For the millions of die-hard Formula One fans around the world, the last five months have been some kind of purgatory. But the waiting and the withdrawal symptoms will soon be over. This weekend the circus is coming back to town – or rather a tarmac oasis in the middle of the desert. To the relief of everyone who revels in the scream of engines, the smell of oil and the colour of the grid, the Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir will open the 2006 F1 season. Panasonic Toyota Racing arrives in the Middle East buoyed up from its winter test programme and looking to start the season in style. Jarno Trulli made the podium at last year's Bahrain Grand Prix while Ralf Schumacher made the podium at the last race of 2005 so both will be hoping for a repeat as Toyota bids for a strong start to its new campaign.
Ralf Schumacher is looking forward to the heat of Bahrain after a cold winter of testing.
Ralf Schumacher (Car 7): "It's always nice to return to racing after the long winter break. Of course we will have to wait and see how the first couple of races go before we can truly compare our position to the others. But we hope to take some points in the first few races and take it from there. Our whole winter test programme has been targeting reliability and that is what we will need early in the season. We've been working with the TF106 since November so we've had plenty of time to put mileage on all the mechanical parts. The tests have gone well and both the car and the new V8 engine have run reliably so we should be confident heading to Sakhir, which is a great modern facility. Bahrain will be hot but at this time of year it should not be exceptional. Either way, all the teams have so much experience that the heat shouldn't make any difference from a technical point of view. So let's hope it's nice and warm. After a winter in Europe, that would be very welcome..."
BACK FOR SECONDS
Jarno Trulli hopes to continue his happy run of form in the Middle East's only grand prix venue.
Jarno Trulli (Car 8): "I've only had good results when I've raced in Bahrain, particularly last year when I made the podium in second place. I had never been to the area before the race arrived on the calendar but Bahrain is incredible as an F1 venue. The facilities are state-of-the-art, much like Malaysia and China, and it has treated me well so far! It would be wonderful to achieve something similar again, so that is why everyone at Toyota has worked all winter to be as prepared as possible for this first grand prix of the year. The new season brings new challenges in every area. There are lots of new factors – the V8 engine, our Bridgestone tyres and of course the new qualifying system where cars will be eliminated during the session. That will be a bit more complicated than last year but it still boils down to producing a quick lap just when it matters. I'm confident that the TF106 can deliver strong results, but as ever we will only find out when we get on track with eve ryone this weekend."
THE DUNES ARE ALIVE WITH THE SAND OF ENGINES This weekend the desert will reverberate with the sound of the new engine of Formula 1, the V8.
Mike Gascoyne – Technical Director Chassis: "Bahrain is an exciting track with great facilities for the teams and spectators. It is a challenging place to start the year because the circuit is probably the hardest for brakes of the whole season. The circuit is surrounded by sand and it can also get very hot, which can pose problems with the cooling of a new car. So reliability will be key, especially with this year's switch to V8 engines. But the TF106 has been very reliable in testing with no major mechanical issues so we are confident. The engine and chassis departments have worked very closely to ensure our package is as integrated as possible. Luca Marmorini's team has done a great job with the new V8 and we have consistently run the engines up to the mileage necessary to last two races without sacrificing performance or driveability. We have also spent the winter adapting to our switch to Bridgestone tyres, which we are sure will reap dividends. Last year we qualified on the front row here and finished second. We would like to repeat that but at this stage it is really difficult to predict where we will be."