We return to the floodlit Bahrain International circuit after an exciting and at points controversial Australian Grand Prix, full of hope that Ferrari can take the fight to Mercedes this year.
Last year the Ferraris gave the Mercedes a headache in Bahrain as they struggled to keep the Scuderia at arms length. Hamilton once again brought home the top honours but Rosberg had a tougher day at the office.
Raikkonen drove an excellent race on an alternative strategy to the Mercedes. By bolting on the softer, faster tyres in the final stint he put himself into play to fight for the podium positions. He pressured Rosberg who made it easy for him to pass as he ran wide, opening the door for the Finn to chase down Hamilton’s lead. He came within a couple of laps of getting the job done and it was fantastic to see Ferrari employing good strategic calls in an attempt to take the fight to the Silver Arrows. With the showing in Australia last time out, let’s see if Ferrari can do something similar again.
The Bahrain Grand Prix was the first race ever to be staged in the Middle East back in 2006 and often provides a massively entertaining race.
The fact we return to the Kingdom at all is very controversial, as the race was cancelled in 2011 because of the uprisings during the “Arab-spring”. When F1 returned in 2012 peace was not fully restored and teams were hassled on their ways to and from the circuit. Rumblings still continue and demonstrations are planned each year. It is such a shame that the people of Bahrain remain oppressed and such a great race is still marred by the torrid political situation. The F1 community has been regularly criticised for endorsing the atrocities by continuing to stage the race, but the lure of the lucrative race-holding fees is too great for the current management to make a stand.
The track itself was built in the desert which poses problems never before encountered in the F1 world. Sand blowing across the circuit greatly reduces grip, especially at the beginning of the weekend while the track surface rubbers in. When the race was first run there were fears that the sand would clog the cars’ delicate gearboxes and that nobody would make it to the finish. Thankfully this did not transpire and the fantastic spectacle lives on.
A smooth exit of the last corner is crucial, staying off the outside kerb to gain best traction to catapult the car down the start straight. The first corner is a great overtaking opportunity with the cars braking from Nearly 210 mph down to a 40 mph apex speed in an incredible 158 meters (or 1.77 seconds). Clipping the apex the power needs to go down early and smoothly to get the maximum speed down the next important straight.
The entry to turn four is slightly uphill and wide, encouraging late braking and battling, but tightens to a single line on exit, you’ll often see drivers forced out onto the dusty run off here.
Soon follows a tricky downhill left-right-left sweeping section that tests good downforce, then almost immediately the car needs to flick as far left as possible to line up into a very tight right hander (turn 8). Desperate lunges can sometimes pay off into this one, but many front wings have been lost here.
It’s a short blast to the two most fascinating corners on the circuit (turns 9 and 10) that if taken correctly feel very satisfying, but if not can result in a heap of lost time. The heavy braking zone is downhill and on a constant curve to the left, which is a massive challenge. The drivers have to modulate the pressure on the pedal to get it just right. The curved braking zone unloads the front left tyre often resulting in a lock up, but because there is no load it should not cause a big flat spot.
Next comes the second DRS zone (the first being on the start-finish), but it is relatively short and frustratingly the retardation delta at the end is not big enough to promote many overtakes, as the cars sweep left and back up the hill.
The long right hand bend progressing further up the hill (turn 12) used to be pretty much flat-out in the v8 era, but such is the immense torque and brutal power delivery of the current generation of hybrid units that the drivers have to feather the throttle. Another curved braking point comes after what feels like an eternity of constant lateral g-force as the curve tightens into turn 13, before the long back straight.
This time entering the dip through the final corner is all about keeping up momentum, so throwing the car in keeping high apex speed and monstering the outside kerb is key to crossing the line with a good laptime.
BRAKING 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.
TYRES WITH PIRELLI
Bahrain features a twilight start and a finish under lights. Teams have now experienced the new tyre regulations, so may have more ideas as to how to get the best out of them. The three nominated compounds (medium, soft and supersoft) are the same as those for Australia.
