a decent run. Neither did the Fizz but we’ll ignore that for the moment. None of this is very meaningful anyway, it being very early days yet.

Moving down the list, the Beemers are up there in fifth and ninth, Heidfeld ahead of Kubica, but yesterday’s man (in more ways than one), Alex Wurz, grabbed sixth fastest, thereby beating the more fancied Nico Rosberg and giving hope to the Williams faithful. Nothing wrong with the Toyota engine, it would seem, so what are the factory team (12th and 16th) doing wrong?

With David Coulthard unpredictably completing the top ten, we begin to see a pattern emerging – today was the day of the (unofficial) number two drivers. Well, okay, Heidfeld is down as number one for BMW but you know we all think Kubica will beat him this year. And everyone (except me) backs Kovalainen to beat Fisichella, whoever is supposed to be number one at Renault. Never forget that Flavio knows how to light a bomb under his drivers…

And, speaking of lighting bombs, it looks as though Berger’s patent explosive has done wonders for Speed as well – over a second quicker than Liuzzi. Well done, Scott. Just keep it up all season and I won’t have to resort to statistics to prove you’re quicker than your Italian buddy.

Everything else is pretty much as expected except that Super Aguri have almost guaranteed themselves a court case by grabbing the midfield – 11th and 13th (Davidson quicker than Sato, please note). They also beat the Hondas so run the risk of the factory team asking for their cars back. At least Toro Rosso had the sense not go faster than the boss’ cars.

Now we all wait to see what will happen in qualifying. There will be some shuffling around, no doubt, but I think we’ve seen the basic order today – for the first ten slots anyway. To me, it seems a good sign that the first day of the 2007 season has been the day of the underdogs – we should be in for some furiously-fought races if this carries on.

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