For our third race this season, the Formula One circus moves to the Bahrain International Circuit. Australian GP winner Nico Rosberg is 18 points clear of his teammate and nearest championship rival Lewis Hamilton, but the 2014 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix could shake things up once again.
Last year, Sebastian Vettel took his second victory of the season in order to exaggerate his championship lead and highlight his championship credentials, but with a questionable Red Bull car, will he win at the sandy Sakhir circuit once again?
The Bahrain Grand Prix was another sign of F1′s expansion into newer areas, as this was the first Formula One race to be held in the Middle East, an area without a large heritage of motorsport. The circuit was constructed in 2002 at the cost of £94 million as a symbol of a more open country, after King Hamad of Bahrain introduced more reforms in the nation. The first race in 2004 was embraced by the Formula One community.
The main issue with the Grand Prix prior to 2011 was that the circuit did not encourage exciting racing however as part of the events commonly referred to as the Arab Spring, protests in Bahrain started to campaign for more political freedom and greater equality.
Due to the government’s response, the protests became more widespread, and the violence that occurred led to cancellation of the 2011 event.
Controversially, despite a lack of progress since the 2011 event was cancelled, the race was put back on the calendar. If it had been removed for a second year in a row, the FIA would have been forced to cancel the contract completely unless it could be proved that these were due to force majeure.
So in 2012, amid violent protests and government oppression, the racing returned, with the eighth edition won by Vettel. Many international news websites and protest groups continued to focus on the possibility of protests during 2013, but these voices have quietened for the event this year in comparison.
The race will be held on the 5.412km grand prix track, instead of the endurance circuit introduced for 2010. Total race distance is 308.238km and will be run over 57 laps. The track has 15 corners; 8 right and 7 left. This year will also feature two DRS zones, one on the main straight and the other on the short straight parallel to the main straight.
Cars are at full throttle for 60% of the lap, with drivers reaching 300 kilometres per hour going down the main straight. 52 gear changes are expected per lap, attributed to the mix of slow and fast corners and straights. The main overtaking spot appears to be into turn one, however there are a few other opportunities to overtake in the lap, such as turn four and the final turn, as showcased by several drivers last year.
Due to the circuit’s location, it is affected by sand blowing onto the track, a factor that can interfere with running at the start of practice sessions. The high temperatures in the area are a cause of tyre degradation, with marbles expected off line.
The Bahrain International Circuit with Lewis Hamilton
Pirelli and Bahrain 2014
Pirelli, along with all the Formula teams, tested at the Sakhir circuit twice in the build up to the season – so this should be a circuit that everybody knows well. However, to celebrate its 10th anniversary, the race has been given a 6pm start time for the first time in its history, meaning that it will start at sunset and end in full darkness: a bit like the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
This will have an important effect on the behaviour of the P Zero White medium and P Zero Yellow soft tyres that have been nominated for the race. Ambient and track temperatures will fall considerably during the race – with a drop in track temperature of 15 degrees entirely possible – which will alter the performance and degradation characteristics of the tyres. As night racing in Bahrain is an unknown quantity, the preparation work in free practice will be essential.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motor-sport director: “Bahrain is a circuit where we’ve done two recent tests, so we go there with a lot of knowledge of the track, which we certainly benefit from. We know that there’s a big traction demand and that’s why we’re bringing the medium and soft tyres. Temperatures at the start of the race should still be reasonably high.
We’ve noted a very big drop in temperature though as soon as the sun goes down: a variation that can be as big as 15 degrees. Managing that very wide range of temperatures to get the best out of the tyres is going to be one of the biggest challenges for the teams throughout the weekend. This should make it quite tactical in terms of strategy, so it should be a very interesting race from that point of view.”
Jean Alesi, Pirelli consultant driver: ”I’ve driven in Bahrain but not in Formula One: instead it was in the Speedcar series, which was a little bit like NASCAR. So I got to experience the track and see that you need a smooth and clean rhythm to get the most out of the tyres, especially in the traction areas, so that you don’t put too much stress through them.
The circuit is quite abrasive but it has a nice flow to it, although competing at night will be a new challenge. The most important thing is to try and control the degradation, but again, that might be very different after dark. It’s going to be interesting to watch and managing the tyres is definitely going to be important.”
The circuit from a tyre point of view:
Bahrain is quite demanding on the tyres, particularly during traction areas, with the surface tread temperature peaking at 130 degrees centigrade.
Aerodynamics is another important factor in Bahrain. With four 300kph straights, teams tend to use medium downforce, but this can compromise corner entry and braking stability, causing lock-ups that damage the tyres.
