Spinning in FP3 didn’t stop Fernando Alonso setting fastest time for Ferrari on the Saturday morning of the Bahrain GP weekend. Coupled with Felipe Massa’s efforts to net P1 in the first practice session and a solid showing on Friday afternoon from the scarlet Prancing Horses, it looks increasingly likely Alonso is sitting pretty in his attempt to claim his second win in seven days.
Ferrari haven’t had it all their own way however, with Lotus and Red Bull mounting separate assaults on the Scuderia’s apparent stranglehold on performance this weekend. Kimi Raikkonen was the fastest driver in FP2, and has shown promising long-run pace during race simulations that promise to place him in the midst of the action on Sunday. The E21’s legendary consideration toward its tyres marks it out as a serious threat at a circuit where rubber is king; the Sakhir circuit is a ruthless devourer of rear tyres and is posing real problems for that other front-running team Mercedes.
Despite proving their competitiveness again with laptimes in the top 5 in each session, the Merc duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton see tyre wear as a real limiting factor in their race strategy. Indeed, Hamilton suffered a serious suspension failure in the dying moments of FP3 that meant his left rear tyre was shredded down to the canvas when he hobbled back into the pitlane.
While the Mercedes factory team struggles, privateers Force India, using Mercedes engines, seem on the brink of a serious result this weekend. Paul Di Resta has consistently been top Brit on long run pace and has lurked on the fringes of the top 6 in qualifying trim all weekend. With his career clock rapidly ticking away, now is the perfect time for the Scotsman to deliver that elusive podium finish and wake the paddock up to his promise once more.
McLaren meanwhile have spent the entire weekend inhabiting a curious ‘no-mans land’ in or around 10th/11th and 12th places. Faster than Sauber and Williams, but adrift of Force India by some three to four tenths, Jenson Button and Sergio Perez look set to battle for the scraps on the points-paying positions table. Perez has looked faster so far than he has done in his first three McLaren events, closing to within two tenths of his older and more experienced World Champion team-mate in FP3. Both men won here in 2009; Perez in GP2 while Button took the F1 laurels for Brawn GP, but it is unimaginable either will repeat the feat this year.
If there is a bigger disappointment than McLaren so far in 2013, it surely has to be Williams. The Grove-based squad are the lame duck of the F1 family at the moment and the promise shown in 2012 appears to have dwindled to a distant memory. Pointless so far, they will need plenty of retirees ahead to get themselves off the startline in the constructors championship.
An honourable mention once again to Jules Bianchi; despite sitting out FP1 and experiencing a fuel vapour fire in his pitbox in FP3, the Frenchman still managed to post a laptime faster than rivals Caterham, who made use of a returning Heikki Kovalainen in FP1 to prove their updates have worked.