The phrase 'possession is nine-tenths of the law' is not ordinarily associated with racing drivers. Yet, in the context of Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix, it may become a truism upon which the 2007 Formula One season hinges.
Lewis Hamilton runs in the turbulent air of Felipe Massa © LAT
In the modern era, and particularly since the advent of 'dirty' aerodynamics hindering rather than helping slipstreaming, track position has been paramount in deciding races. However, team strategists and drivers have typically geared their efforts towards the final pitstops. Sacrificing track position early in the race was an acceptable gambit as long as the driver had a crucial few extra low-fuel laps before his final stop. It was in that critical phase that many tight races have been won and lost.
So far in 2007, the advantage has fallen squarely to the early hares. In all three races this season, the leader at the exit of turn 1 on the first lap has gone on to win. The benefits of running in clear air, with the leader setting his own ideal pace for the entire first stint, have outweighed tactical considerations later on in the race.
So it was on Sunday, although the signs for the two front-row starters, Ferrari's Felipe Massa and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, looked ominous. Massa has never been the most predictable of drivers and Hamilton is yet to make his first serious mistake in F1. Seeing them side by side at the start, just seven days after they clashed swords at Sepang, seemed to be tempting fate.