As it happened: Race day at the Bahrain International Circuit
By Geoff Creighton and Emlyn Hughes
The live commentary has ended. No further updates will be posted.
||BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX
| CURRENT WEATHER
||34°C / 93°F
The Formula One fraternity have already endured a hectic start to the year, with four closely-scheduled tests in Spain in February. The teams had just a couple of days to get back home, strip down the cars and prepare them for shipping to the Middle East for this first event.
The Bahrain International Circuit has been extended for the seventh visit of motorsport's top category. Several new corners have been added to the first half of the lap, resulting in a track length of 6.299 kilometres.
49 laps of racing combat await the 24 drivers who are taking part in the championship this year, although how many make the chequered flag at the end today remains to be seen.
It's the 2010 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix from the Bahrain International Circuit. The race itself begins at 12:00 GMT, but before then we will set the scene by reviewing yesterday's action from an interesting qualifying session, update you on today's weather conditions and support card activity, and focus on some of the major talking points so far this weekend.
There are big-hitting stories all the way down the grid. At Ferrari you have the returning Felipe Massa and Maranello debutant Fernando Alonso desperate to get off to an early start and erase the memory of last season.
McLaren has two British drivers, as 2009 champion Jenson Button slots in alongside former champ Lewis Hamilton. Both will be keen to establish themselves over the other in the first few events of the campaign.
Michael Schumacher has decided that, at 41 years of age, it's time for another crack at his passion in life, and is going for an eighth world crown. He faces perhaps the stiffest competition since his debut year in 1991 - and not just from the other teams. Alongside him is Nico Rosberg with a lot to prove.
Red Bull is the only team from the top four that has any continuity. Vettel and Webber stay as the driver pairing, and the team is powered once again by Renault. The Austrian outfit has already stated that the title is the prime target for the year, and Vettel especially has started well.
For a long time it was known that the three new teams in the sport this year - Lotus, Virgin and Hispania Racing Team - would occupy six of the seven elimination places in Q1. Somewhere along the line, that meant there would be a fall guy.
It turned out to be a private Spanish battle as Pedro de la Rosa neatly moved himself out of 18th position and up to safety on his final effort in the Sauber. This dropped Jaime Alguersuari into 18th with no further chance to improve.
The second phase of the session turned out to be a little more predictable, although there was drama for a short time as Jenson Button struggled for pace in the McLaren. He only just managed to fight his way out of 11th spot and into Q3. Rubens Barrichello found himself unlucky to be demoted by the Briton's improvement. Barrichello was joined by Liuzzi, Hulkenberg, de la Rosa, Buemi, Kobayashi and Vitaly Petrov.
The final shootout turned out to be a case of 'who dares wins'. McLaren and Ferrari sent its drivers out for the standard two runs of three laps, so for the first five minutes there were only four cars on the circuit. Eventually Sutil led those only making one effort out onto the track, just as the others were returning to the pits for their second set of tyres.
Sometimes one run is all that is needed to bag the pole, and Sebastian Vettel did it again yesterday. He instantly set the timing monitor alight and completed the job with a wonderful 1m54.101s, holding off an excellent late lap from the returning Felipe Massa..
Fernando Alonso will start his Ferrari racing career from third on the grid, with old friend Lewis Hamilton alongside him. Rosberg was fifth with Webber sixth, Michael Schumacher learning the knockout qualifying format in seventh, Button eighth, Kubica ninth and Adrian Sutil rounding out a great top ten using the harder tyres.
The track temperature has been climbing steadily throughout the morning, and could touch 50 degrees during the 49-lap race.
There is no penalty for switching to another unit in the eight-per-driver allocation. However, with the change being made under parc ferme conditions, the removed engines can now only be used in free practice.
Ferrari gives Alonso new engine too
In a relatively static race, ART's Sam Bird and Coloni's Alvaro Parente settled into second and third by the first corner and remained there for the duration, giving Bird his first GP2 podium and Parente his best result since returning to the series.
The main GP2 Series begins at the Spanish Grand Prix in May.
Ricci ends DPR's victory drought
Rast, runner up in last year's series, led home double champion Jeroen Bleekemolen in today's race to get his title campaign off to the best possible start.
Former McLaren AUTOSPORT BRDC Award finalist Nick Tandy took an impressive third this morning, getting his full season with Konrad Motorsport underway in fine style.
Today, nothing has changed and the mission statement is the same, but along the way there have been many twists and turns. Triumph and tragedy, moments of heroism and heartbreaking failure - all of which pull us in to what is the greatest sport in the world.
As a celebration for the 60th anniversary of the FIA Formula One World Championship 18 of the sport's champions are on hand this weekend to demonstrate the machines that made the history.
AUTOSPORT has prepared a gallery special to mark this amazing occasion, as the champions of yesteryear turn back the clock one more time.
AUTOSPORT gallery - Formula One champions parade
• Who will win the Bahrain Grand Prix?
