What a different two weeks can make, or rather what a difference two weeks of very hard work can make. Sports writers tend to like using hyperbole even when it’s not the case, but for once, the words “incredible” and unbelievable” are appropriate when it comes to describing the turnaround in performance for our team from our very difficult weekend in Melbourne, to a much better showing in Sakhir. We left the lush green surroundings of Albert Park having suffered a drought with no points, but then we bloomed in the desert of Bahrain.
The two main factors in this change of fortune were Honda’s ability to respond rapidly to the technical problems that meant Pierre’s car needed a new engine for race two, with both cars having to already replace turbo components, while the second factor was Toro Rosso’s aero upgrade package. Teams often talk of hoping to “gain a tenth” with some updates to how the car slips through the air, but these improvements can be hard to spot, even with a stopwatch! However, when fitted only to Pierre’s car on the Friday in Bahrain, it was immediately apparent that our aero experts in Faenza and Bicester had done a good job, so the new parts were also bolted on to Brendon’s car, with both men then running in the same trim from Saturday onwards.
Manama is not quite Melbourne and so our two drivers didn’t get up to very much prior to starting work at the track, but the Sakhir circuit does have an international standard karting track and Pierre enjoyed himself there on Wednesday night – maybe the extra driving practice helped on Sunday? The Frenchman had a smooth run right from Friday and that translated into his qualifying so well the next day. Brendon had a more difficult time and circumstances definitely beyond his control upset the New Zealander’s run for a grid position, when he hit a bird during Q1, which required a nose change. He did well not to press on and was very unlucky to miss the cut to Q3 by the tiniest of margins. The Kiwi’s race pace was good and he too looked to be heading for the points, but penalties played kept him out of the top ten.
But this weekend belonged to our French driver, who never put a foot wrong on his way to finishing just off the podium. He also showed he has a sense of humour, coming on the radio on his slowing down lap, with the message “now we can fight!” Fernando Alonso had used the very same words after finishing fifth in Melbourne. Secondly, this was only one race and now, we are already hard at work in the huge paddock of the Shanghai International Circuit, where the two very long straights and medium speed corners will present us with a very different challenge this weekend.