Schumacher begins to make up for lost time

Michael Schumacher's speed in practice for today's Bahrain Grand Prix here yesterday put even Renault on red alert as the reigning champions rushed the debut of their new car. Ultimately Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli reproduced their speed from Australia and Malaysia, but it is clear that after stumbling with their updated 2004 car and less-than-great Bridgestone tyres in the first two races, and thus passing the baton to Renault, Toyota and Michelin, the Italian team are heading back to the front.

McLaren stand-in Pedro de la Rosa set the ball rolling with fastest time yesterday afternoon, before being supplanted by Mark Webber and then the Melbourne winner Giancarlo Fisichella, but then Michael Schumacher blew their times away with his own new benchmark. In the past, Bridgestone's tyres have been poor performers in one-lap qualifying conditions, but this time their latest product was as strong as Schumacher and his Ferrari F2005. The shockwaves from Ferrari became a ripple of fear in some quarters, particularly when fancied contenders Ralf Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen spoiled their laps and failed to oust the champion.

It was not until Trulli, one of the fastest qualifiers in the business, ventured out that Ferrari were put in their place. Where Schumacher had managed 1min 30.237sec, Trulli pushed his Toyota to 1:29.993. Then Alonso, the winner in Malaysia and therefore by privilege the last man to run in Saturday qualifying, showed his hand and the continuing strength of Renault. He was as much as half a second faster than Trulli until he reached the final corner, where he lost time after sliding wide, but his effort was still good enough to maintain 2005's status quo as he stopped the clocks in 1:29.848. Fears of a new red tide abated slightly, and with them hopes for a decently competitive world championship flourished anew.

Behind these three, BMW-Williams revelled in having a pair of hard-trying drivers. Both Nick Heidfeld and Webber did good work. Webber was fastest in morning practice and in the afternoon his 1m:30.592 lap was fastest for a while. Later, Heidfeld's 1:30.390 briefly put him second. Both men slipped back as the session evolved, to sixth and fourth respectively, but they will be a threat today.

The harmony in one Anglo-German team was in stark contrast to the growing frustration chez McLaren-Mercedes, and therein lies a tangled story that was one of the talking points of the weekend. It began when Juan Pablo Montoya suffered a shoulder injury on Easter Saturday. This may have been caused during a tennis match, but you would have been hard pressed to find anyone outside the McLaren team who didn't believe that the Colombian had, instead, crashed his motocross bike trying a jump at 50 mph. As one cynic remarked: "The only way he could have sustained that sort of injury playing tennis would be if he had fallen off that fancy hotel in Dubai where Roger Federer and Andre Agassi had their recent knock-up."

Then there was the suggestion that, besides replacing Montoya, McLaren thought at one stage, that same day, that Raikkonen would be indisposed after a fall during a party. That one proved wide of the mark and the Finn was all present and correct, but after his much publicised binge in a London nightclub before the season started it was difficult to dismiss that story with Absolut certainty.

But there is a problem at McLaren. The disruption caused by Montoya's absence has come at the worst time. As many people who disbelieve the tennis story do believe that McLaren have a car capable of beating Renault, but its potential has yet to be unlocked and a mistake from Raikkonen in the final corner merely served to underline the sense of irritation within the team. At a time when Ferrari are on their back foot, the silver arrows should be hitting the bulls-eye rather than falling short of the target.

Regardless of qualifying, Renault and Toyota are in great shape, Ferrari are a big threat again and Williams and McLaren are ready to make a fight of it. But further back, an unhappy Jenson Button has a mountain to climb.

It will be another hot race and much will depend on how Michelin and Bridgestone perform. Ferrari have a further concern after a transmission failure kept Rubens Barrichello from doing more than three laps between Friday morning practice and Saturday qualifying.

Michael Schumacher has not retired for genuine mechanical reasons since Hockenheim 2001 - that's 58 races - but in a topsy turvy season the odds on that record continuing may just have shortened just when he most needs that incredible reliability.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future