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01 Apr 2004 00:00
World champion Michael Schumacher led a chorus of concern that sandstorms could affect this weekend’s inaugural Bahrain Grand Prix but is confident the race will play into his hands once again.
The race takes place at the brand-new Bahrain International Circuit, situated in the desert on the south of the country, and the 5,417km facility was only recently completed.
Teams are concerned that the fine sand could damage their cars and see few cars reach the finish but Schumacher is confident he can fight for his hat-trick of victories after winning the last two races in Australia and Malaysia.
“The real worry in Bahrain is the sand,” said Schumacher.
“We are all concerned about it and how much the sand will affect the performance of the engine. But it is very exciting.
“Taking on a new track is always exciting, though no more difficult than driving one that you know well.
But there are lots of factors to consider and for this reason a new circuit is a little harder to deal with.”
Schumacher has an astonishing reliability record, having only retired once in the past 40 grand prix—and that failure only came when he made a mistake and spun off during a downpour in last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix.
His Ferrari machine has not failed him in a race since the German Grand Prix in July 2001—but he knows that he is as likely as any of his rivals to succumb to sandstorms.
High temperatures, predicted to rise up to 50 degrees Celsius on track, could also topple Schumacher as they favour his rivals and their Michelin tyres.
At the last race in Malaysia two weekends ago Schumacher took his 72nd victory as he controlled proceedings with a measured performance to finish just ahead of second-placed Juan Pablo Montoya.
He leads the championship by seven points from teammate Rubens Barrichello, but believes Bahrain could be the race where Ferrari, who are 16 points ahead in the constructors’ championship, will be pushed to the limit.
“It was cloudy in Malaysia and if the sun had come out things would have been even harder,” said Schumacher.
“We knew it would be a difficult race and so the eventual victory was even better.
“This is a new race on a new track and in a different climate and I like visiting new places. We know it will be a hot race in Bahrain and that will be a challenge but I am confident.”
Schumacher’s words—and history from 2000 that shows him as the last man to win the opening three races—will not be good news for his rivals as they attempt to halt his dominant, season-opening run.
Spaniard Fernando Alonso and Renault led the challenge with a third-place finish in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, but Montoya and Williams took over in Malaysia.
“After my podium finish in Malaysia I believe all [of] the team are more confident and keen to improve on that performance in Bahrain, which looks like it has several overtaking opportunities,” said Montoya.
Alonso, who battled back from a back-row start after a mistake in qualifying to claim two points for seventh place in Malaysia, is confident he will avoid another mistake and fight at the front this weekend.
Briton Jenson Button is also up for a fight and looking to capitalise on his BAR-Honda team’s positive spirit after claiming his first-ever career podium finish at Sepang.
“The whole team is very positive but it is very difficult to know what to expect from Bahrain,” said Button.
“It would be nice to follow up our on our good result at the last race with more points and possibly a podium.”—Sapa-AFP
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