Formula 1 Expert & Columnist
Rachel's Diary: The heat is on with fireworks on and off track in Bahrain
Sky Sports F1's Rachel Brookes on her own dip into the world of racing and how sparks flew on and off the track in Bahrain...
Last Updated: 07/04/16 5:13pm
My Bahrain weekend began with a little track action of my own. I am going to be racing later this year at Oulton Park in a Radical SR1 - the step down from the SR3 car the F1 drivers drove at the Race of Champions in November. On Wednesday I got to see my car for the first time and get some valuable time at the wheel. I also met my coach and it's lucky for me, and him, that he is an endurance expert! He may need to rely on some of that over the next few months!
I am not a racer. I have never raced except against friends in karts for fun and I have certainly never raced on a circuit outdoors. However, like many if not all of you, I have always wanted to have a go. It was an opportunity too good to pass up so there I was doing laps of Oulton Park before a quick dash to Heathrow for an overnight flight to Bahrain.
On Thursday morning we had our usual production meeting where we discuss the news since the last race and anything else we had heard. I had noticed on Fernando Alonso's Twitter account he had been relaying the difficulties he had been having since the accident in Australia. I have never found Fernando to be a driver to complain on Twitter - in fact, he tends to be the opposite as he is always very positive on social media. So when he told his followers that he was having to take a lot of pills, that he wasn't allowed to cycle or run and that he was having trouble sleeping, it was clear the after effects of the accident were more significant than we realised at the time. I had asked a few contacts and discovered that he was a doubt for the race weekend and brought it up in our meeting.
As is always the case with drivers who have been in significant accidents, Fernando had to go to the medical centre on arrival at the Bahrain circuit to check he was fit to race. While he was there we were discussing the interview we had lined up with him for later that day. The news of his failed medical was released around lunchtime and all sit-down interviews with him were cancelled. He did, however, take part in the FIA drivers' press conference as planned and go to the interview pen afterwards where Ted asked him more about his injuries.
After his withdrawal from the race weekend my job for Friday became a piece on Fernando's second stint at McLaren to date, from the announcement in December 2014 to the Bahrain Grand Prix 2015. When you actually look through all the incidents and retirements it really has been a challenging year and half for him.
On Saturday morning I woke to the same headlines you will have read. As usual I was presenting our final practice programme and Johnny Herbert was the guest. There was nowhere else to start the programme than outside Mclaren's hospitality and no other question than to ask Johnny why he thought Fernando should retire.
Just before the programme started I had noticed Fernando walking into the McLaren hospitality. Several of the hospitality units have feeds of Sky F1 and Mclaren is one of them so our programme was on as he walked in that morning. I can't tell you if he saw it but a few minutes into the programme he made a live appearance in it.
Our crew all had their backs to the entrance to the McLaren hospitality and the cameras were pointing towards Johnny and I and down the paddock. Behind them I could see some movement. Fernando was walking towards us. In my ear the producer was telling me to get us to the ad break and had told Johnny to wrap up his answer. It took a moment for me to establish whether Fernando was going to walk past or was intending to walk up to Johnny but when I realised he was definitely heading our way I had to let our production crew know not to go to the ad break and the only way was to tell everyone that Fernando was coming over.
As he approached he was smiling and stretched his hand out to shake Johnny's. You will have heard what was said by now and all I will add is that we have pundits on programmes to have an opinion. If they didn't you would have five presenters standing around saying the same thing. I am an F1 fan and watching Fernando drag that Ferrari around in 2012 to battle for the title until the very last few laps of the last race was a remarkable feat and I miss seeing him battling at the front. I still think that close-up shot of him, still wearing his helmet but with visor up, staring into the distance as it all sinks in at the end of the race in Brazil, is THE image of the last 5 years for me. Aside from that, if Alonso is racing in China, the track parade with Johnny should be interesting!
Qualifying was much like Australia. A shambles and really difficult for those of us in the pen trying to follow and interview at the same time. At least for a moment when the Ferraris were matching the Mercedes sector for sector there was a little bit of excitement and that final flying lap from Lewis was phenomenal. It's a shame it was lost in the headlines about empty tracks and cars not going out.
You would think then, that a meeting of team bosses and the FIA and FOM on Sunday morning would come up with a solution. But this is Formula 1. Instead the teams were given two options: stick with the new format or use an amalgamation system. I am totally against the latter. If that had been used at the weekend Nico Rosberg would have been on pole and Sebastian Vettel P2, and the quickest man Lewis would have been third. That's not qualifying, that's embarrassing.
The start of the Grand Prix in Bahrain was chaos. While I was still trying to note down what happened to Valtteri and Lewis and Seb breaking down, others were making contact further back and it was a nightmare to keep on top of. I had just about finished writing up the start when Seb appeared in the pen for his interviews. He told me despite reports before the weekend Ferrari hadn't previously been concerned about reliability and he thought his issue was different to Kimi's in Australia. But either way you look at it, only one of the two cars has finished the first two races and that has to be a concern. There is no point having a fantastic start off the line if your car isn't going to finish.
Talking of the start, could that be Mercedes undoing this season? If Lewis had had a good launch not only would he have been ahead of Nico, he would have been nowhere near the advancing Valtteri Bottas at Turn One. I think Mercedes have been lucky that Ferrari have had issues, but hopefully once resolved we have a cracking season on our hands. We might have been robbed of a great spectacle at the front in Bahrain but there were plenty of other battles and great moves to keep us entertained.
Romain Grosjean won driver of the day again and that Haas looks moulded to him. He can't stop smiling when he talks about it and while in Australia many thought they got lucky with the red flag, this time tyre saving earlier in the weekend paid dividends. There are some smart minds at that team as well as smart moves from Romain.
As I carried out my post-race interview a spectacular firework display was going on and with team bosses meeting on Thursday about qualifying and doubts over Alonso's fitness still remaining, I don't think they will be the last fireworks we'll see this month.