The hard work starts now after F1 opener

Bahrain GP shows who will challenge, who will struggle and how overtaking will be a problem, says Johnny Herbert.

It was a superb start for Fernando Alonso and Ferrari, and the Italian manufacturers were worthy winners of the opening race of the season in Bahrain on Sunday. They had done a good job over the winter and ran largely trouble free apart from a couple of late problems for Felipe Massa, but they were not enough to stop the Brazilian from finishing second.

It is the perfect way to begin the year for Fernando as he looks to cement his status as Ferrari's No 1 driver and build up support within the team. While they were quick, I think Fernando and Ferrari would acknowledge they were fortunate as they would not have been on the top step of the podium without the problem that hit Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull-Renault and ruined his race when he was out in front.

Vettel was very quick from the start and looked as if he had the race won, but we had seen in testing that the team had endured problems with reliability, although they were at least able to finish the race in fourth. Talk that Vettel's problems had denied us a thrilling end to the race do not hold true for me. Fernando was not able to get close to Sebastian prior to the exhaust issue and I do not think he would have done in the closing 15 laps.

The malfunction on the German's Red Bull was the overriding factor in determining who won. The weekend did show us that Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren-Mercedes are out in front of the rest of the teams on the grid and it is difficult to see anyone challenging them in the coming races. McLaren are the weakest of those three teams at the moment and they will have to work hard to catch up with the front two in time for the Australian Grand Prix in two weeks' time.

Mercedes GP were well off the pace in Bahrain and do not look as if they are going to challenge at the moment. I think it was important for Nico Rosberg that he started so well and outpaced Michael Schumacher, the seven-time world champion, to lead the team home in fifth place, one place ahead of Michael. It is different for Michael from when he left the sport three years ago with a number of the drivers having developed since then, but even taking the changes in the sport into account, he still ultimately made little impact on his return and Nico did a better job.

He spoke about the need to continue developing a relationship with the team, but it is also a new team for Nico and he is actually at more of a disadvantage as he does not have the relationship and history with Ross Brawn, the team principle at Mercedes, that Michael has. It will be fascinating to see if Michael tries to take the team in a direction of supporting him more in the coming races, but regardless of what Mercedes do, they have a lot of work to do to catch up with the front three.

With no in-season testing, which Michael used to his advantage so successfully in the past to develop cars into race-winning packages, it will be difficult to do that quickly. The first race of the season was not the most exciting in terms of spectacle and it was interesting to hear Michael say it was difficult to overtake and that it was just a case of following the car ahead. Michael and Ross were the past masters of using pit-stop strategy to get past slower cars without having to pass them on the track, but with no refuelling, that option has been lost to them, and everyone else, and with the way the cars are set-up and designed it is difficult to get past on the track.

Michael never really had to overtake before, yes on a few occasions, but largely he didn't have to during his most dominant years and he and the other drivers are going to have to adapt quickly to the new rules in order to find other ways to pass. It is too early to tell on the back of one race if the regulation changes have made Formula One too dull. The teams are already talking about making changes following Bahrain and I think the suggestion of making the tyres more unpredictable, an idea put forward by Martin Whitmarsh, the McLaren team principle, is a good call.

The super softs in Bahrain did not go off as expected and there were no difficult decisions for the teams to make as the tyres all stayed consistent and reliable. From my experience, the other factor that would help is longer braking distances. The earlier you have to brake, the more chance you are giving the driver behind the chance to try and have a go. Any factor that can make a driver either make a mistake or force them to do something different will improve the show.

It is difficult to pass judgment on the back of one race but the track in Melbourne does not really encourage overtaking either. sports@thenational.ae

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