THE CIRCUIT FROM A TYRE POINT OF VIEW: The 18:00 start time means that track temperatures fall dramatically as the race goes on. The granite-based asphalt is rough and abrasive, which increases tyre wear. Sand can often blow onto the surface from the surrounding desert, affecting grip. There are a number of slow corners where good traction is crucial, so the track is rear-limited. At the same time, there are four fast straights, so a versatile compromise set-up is required. Safety cars rarely affect strategy: there have only been two in the 12-year history of the race.
THE THREE NOMINATED COMPOUNDS: White medium: a low working range compound that is one of the most versatile in the range. Yellow soft: a high working range compound with the accent on performance. Red supersoft: a low working range compound that is rapid but with a limited overall life.
HOW IT WAS A YEAR AGO: Winner: Hamilton (two stops: started on soft, changed to soft on lap 15, medium on lap 33). Best-placed alternative strategy: Raikkonen, second (also stopping twice, but starting on soft, changing to medium on lap 17, then soft on lap 40). There were a mixture of two and three-stoppers. Vettel was fifth, with an unscheduled three-stopper (final stop to replace a nosecone and take on new tyres)
PAUL HEMBERY, PIRELLI MOTORSPORT DIRECTOR: “The new tyre regulations for 2016 proved to be a big success, providing many different strategy options and talking points for all the teams in Australia. Bahrain is a very different type of circuit, with tyre behaviour affected by a big drop in temperature as the race goes on. This provides a different set of challenges and parameters, so it will be interesting to see who has learned most from Australia in order to take best advantage of another new situation. There are some quite diverse choices from the teams, which will play a key role in the race outcome.”
TJ13 analysis – Ferrari have chosen three sets of the medium tyre each compared to one for the Mercedes duo. This means that we might see Ferrari strap on a set in practice with heavy fuel to determine how long they will last. They could attempt a one stop strategy as Mercedes did in Australia, or possibly run the mediums early on with a second late stop to have the supersoft for battling at the end.
MEMORABLE MOMENTS FROM SAKHIR
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 on 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.
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.
2010 – Bahrain once again staged the opening race in 2010 with a special lengthened circuit. This drew heavy criticism from drivers and the media as it offered no real improvement over the short circuit and organisers reverted to the old layout for subsequent years. The race saw yet another 1-2 finish for the Ferrari team.
2011 – 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.
2012 – F1 controversially returned to the Kingdom in 2012 despite ongoing protests, with Sebastian Vettel leading the majority of the race. The resurgent Lotus (formerly Renault) team filled the podium with second and third places.
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.
Kimi Raikkonen was going very well in Australia until the airbox fire, let’s see his good performance can provide the spark for an upturn in form. He usually delivers in Bahrain, with three second place finishes in the last four years driving inferior machinery.
The Mercedes may be difficult to catch though, as their pace on the medium tyre in Australia was incredibly impressive. Rosberg on mediums managed to keep up with Vettel despite the latter being on the supersoft tyres.
We have seen many entertaining races at the Bahrain International Circuit, the race in 2014 between Lewis and Nico being one of the highlights. Prior to that Bahrain has been a happy hunting ground for Ferrari, with four victories and three 1-2 finishes. Fernando Alonso is still the driver with the most victories with three wins in the Kingdom, followed by Hamilton, Vettel and Massa on two each.
Team Haas pulled off an incredible start to their new campaign with an excellent sixth place for Romain Grosjean, who described it as a victory for the American team. His progress was helped by not having to make a pitstop at all, changing tyres under the red flag conditions, but it was still a very fine effort to hold off the chasing pack from there on the medium tyres. The car has decent pace, let’s see if they can “compete with the big dogs” and continue to score more points in Bahrain.
Can our Australian GP driver of the weekend Rio Haryanto do just as well this week? He needs to start by managing to out qualify his team mate again, which would show that Australia wasn’t just a one off for the young Indonesian driver.
The local Porsche GT3 cup has only just wrapped up the 2015/2016 season with Jeffrey Schmidt being crowned series champion. This is more of an exhibition to round off the season, so expect some close racing and slightly more risky moves you wouldn’t see in the heat of a title battle. There will be two ten lap races over the course of the weekend.
The first round of the TCR international series is to be held this weekend showcasing touring cars from SEAT, Honda, Volkswagen, Opel, Subaru and Alfa Romeo, with explosive tin-top action guaranteed to produce fireworks.
|2013||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2012||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|