Friday practice in Bahrain taught little about the prospects of the 12 F1 teams that will take to the grid on Sunday as mechanical problems kept some drivers off the track for all or most of the day, while others were testing different strategies that could not be directly compared.
With the day seeming to act more as a continuation of the pre-season tests than as the build-up to its first race, neutral observers were left little the wiser about which team has the inside track to success – either in Bahrain or for the rest of the season.
Mercedes and McLaren split the top four places on the timesheets, Nico Rosberg quickest of all, while Ferrari set no fast times and Red Bull struggled for reliability.
At the other end of the grid, Hispania’s bid to join the F1 party came closer to fruition as Bruno Senna made it out on track – he was 13 seconds off the pace, barely faster than the GP2 polesitter, and as the day finished he came to a halt having lost a wheelnut, but at least he was out there. Team-mate Karun Chandhok’s car did not leave the garage all day.
Throw in the unpredictability of tyre wear – Lewis Hamilton had to cut short one run after completely wrecking a set – and the likelihood that the best car with a full fuel load will probably not also be the best car with empty tanks, and it’s anyone’s guess who’s best placed.
Which is not to say there won’t be one or two dominant teams or drivers. A lack of clarity on who is strong does not automatically translate into close racing, it just means we don’t know who will come out top yet.
It’s simple common sense that the combination of the legendary Michael Schumacher, the near-legendary Ross Brawn and the might of Mercedes will translate into multiple race wins and another title for the German.
It’s simple common sense that Fernando Alonso’s long-awaited partnership with Ferrari, the team that so far looks the strongest on long sustained runs, will bring lots of victories and a third drivers’ title for the Spaniard.
It’s simple common sense that Lewis Hamilton will come roaring back to regain his title and that McLaren – there or thereabouts in every test so far this year – will be motivated to throw off its dismal start to last year and win from the word go in 2010.
It’s simple common sense that Sebastian Vettel, maturing every year and commonly acknowledged as a champion-in-waiting, will be given the most innovative and effective car on the grid by ace designer Adrian Newey and pilot it to victory – just as would likely have happened last year without the intervention of the double diffuser.
And it’s most certainly simple common sense that Mark Webber, Jenson Button, Felipe Massa and even Nico Rosberg will have a thing or two to say about any of those scenarios.
Meanwhile, both Williams and Sauber are showing signs of poking their noses in among the front-runners, with the Sauber being reported as particularly kind to its tyres and the Williams thought to be just a fraction behind the McLaren.
Add the rapidly-advancing Force India and the recovering Renault into the mix and the only safe bet is that it’s going to be a long weekend for the Toro Rosso drivers, stranded in limbo behind the rest of last year’s outfits but ahead of the squabble between Virgin and Lotus. In that particualr contest, Virgin look faster – but more fragile.
Hispania? Well, they’re there. And that’s more than USF1 and Stefan GP can say.