Political unrest threatened to overshadow this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix as Formula 1 teams began arriving in the Gulf state Wednesday.
Bahrain’s opposition and international rights organizations charge that little has changed since last year’s bloody suppression of anti—government protests, demanding that the Formula 1 event should not be held in the kingdom.
Despite misgivings from some of the teams, the sport’s controlling body FIA has insisted the race should go ahead — after it was cancelled last year — maintaining the focus on the racecourse.
The uncertainties have taken some of the gloss of what has been an exciting start to a season which has produced three different winners in as many races including a maiden victory for Nico Rosberg in a Mercedes at the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday.
Rosberg’s team—mate Michael Schumacher said: “Having experienced a race such as China gives everybody in the team a big push, and we certainly will give our optimum to repeat our performance in the next races.
“However, the season so far shows that you can never be sure of anything, and having had three winners in three races demonstrates how close together the teams are this year.”
Mercedes’ head of motor sport Norbert Haug said: “This is the best Formula 1 season of all times, and more hotly contested than ever.”
Rosberg’s win had been preceded by victories from Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso in Malaysia, and Jenson Button of McLaren in the opening race in Australia.
“We’ve had three very different races and I think we are going to have potentially 20 very different races this year,” said McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh. “That’s fascinating.”
McLaren drivers Button and Lewis Hamilton — who has come third in each race this season — arrive in Bahrain at the top of the standings, but Hamilton predicted a tight race.
“Mercedes, Red Bull, Ferrari, Lotus and Sauber are all up there — that’s a serious championship,” the 2008 world champion said.
All eyes are on Rosberg after he gave Mercedes its first Grand Prix victory since 1955 in Shanghai on Sunday.
“I have really good memories of the Bahrain Circuit,” Rosberg said.
“I won the Formula Three Macau—Bahrain Cup, GP2 Championship and finished seventh on my F1 debut with the fastest lap of the race. I like the track a lot. It’s quite low downforce with lots of big stops and some faster corners too.
“The track layout definitely fits our car but it’s really a big challenge for us to manage our tyre work well again and find the right set—up as the temperatures will be much higher than in China.” Red Bull, meanwhile, were still struggling for peak performance ahead of Sunday’s race, as world champion Sebastian Vettel has failed so far to enter the top three this season.
In Sakhir, Vettel will not be able to use his favoured model of exhaust. Instead he has to use the modified version adopted by teammate Mark Webber.
Hamilton currently ranks first in driver standings, with 45 points, followed by Button with 43 and Alonso’s 37 points. Vettel ranks fifth and Rosberg sixth.
Alonso said anything was possible at this stage.
“The past counts for nothing in this sport,” the Ferrari driver said. “The championship is very open and there are a lot of teams that can aspire to victory.”
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