BARCELONA // Organisers of the Bahrain Grand Prix have been given a deadline of May 1 to decide whether or not the Kingdom is able to stage a race this year.
Bahrain was due to host the season-opening grand prix at Sakhir this weekend, but the country’s Crown Prince postponed the event following recent unrest.
The race is expected to eventually be rescheduled for later in the year, but Bernie Ecclestone, the Formula One chief, said earlier this month he expected the new date to be finalised before the start of the season in Melbourne on March 27.
Yet during a Federation International de l’Automobile (FIA) meeting yesterday in Paris, it was announced the final decision would be delayed. “The World Motor Sport Council asked the Bahrain Motor Federation to communicate by May 1st at the latest if the Bahrain Grand Prix can be organised in 2011,” read a statement issued by the FIA.
The announcement means teams will compete in the first three grands prix – Australia, Malaysia and China – without knowing whether they will be travelling to Bahrain later in the year.
Instead of travelling to the Middle East this weekend, the 12 race teams have remained in Spain where they are carrying out the final testing session at Circuit de Catalunya in Montmelo, 40km north of Barcelona.
With testing prohibited once the season starts, this week is critical as each team looks to experiment with different car set-ups and race strategies, as well as allowing some of the sport’s less experienced drivers to collect some much-needed kilometres.
Mark Webber, the Red Bull-Renault driver, topped the time sheets for most of yesterday, with only 0.366 seconds separating the Australian from Jenson Button of McLaren-Mercedes.
McLaren, who have struggled in testing so far, were running with a prominent bauble-shaped nose which spurred intrigue among rival mechanics. But the Woking-based manufacturers later confirmed it to be merely a test-only measuring device beneficial to the long-term development of the car.
“We should have said it was a new part because I went quicker with it,” joked Button, who completed 74 laps – 19 more than teams were required to complete in order to finish last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
“It’s a pity I couldn’t have had a bit more time in the car [yesterday]. It hasn’t been the best start of the year for us in terms of testing, mileage, reliability or pace. I wouldn’t say we have the quickest car and we have a long way to go before we can be as quick as a Red Bull or Ferrari or one or two other teams, but we are making progress and that is a good feeling.”
The Englishman, who is teamed together with compatriot Lewis Hamilton, played down his team’s chances of success at Albert Park. “I’d be surprised if we can match the Red Bulls or Ferraris when we get to Melbourne,” Button said.
“It’s a big ask considering the mileage we have had compared to them and the pace we have shown compared to them. It’s going to be tricky, but never say never – we will see after the work this week how close we can get to them.”
Arguably, the most important adjustment teams have to deal with ahead of the new season is a change in tyre providers.
Italian manufacturers Pirelli have replaced long-term suppliers Bridgestone, resulting in drivers being forced to learn the intricacies of compounds that degrade at a far quicker rate.
It is understood that, while one tyre-change was deemed sufficient last season, as many as three per race could be required this year. Paul Hembery, Pirelli’s motor sports director, said that while he is aiming for two-stop races, he is “fine with three, depending on the situation”.
He also refuted drivers’ criticism that the tyres are slower than previous years and argued that the most important factor is that all drivers have the same products. “We were never told to chase speed and, of course, there are limitations – you are dealing with 12 different chassis and 12 different requirements and if you try and rush things, you end up makings mistakes,” he said.
“The most important thing is we have a safe, reliable product and at the end of the day somebody will stand on the podium in Australia and be crowned the winner.”