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Bahrain recap: Tire tests, rare DRS failure, hot/cold temps made for wild race

Apr 22, 2013, 11:59 AM EDT

Mechanics work on the car of Ferrari Formula One driver Alonso during the qualifying session for the Bahrain F1 Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit Reuters

Amid a backdrop of complaints and concerns about this seasons Pirelli tire compounds, the Bahrain Grand Prix delivered one of its most exciting yet.

Whereas the Chinese GP used the soft and medium compound tires in cooler conditions, giving a delta of nearly one and a half seconds per lap between the two, Pirelli’s choices for this race were a lot closer in performance and durability levels.

The medium and hard tires worked well here and, in the extreme heat of the desert, seemed to be the perfect selection.

The two compounds offered a choice of strategy, though of the top 10, only Ferrari’s Filipe Massa opted to start on the hard tire. It could’ve been an inspired move by the team to cover both scenarios, but we’ll never really know as a disastrous race for both drivers ended their hopes.

A rare DRS failure while running second on lap seven meant an emergency pitstop for Alonso. The DRS rear wing flap is designed to stay closed if the system should fail, but on this occasion the hydraulic actuator managed to push the flap beyond its normal 50-millimeter opening limit. This meant that, whereas the airflow over the wing would normally force the flap shut, being ‘over-center’, the aerodynamics had the opposite effect and held it in an open position.

Mechanics were able to push the wing back into its closed state at the stop, fit new tires and send him out without major time loss, but inexplicably appeared to fail to tell Alonso not to use the system and the same thing happened a lap later. Another stop to close the wing and the loss of DRS meant the predicted challenge for the win was effectively over. He did well to salvage eighth.

After a slightly strange looking tire failure for Hamilton on Saturday morning, Filipe Massa suffered a similar looking delamination to his right rear in the race, followed by a major blow out on the next set not long after. Pirelli were quick to suggest debris on the track had caused all three issues, but will investigate further in the coming days. One thing’s for sure, following much recent criticism, the last thing the Italian tire manufacturer needs is the perception that the rears weren’t capable of withstanding the heat and demands of the Bahrain circuit.

The ambient temperature, always pretty warm, did fluctuate this weekend, as did the wind speed and direction and the effect on different teams cars was notable.

Kimi Raikkonen was ominously quick in Friday practice, yet in the cooler temperatures of Saturdays qualifying struggled considerably more. The high race day temperatures meant the car came back to him and teammate Romain Grosjean and both managed brilliant podiums from lowly grid slots. Conversely, the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg worked well on Saturday to gain pole position, but found himself with a different car altogether in the hot race. Teams are still learning about the critical relationship between tire temperature and their performance levels and more importantly, how to manage them through driving styles or technical developments. Most teams now use adjustable brake duct slots to allow some of the enormous heat from the brakes to escape and soak into the wheels and tires when needed. Many of the leading teams also use a passive, hydraulically linked suspension arrangement to control the cars pitch and, or roll during braking and cornering, allowing the car to be more aerodynamically stable and less aggressive on its tires.

Kimi showed in the race that the ability to make the tires last and do one less stop than the rest can be a huge advantage.

McLaren found strong headwinds on the main straight for the race a help as they were running a shorter top gear and would’ve otherwise been held back by the rev limiter and therefore vulnerable in the DRS zone. As ever setup is always a compromise and this is something Red Bull have used in the past to aid qualifying, whilst they work on the basis that they can get so far out in front that they won’t be under attack by DRS.

Others found the strong cross winds at the higher points of the circuit unsettling the cars on turn in.

With Barcelona three weeks away (May 12) and closer to home for the teams, we can expect some significant upgrades and developments on the way.

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Marc Priestley can be found on Twitter @f1elvis.

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