Sand on the track from the surrounding desert can also disrupt traction and cause wheelspin, leading to increased tyre degradation. Two years ago, a sandstorm actually halted one of Pirelli’s test sessions in Bahrain.
Braking is another key characteristic of the Bahrain International Circuit: in the first corner the cars decelerate from 315kph to 65kph in just 130 metres and three seconds. This places a force on the tyres equivalent to around 4.5g.
Following the Bahrain Grand Prix, the first two – day in – season test will take place (from April 8-9). Each team has to devote one day of testing to tyres this year, with Caterham carrying out test duties on the first day in Bahrain, and Mercedes and Williams testing tyres during day two.
Last year, Sebastian Vettel won the race from second on the grid using a three – stop strategy: starting on the medium tyre and then completing three stints on the hard. A wide variety of strategies were adopted, with some drivers also stopping twice
Sepang With Brembo
Definitely one of the most demanding circuits for brakes. The races on the Sakhir track, surrounded by the desert, are characterised by high temperatures that increase mechanical grip and make it difficult to dissipate the heat generated during braking.
This aspect, combined with the presence of numerous high energy braking sections which are quite close together, makes Sakhir a hard test bench for all the braking system components which are continuously stressed by the high energy forces and the hellishly hot temperatures.
If the drivers want to finish the race, the high wear of the friction material is the biggest danger that must be avoided.
There are three drivers who have won multiple times at the Bahrain International Circuit: Fernando Alonso, who had the honour of winning his first race as a Ferrari driver at the circuit in 2010 in addition to wins in 2005 and 2006, Felipe Massa, who was victorious there in 2007 and 2008, and Sebastian Vettel, who has won the previous two editions of the race.
Unsurprisingly, Ferrari is the most successful constructor at the track, with four victories from Massa (2) and Alonso (1) as stated above, as well as Michael Schumacher’s win at the first ever Formula One race to take place there. Renault and Red Bull are the other constructors to have won there multiple times, courtesy of Alonso and Vettel respectively.
It doesn’t take a genius to come to the conclusion that Mercedes are favourites for this race. Two victories for the Silver Arrows mean that the reasonable question isn’t about what team will win, but which of their drivers will stand on the top step of the podium. Lewis Hamilton’s two pole positions do seem to imply that he might have a better chance than Nico Rosberg.
However, reliability is an issue, while Red Bull’s upturn in performance is another indicator that the German team might not have it their own way. Plus every other Mercedes-engined team could have a chance. We’ll just have to wait and see.
2004 – Michael Schumacher won the inaugural race, leading home a Ferrari one two finish with Rubens Barrichello.
2006 – Michael Schumacher was thwarted in his attempt to be victorious at the track once again, as Alonso’s strategy saw him fight out of the pit lane from the German, before pulling away to take a second victory.
2009 – Toyota started strongly and their drivers Timo Glock and Jarno Trulli were showing good performance, but a different strategy saw them lose out as Jenson Button increased his championship lead. Vettel put in fast laps towards the end of the race to finish second, while Trulli was third.
2010 – The race was held on the longer ‘Endurance Circuit’ for the first time, and saw Fernando Alonso take his third victory at the track, and his first for Ferrari in his first race for the Italian team. Sebastian Vettel was looking dominant until a gearbox problem dropped him down to fourth, behind Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton.
2012 – One of the most controversial Formula One races of all time, as while Sebastian Vettel narrowly held of the challenge of Lotus drivers Romain Grosjean and Kimi Raikkonen in one of the more exciting races at the circuit, the media attention was dominated by the political unrest occurring in the archipelago.
The GP2 series returns this weekend in Bahrain, with a feature race and a sprint race set to take place in between Formula One sessions. 2013 constructors champions Russian Time launch their title defence with Mitch Evans and Artem Markelov, who have replaced 2nd placed driver Sam Bird and 10th place driver Tom Dillmann. The highest placed driver from last season to remain in the series is Williams reserve driver Felipe Nasr, who had some good performances and will be looking to impress the Martini-sponsored Formula One team.
The other support race to take place this weekend is the Porsche GT3 Cup Middle East double header. They had a championship decider earlier this month – according to their Facebook page, it had to be seen to be believed (after watching, I’d give it an 8/10 rating) – so this weekend is simply two exhibition races to mark the tenth anniversary of the first race at the circuit. It will feature 2013-14 champion Zaid Ashkanani amongst others.
Also entertaining fans at the track this weekend will be Saudi Arabian pop star Rabeh Saqer and legendary rock band The Scorpions after the track action on Friday and Saturday, although Avicii will be absent due to surgery to remove his gall bladder and appendix, which kept him out of the latest edition of Ultra Music Festival in Miami last weekend.
|2012||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2013||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|