Bahrain and the BBC

April 23, 2009

Sakhir is the next venue for the Formula 1 circus, for the fifth year in a row.  A pioneer race for the Middle East in Grand Prix racing, Bahrain will be joined by Abu Dhabi this season as F1 looks to find any available money teat which is still producing.  Bahrain has, nevertheless, been a fine venue for the sport and tends to produce interesting – if not necessarily thrilling – Grands Prix.

To be completely trite and obvious about it, this race marks a line in the sand for all the teams, the last event before the European season kicks off in Barcelona next month.  This, then, probably represents the last race for the current order in the sport.  From May 10th onward, expect to see some more established names make inroads as their car developments come thick and fast whilst the diffuser gang plateau.

Still, they will have it all to do to catch Brawn GP.  Regardless of last week’s result, the BGP001 car is still the class of the field.  Tripped up in strategic terms by the rain in Shanghai, the team are much less likely to be so afflicted in the desert and go into the race as favourites.  Their chief competition, I expect, will come from Toyota and Red Bull.  I also have a sneaking feeling that Ferrari will return to the points at this race, or at the very least be running there when their car breaks.  Felipe Massa is a Bahrain specialist, whilst the team spent significant time testing at Sakhir during the winter break.

Williams will also be looking to show well and make their practice pace come alive in official sessions for the first time in 2009.  Of the three double diffuser teams, they are perhaps the outfit with the most to gain from the return to Europe and the factories after the flyaway beginning to the season.

Of the teams making inroads, I expect McLaren to be the best of the rest.  The team seem to be making steady progress, rather than a fuss about how unfair it all is, the chosen method of some of their rivals.  Bahrain also features a few decent length straights where their KERS system should do serious damage to their competition come race day.

I don’t see much else in the way of change on the horizon until Spain.  It will, however, be interesting to see what progress Renault – on the front row in Shanghai’s dry qualifying, remember, albeit with a light car – have made.  On the driver front, I’ll have a gimlet eye on Nelsinho Piquet again… he really needs to make it into the same qualifying session as Alonso and quickly… and will also be watching out for the nascent Sebastien Buemi to see if he can continue his good work so far.

My rubbish and useless prediction:

Pole position: Jenson Button (Brawn Mercedes)

Race result: 1. Jenson Button (Brawn Mercedes); 2. Sebastian Vettel (red Bull Renault); 3. Timo Glock (Toyota)

The BBC

Bahrain will also be the fourth round for the BBC’s new coverage of the Grand Prix racing.  I still find myself instinctively looking at the ITV listings to see what time programmes start, which in itself says a lot for the majority of the Beeb’s coverage.  This is not to denigrate it at all, however.  ITV did an excellent job in its 11 years with the sport.  The greatest tribute that they can be paid is that Auntie have seen little reason to change much of the presentational format.  Personnel-wise, the BBC seem to have chosen wisely.  I never subscribed to the James Allen hate-in, feeling he was just experiencing the fallout for the terrible if unavoidable crime of not being Murray Walker.  Jonathan Legard is no better or worse than Allen, but he’s still not Murray Walker, so I expect to start to hear the rumblings of discontent soon.  Martin Brundle and Ted Kravitz came over from the commercial darkside, and are both excellent aquisitions.  The last of the mainstream commentary team, Lee McKenzie, has also slotted in seamlessly, which, I say again, is all you could really ask from them.

On the presentation side, Jake Humphrey still looks like a bizarrely stretched 12-year old boy, but it’s fairly obvious that he isn’t just there for his yoof appeal and that he has a passion for the subject.  He seems to be the chief concession to a more DYNAMIC approach that the BBC have taken – he walks up and down the pitlane whilst talking, where Steve Rider used to stand still.  Alongside him, David Coulthard is yet to really cut loose as a pundit, but I reckon it’ll be worth the wait.  Eddie Jordan is more of a question mark.  His ex-team owner and I-used-to-run-that-driver schtick is already wearing a little thin.  However, there’s no denying Jordan – who has huge experience as both a driver and an owner – has the potential to make a significant contribution.  Even if he doesn’t, he at least knows how to speak English properly, which makes him a step forward from Mark Blundell.

So, the big change’s biggest service to the viewer has been to remain the same.  What is noteworthy, though, is the vast amount of additional coverage the BBC has been able to provide, through its interactive TV and online streaming.  Every minute of the weekend’s action is now covered, the majority of it at inhospitable times on Friday mornings.  However, if you can sneak away and have yet to do so, watching one of the 90-minute free practice sessions is well worth it.  Not for the on-track action, which is as relevant to the TV viewer as an exotic screensaver, but for the soundtrack.  The BBC’s second-string – i.e. Radio Five – commentary team sit in and are doing a really exceptional job.  David Croft is a wily one, knowledgable but with a nice line in mischievous devil’s advocacy.  He is usually joined by the outstanding Anthony Davidson, truly the heir apparent to Martin Brundle’s mic.  Also on hand will be the vastly knowledgable Maurice Hamilton, recently joined by another seasoned figure from the paddock, Ian Phillips – formerly the editor of Autosport magazine and of Jordan Grand Prix, now employed by Force India.  All four bring their years of experience to bear with considerable aplomb – entertaining, controversial, wry, observant and educational.  Highly recommended and, as with so much of the BBC coverage so far, available later on on the BBC Sport website.

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