For the fourth race this season, the Formula One circus moves to the Bahrain International Circuit. Lewis Hamilton leads the drivers’ championship with 68 points from Sebastian Vettel with 55 and Nico Rosberg third on 51.
Last year, Lewis Hamilton won his third consecutive race of the season in the desert and but the pole was claimed by Nico Rosberg. Hamilton’s team mate is much closer in qualifying to Lewis this year and almost overhauled him last time out in China.
Ferrari will most likely continue to be troublesome for Mercedes again come the race. Mercedes though are significantly quicker over one lap and all other things being equal – whoever claims pole position – is favourite to go on to win the race as Mercedes continue their tyre preservation race strategy.
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.
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.
Whether this year’s harder compounds affect this remains to be seen.
The Bahrain International Circuit with Lewis Hamilton
Pirelli and Bahrain 2015
Bahrain, a favoured testing venue in the past on account of its year-round warm weather, hosts the third race of the season where the medium and soft compounds have been nominated, like Australia and China. Unlike these, it is a twilight race: starting in the evening and finishing in the dark. As a result, track and air temperatures tend to fall as the race goes on.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director: “We have the same tyre choice as we did in China for Bahrain, although there will obviously be a bit more temperature involved. However, with the race taking place in the evening, conditions won’t be as aggressive as they were in Malaysia – or even Bahrain two years ago, when the race was still run during the day.
A defining characteristic of Bahrain now is that tyre performance changes over the course of the weekend as we slowly edge towards afternoon sessions. Last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix had a thrilling finish because of the safety car with 10 laps to go, leading to a great battle between the two Mercedes team mates.
It’s harder to know what to expect this year – apart from the fact that it’s very unlikely to rain!”
The biggest challenges for the tyres:
Bahrain has the highest degree of asphalt roughness seen all year (with the exception of Jerez, used for testing). This accelerates thermal degradation on the tyres. However, this factor is partly mitigated by the fact that track and air temperatures fall as the race goes on, which obviously has an effect on tyre degradation and therefore strategy.
Because of the traction demands of the Bahrain International Circuit, it is particularly tough on the rear tyres: the limiting factor in Bahrain. During the day, ambient temperatures tend to be high, which increases thermal degradation but is not completely representative of the race.
The circuit is surrounded by the desert, which leads to sand blowing onto the surface and decreasing grip levels, particularly at the start of each session. When it comes to strategy, teams will not be able to rely on the appearance of a safety car. Since the race was inaugurated in 2004, the safety car has appeared only twice (in 2007 and 2014).￼
￼Last year’s strategy and how the race was won: Last year, a rare safety car just 10 laps from the finish levelled the playing field and provided a thrilling battle to the finish. The top six all adopted a two-stop strategy, but there were different choices down the field. Lewis Hamilton went for a soft-soft- medium strategy, with Nico Rosberg going for soft-medium-soft. The German set the fastest lap at the end of the race, but didn’t quite manage to pass his team mate after their final stop. Sebastian Vettel was fourth on a different strategy, being one of just two drivers to start the race on the medium tyre.
Expected performance gap between the two compounds: 1.5 -1.7 seconds per lap.
Expected weather conditions for the race: Dry and warm, starting in the region of 29 degrees centigrade ambient and dropping down to 25 degrees or lower by the finish. The risk of rain is very low, although there has been some light precipitation in the past over the race weekend.
Sakhir 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.
2004 – The first race to be held in the Middle East was dominated by talk of the sandy conditions and by the Ferrari team. Schumacher cut across Barrichello his team-mate at the first corner nearly collecting him, but after that the German led 50 of the 57 laps and cruised to his 73rd victory, followed home by the Brazilian. Jenson Button came home to complete the podium for BAR Honda.
2005 – Many cars featured tributes to Pope John Paul II who had passed away the previous day, including the Ferrari that race with a black nosecone. Michael Schumacher’s run of 58 Grand Prix without a mechanically related retirment ended when his car’s hydraulics failed, causing him to spin. The race was won by Fernando Alonso’s Renault, their 100th victory in Formula One.
2006 – Bahrain was moved to be the season opener for 2006 to avoid a clash between the Australian Grand Prix and the Commonwealth Games. It saw the debut for Nico Rosberg and he became the youngest driver ever to take the fastest lap, a record he still holds today. 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.
2008 – Max Mosely, then president of the FIA, had to cancel his appearance at the race after allegations of somewhat dubious Nazi-themed sexual activity with five prostitutes had emerged in the News of the World. This was subsequently found to be false and he retained his position at the head of the sport. The race was once again won by the Ferraris, with Felipe Massa taking the flag ahead of stable-mate Kimi Raikkonen in his first stint for the Scuderia.
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.
2011 – CANCELLED – The civil unrest in Bahrain as part of the “Arab-spring” uprisings caused postponement of the Grand Prix. Concerns over human-rights during the conflicts lead to widespread calls from drivers, teams and the media to cancel the race, which after much wrangling was done. CANCELLED
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.
2013 – Interestingly this year the podium positions were filled by the same drivers as in 2012, in the same order with Vettel taking the win followed by Raikkonen and Grosjean.
2014 – One of the defining moments of the 2014 season, the Bahrain Grand Prix will be written into the history books as an all-time classic. It featured a race-long battle between the dominant Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. Hamilton jumped Rosberg at the start and they battled with some close-quarters racing for many laps. A late safety car was triggered by Pastor Maldonado, who came out of the pits and crashed into Esteban Gutierrez, flipping his car over. This reignited the battle at the front with only 10 laps to go. On the soft tyre Rosberg had a big advantage, but with very aggressive defence bordering on the limits of legality, the Briton managed to hold his team-mate behind in a grandstand finish. It was also memorable as this was the first Bahrain Grand Prix to be held as a night race under floodlights.
With only one year of data to turn to for this iteration of car, some would argue it is largely unknown how they will perform. However, Lotus showed their true pace in China, which according to some reports was better than Williams’. Mercedes are more than likely to dominate again, though Nico Rosberg had performed well here in the past. Can he repeat this feat and go one better this year?
Cooling should not prove so troublesome, so the Renault powered cars, in particular the Red Bulls, will be more able at the Sakhir Circuit. McLaren are set to bring another upgrade and continue their development curve, while Manor Marussia will look to build on a both cars starting in China.
A fuel thirsty circuit, this will be won by a driver who can manage the fuel usage well.
The GP2 series will open proceedings at the Sakhir Circuit, some two hours prior to FP1, which will hopefully clear some of the dust and sand off the circuit, which is currently being blown onto the track in a sandstorm. There is no GP3 here, but there is Porsche GT3 Cup Middle East, also on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
This will be the opening round of the GP2 season, where the teams have been testing previously. The DAMS team once again look to have the best understanding of the cars, as Pierre Gasly and 2014 GP3 Champion Alex Lynn look to fight it out at the front.
Both support series will race on Sunday early afternoon before the Formula One takes place, which should aid in cleaning the track and setting the scene for another duel in the desert.
|2013||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2012||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|