Schumacher wins in Bahrain

Michael Schumacher won the Bahrain Grand Prix, ahead of team-mate Rubens Barrichello, as Ferrari dominated F1's first foray into the desert. Britain's Jenson Button secured another podium finish, two weeks after visiting it for the first time in F1

Schumacher wins in Bahrain

Formula 1 journeyed to the Middle East with a lot of questions, and came away with some highly satisfactory answers. Perhaps the only disappointing aspect of the weekend was the manner in which the challengers to Ferrari's kingdom fell woefully short yet again. The Scuderia came to Bahrain openly admitting it did so with a highly conservative set-up to maintain its customary levels of reliability, but it needn't have worried about its reduced performance - it was still miles ahead in that respect.

From its front row lock-out, perhaps the biggest concern would be that incredibly tight first corner following the long sprint from the startline. Although both Schumacher and Barrichello locked their tyres going into Turn 1 (both blaming cold rubber which gave both flatspots and made their first stint a little tricky) they got around without incident and blew the opposition into the weeds.

By the time he pitted on lap nine, leader Schumacher held a 7.2sec lead over Barrichello, with third placed Montoya over 14secs off the lead. Takuma Sato (BAR) made a great start to grab fourth from Ralf Schumacher (Williams) at the first corner, but Ralf's attempts to wrest the position back six laps later at Turn 1 ended in near-disaster at Turn 2, as Schumacher seemed to underestimate the tenacious Japanese youngster - just as his big brother did at Suzuka last year.

Sato stayed alongside, a fact which Ralf seemed to ignore as he turned in and was launched skywards, fortunate not to flip over. He pitted to have the Williams checked over, while Sato continued having lost a place to Renault's Jarno Trulli.

Sato was miffed: "We were side-by-side, and I was able to hang on. As we went into Turn 2 he shut the door, but he should have left space. When I passed David Coulthard later on, I left him room. Ralf didn't give me any room, so it's not my fault at all."

It was one of a number of great talking points the race produced, but the competition at the front wasn't one of them. Schumacher controlled the pace, while Barrichello suffered a slow first pit stop and ran into a few brake problems in the middle of the race. They finished almost half a minute clear of the opposition, headed once again by BAR's Jenson Button. In short, it was another redwash.

"It was a superb weekend," said Schumacher. "It was a little tough on Saturday but we managed to bring it all together at the right time and secure the front row and then the 1-2 finish today. It was the dream result. It was hard work. The brakes were sort of marginal and we had to keep an eye on the tyres. I think that both [tyre] companies had blistering problems, so we had to drive on a fine line and not overdo it."

Barrichello said: "I nearly had to avoid Michael into the first corner. Then he broke away a bit through the next two or three corners. He was quick. After a couple of laps my brakes had warmed up and I thought I could push, but we had a problem in the pitstop and I lost some time. After that Michael was 10s ahead. The gap went up and down, but Michael was driving well."

Technical director Ross Brawn summed things up when he said: "We never take anything for granted, and keep our feet on the ground, but this is a fantastic start to the season. Everything went well today."

Button, meanwhile, needed help from his old team Williams and it duly came when Montoya began to slow with just over 10 laps remaining. He was losing gears and positions hand over fist, and his misery was completed when he lost full throttle as the hydraulic system cried enough. The Colombian crept over the line in 13th and parked it in a huff.

That left Button with a clear run to third after a mid-race spurt allowed him to pass Trulli (for fourth position at the time) in the pits. Two races and two podiums - a just reward for BAR's efforts.

"It's fantastic, it really is," said Jenson. "This one was a little more difficult. It wasn't the best position for me to be starting starting sixth on the grid and I was a little disappointed with that. We had a lot of understeer in qualifying. But it was good to fight through like we did in Malaysia. The car was very, very good and very consistent."

Team principal David Richards added: "It's a great day for the team and another step forward. Three races in and it's been fantastic. We have to maintain this pace from now on."

Trulli came home fourth, ahead of the inspired Sato who was forced to make an extra pitstop after running over a kerb and damaging his front wing. Amazingly he didn't notice at first, staying out for an extra lap with the offending item dragging along the ground, but he managed to hold off the charging Renault of Fernando Alonso, who was similarly delayed when he lost his front wing on the opening lap.

Before that, Alonso had crossed swords with a number of rivals - most notably Jaguar's Mark Webber, who appeared to brake test him on at least two occasions. The Australian grabbed the final point on offer, thanks to Montoya's late problems, while Ralf Schumacher finished seventh despite mowing down his refuelling crew in his second pitstop.

Schumacher's overall performance was slammed by Williams technical director Patrick Head, who said: "It was a bloody mess. After his thump with Sato he drove back to the pits slowly and lost a lot of time. Not good."

McLaren's David Coulthard had seemed set for a point until his car failed him seven laps from the finish. Team-mate Kimi Raikkonen had long gone, posting yet another early retirement when his Mercedes engine exploded, producing an impressive display of pyrotechnics just seven laps in. To add insult to injury, Raikkonen had been humbled by Jaguar rookie Christian Klien in the early laps, the Austrian passing him a couple of times before running wide and ceding the position back. He would later spin, however, and drop to 14th.

Toyota duo Olivier Panis and Cristiano da Matta tried hard but fell short of the points, ditto Sauber's Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa. Jordan's Nick Heidfeld ran as high as sixth, thanks to a long first stint, but slipped back to a predictable 15th, well clear of team-mate Giorgio Pantano. Minardi's Gianmaria Bruni made it to the finish, despite starting two laps late after trouble on the grid, while Zsolt Baumgartner went out late on with engine failure.

Bahrain was billed as Formula 1's big gamble, but as usual the red-hot favourite - Prancing Horse - crossed the winning line a country mile ahead of the field. The sand didn't break the engines, the track didn't fall apart and the spectre of terrorism thankfully failed to materialise.

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