The Friday free practice sessions were in marked contrast to each other in Bahrain. The opening FP1 session at 2pm was held in ambient temperatures in excess of 35 degrees centigrade and track temperatures in excess of 50 degrees centigrade, while FP2 at 6pm took place in darkness, with ambient temperatures below 30 degrees and track temperatures in the region of 32.
As qualifying and the race will take place at 6pm, only the second session was truly representative of competitive conditions. In this session, with track temperatures in the region of 32 degrees centigrade, the P Zero White medium and P Zero Yellow soft compounds nominated for the race displayed rates of thermal degradation in line with expectations, despite the roughest track surface of the season and ambient temperatures that were still as high as 29 degrees.
There is usually a high degree of track evolution in Bahrain, due to sand from the surrounding desert blowing onto the surface. Currently, there is a performance gap of around two seconds between the medium and soft compounds, which opens up several possibilities for strategy. However, this gap is likely to come down if the track rubbers in with help from all the support races.
One rogue element that could upset this is the possibility of a sandstorm, which has been forecast for tomorrow. This would diminish grip, as Pirelli also discovered during a winter development test in Bahrain at the end of 2010, when running was actually interrupted for a day while the storm dispersed.
Mercedes drivers were first and second fastest in FP2, with Nico Rosberg leading Lewis Hamilton, but the Ferrari drivers monopolised FP1, with Kimi Raikkonen in front of Sebastian Vettel. Initial analysis of the long-run pace suggests quite a close contest between the two manufacturers.
Paul Hembery: “The pattern of wear and degradation today was exactly as we expected, especially in FP2, which was the only really relevant session. From a tyre perspective, there was less to be learned from FP1, which was nearly 20 degrees warmer. While the pattern of data collection is a little bit different to other races because of these temperatures differences, we’re seeing that the soft tyre will be key to the race – which is around two seconds quicker than the medium. However, there is talk of a sandstorm tomorrow and that’s not generally good news for tyres or anyone! So we’ll see what qualifying brings…”.