By Alan Davies, Formula One correspondent
Friday, April 20, 2012
FORMULA 1 driver Lewis Hamilton is feeling the heat ahead of qualifying for the controversial 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix.
* Race distance: 57 laps (191.539 miles/308.238km)
* Start time: 15:00 (local)/12:00 GMT
* Circuit length: 3.363 miles/5.412km
* 2010 winner: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
* 2010 pole: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing)
* Lap record: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari, 2004)
The 27-year-old Vodafone McLaren Mercedes racer from Hertfordshire was fastest in today’s (Friday’s) first practice session around the challenging Bahrain International Circuit.
With the ambient temperatures regularly above 35 degrees and the cloudless desert skies pushing the track temperature towards 60 degrees – the highest of the season – heat management will prove crucial in qualifying tomorrow (Saturday).
Such extreme conditions affect tyre wear and result in the drivers losing up to three litres of fluid during the race.
Hamilton admits tyre degradation will be an issue for all the teams at the desert track near Sakhir.
“Looking after the tyres here is going to be a real challenge,” said the 2008 F1 world champion.
“The track surface is extremely hot, and the amount of energy that goes through the tyres under braking is incredible: the temperatures keep on rising until it feels just like driving on an ice-rink.
“Tyre degradation will be a big issue for everyone around here and the weekend will be all about who can look after the tyres the best.”
Jenson Button, Hamilton’s team-mate in the McLaren paddock, added: “It’s going to be difficult for all of us out there – it will be all about what tyre we can get to work.”
Bahrain GP qualifying tomorrow looks to be a three-way battle between the McLaren, Red Bull and Mercedes teams, with any one of six drivers in contention for pole position and a front row grid position.
Hamilton was fourth in today’s afternoon practice session as Chinese GP winner Nico Rosberg set the P2 pace for Mercedes.
The Red Bull pairing of Mark Webber and double F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel also went quicker than Hamilton on the timesheets as McLaren struggled to find the perfect car set-up.
Hamilton said: “In general, Mercedes looks quick. We’re there or thereabouts, but we’ll know more tomorrow.
“Overall, a tough day; a tough challenge, but we’re all in the same boat.”
Button was fifth quickest in P1 and sixth in the second session.
He said: “My times haven’t looked great all day – over a single lap, the Mercedes and the Red Bull both look quick.
“There’s a big margin to the front at the moment – but I don’t think it will be the same in the race.
“However, ignoring the times, I just don’t feel completely happy with the direction we’ve chosen.”
This argument was taken up by Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team principal Martin Whitmarsh.
He said: “A tricky session here in Bahrain today – in this morning’s session, neither Jenson nor Lewis felt completely satisfied with the car’s balance, and we spent the afternoon pursuing a number of set-up options in order to establish a clearer direction for the remainder of the weekend.
“After P2, it’s clear that we’re still following that path, but, as always, we have plenty of data to sift through overnight.
* Car 4: Lewis Hamilton
* Age: 27 (January 7, 1985)
* GPs: 93
* Wins: 17
* Poles: 22
* Fasest Laps: 11
“Jenson and Lewis have also provided the team with some excellent feedback, which dovetails nicely: it’s now the role of the engineers to assimilate that into a useful set-up direction for tomorrow.”
Whitmarsh still feels the MP4-27 will perform well in the grand prix.
He added: “While the laptimes don’t reflect it, our long-run pace looks reasonably promising, and I’m confident that we’ll establish a good baseline for tomorrow’s running.”
The 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix starts at 1pm BST on Sunday.