• What can the McLaren drivers do from fourth and eighth on the grid?
• How quickly will the teams be able to change tyres during pitstops this afternoon? During the winter many suggested that we could see four wheels and tyres changed in around three seconds. Will any of them get near that?
• How will the three new teams get on this afternoon? Will any of the six cars finish the race?
Tell the world what you think.
Click the SHOW LIVE FORUM link in the red bar at the bottom of your browser window if you'd like to join the debate.
The seven-time champion is back with master strategist Ross Brawn once again, as Mercedes makes its official return to Formula 1.
Things haven't run completely smoothly for the German. On Friday morning he was particularly unhappy with the set-up of his car, but further work throughout second and third practice saw his pace improve.
He eventually qualified in seventh position for his first race start since the 2006 Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos.
Lotus Racing has generally been the best of the three new entrants so far. Drivers Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen have qualified in 20th and 21st positions respectively and will be looking to make it to the end of the race with the hope to benefit from others having reliability problems to pick up a point or two.
Virgin Racing has suffered hydraulic problems throughout the pre-season tests, but is working hard to get on top of the issues. The team was generally a shade slower than Lotus in testing, but Timo Glock has given them a big boost this weekend by out-qualifying the Lotus pair. He starts today's race from 19th place with team-mate Lucas di Grassi in 22nd spot.
Hispania Racing has had by far the toughest time of any team in the championship so far. A late deal saved what was Campos Meta, and the team is here at the last minute - therefore no pre-season testing was possible.
Bruno Senna rolled the car out for the very first time during Friday practice and did well in the circumstances. However, there have been major problems on the other car of Karun Chandhok. The Indian debutant amazingly didn't get his chance to turn a wheel until qualifying after endless troubles, with gear selection hydraulics.
Overnight changes to the cars mean both HRTs will start from the pitlane and it will be a remarkable achievement if one makes it to the finish after such limited pre-race running.
With the exception of Adrian Sutil in the Force India, who used the harder tyres in Q3, all the drivers from the top 10 shootout are forced to start on the super-soft rubber they used to set their grid time.
On a full tank of fuel, weighing in the region of 160kg, those tyres aren't likely to last long in the blistering heat of Bahrain. We can expect pitstops from these drivers after around 15 laps, after which the car will lap considerably faster on fresh rubber. This will force others into reactionary stops, as now it is often better to pit before a rival rather than after.
Drivers outside the top ten can start on a new set of the harder tyres, running longer into the race before a single stop to change to the option compoud. Two stops are also possible, but only in the case of major tyre worries, as this involves getting in a lot of traffic with the one stop runners.
One year ago, polesitter Vettel would have been a solid bet to take the win, but with the new rules it all comes down to how well the Red Bull can manage its tyres - and whether the Ferrari pair behind have a better long run pace. Testing suggests that may well be the case, but we'll only find out in the heat of battle this afternoon.
Horner: GP a journey into the unknown
There are a lot of things to check at this critical time. For starters, this is the first time that the cars have run today, so all functions on the car need to be checked. The drivers will want to get a feel for the handling of the car and current track conditions.
The all-important radio will need to be checked, and on a warm day like today the drinks bottle will hopefully be working so that the drivers can keep cool during the event.
We await the lights ...
The Spanaird muscled past team-mate Massa off the start and harried Vettel all the way until the Red Bull's demise.
Jarno Trulli with his ailing Lotus was the last classified finisher, in 17th position. Trulli pulled off on the last lap of the race.
Pedro de la Rosa retired in the pits with technical problems, as did Timo Glock and Vitaly Petrov.
Bruno Senna stopped at the end of the straight with smoke out of the back of the HRT. Kobayashi and di Grassi both fell by the wayside early on, and Karun Chandhok was the first retirement of the day following a crash in the first couple of laps.
The Ferrari drivers don't take long to soak down team boss Stefano Domenicali on a great day for the Scuderia.
Alonso takes victory on Ferrari debut
The Ferrari one-two may have been achieved on the back of Sebastian Vettel's late-race exhaust problem, but as a driver pairing, Alonso and Massa clearly will be a force at every round this season.
Vettel was driving brilliantly at the front and did all he could to bring home good points for the team. The German will be hugely disappointed this afternoon, while Hamilton is clearly happy with the final podium place.
Mercedes did well on its return to the sport and Michael Schumacher can be pleased with a solid start to the season, but what is likely to worry him is the 44-second deficit to Alonso's Ferrari.
The new teams all did as well as they could, and clearly that Lotus is a reliable machine. Kovalainen and Trulli showed improving pace throughout the race and their individual lap times will make interesting reading later. Virgin was plagued by reliability issues and HRT clearly has a lot of work to do, but it is early days for the team.
This was the 2010 Bahrain Grand Prix here on AUTOSPORT Live. We hope that you have enjoyed the coverage this weekend, and we will be back with full weekend coverage of the Australian Grand Prix in two weeks' time.