Sand, sparks and sparring – the highs and lows of the Bahrain Grand Prix

Gutierrez flipped by Pastor Maldonado, Bahrain 2014

Bahrain is a relatively new addition to the Formula One, having joined the calendar in 2004, and run every year bar 2011 when it was cancelled.

With no other facility to hand, the Bahrain International Circuit was constructed to give a home to the Grand Prix. The track was designed by Hemann Tilke, and features a number of layouts. The F1 races have all been run on the Grand Prix Circuit (5.412 km long), with the exception of the 2010 race, which was run on the longer Endurance circuit, which features an extra section tacked on between Turns 4 and 6 (with the extended track length 6.299 km). Originally run during daylight, the race transitioned to a twilight race in 2014, and has seen a number of intense battles in its short time on the F1 calendar.

The inaugural race saw Michael Schumacher take a dominant lights to flag victory (as was his wont at the time), leading home team-mate Rubens Barrichello for a Ferrari 1-2, with the cool temperatures caused by an early morning shower aiding the Ferrari cause as the cooler conditions better suited their Bridgestone tyres over their Michelin shod rivals. For 2005, Fernando Alonso took pole position for Renault ahead of Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari, and coasted to victory after Schumacher retired.

In 2006, the race was the season curtain raiser, and it was won by Renault’s Fernando Alonso after a tight time trial duel with Michael Schumacher. Alonso survived an early scare when Ferrari new boy Felipe Massa spun across his path, the Renault lucky to avoid contact and continue, with Alonso managing to leapfrog pole sitter Schumacher in the pits to claim the victory. Read more

The 2007 edition saw Felipe Massa convert pole position into a victory for Ferrari, followed all the way to the line by McLaren rookie Lewis Hamilton, who had outqualified his double world champion team-mate Alonso, who would finish down in fifth position. Massa would take another victory for Ferrari in 1-2 for the Scuderia in 2008, leading team mate Kimi Raikkonen home. Robert Kubica, who had taken his first ever pole positon for BMW-Sauber, finished in third position, while McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton hit trouble (and former team-mate and title rival Fernando Alonso) after a poor start, leaving him finish outside the points.

In 2009, the year of Brawn GP, Toyota locked out the front row of the grid, with Jarno Trulli claiming pole ahead of Timo Glock, but Jenson Button came through for Brawn in the race to record his only Bahrain Grand Prix victory, leading Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel across the line, with a disappointed Toyota having to settle for a third place finish for Trulli.

For 2010, Bahrain again hosted the season opening race, which meant it was the scene of Michael Schumacher’s return to F1 with Mercedes after coming out of retirement. The race that year was held on the extended Endurance Circuit, with an extra 9 corners to test the driver. Schumacher had a low key return to the sport qualifying in seventh place (two places behind team-mate Nico Rosberg), and bringing the car home in sixth place, one spot behind Rosberg. Meanwhile Fernando Alonso, the man who hoped to replicate Schumacher run of dominance at Ferrari, enjoyed a dream debut for Ferrari, leading Felipe Massa home for a Ferrari 1-2, after pole sitter Sebastian Vettel dropped back from the lead after his Red Bull lost power due to a cracked exhaust.

In 2011 the Grand Prix was cancelled due to on-going anti-government protests, which had seen fatalities as the demonstrations were broken up. The race would go ahead in 2012 despite pressure to skip it due to the on-going situation in the country. The race was held under tight security, although that didn’t stop Force India electing to skip the second Friday practice session in order to leave the circuit before dark after some of their mechanics were caught up in an incident on the Wednesday, with Molotov cocktails being thrown near their hire car. Following their decision to skip the practice session Force India were noticeable in their absence in the FOM TV coverage for the qualifying session despite enjoying a run to Q3 with Paul Di Resta, with Bernie Ecclestone denying that they had been singled out for punishment!  The race itself would go ahead as planned, with reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel claiming his first win of the season for Red Bull from pole, but only after coming under genuine pressure from the Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen, who must surely have rued the time lost as he recovered from a disappointing qualifying session to work his way up to second past team-mate Romain Grosjean, who finished third. The race produced a number of on-track battles and plenty of overtaking, with Mercedes Nico Rosberg’s aggressive defending against first the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton, who simply drove around him off the circuit, and then the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso drawing plenty of attention, with Alonso’s frustrated outburst on the radio providing the soundbite of the race…’all the time you have to leave a space’! Read more

For 2013, Rosberg was back in the headlines as he grabbed pole position for Mercedes, but in the race he went steadily backwards suffering with heavy tyre degradation. The podium wound up being identical to 2012, with Vettel leading the Lotus pairing of Raikkonen and Grosjean. The race was a disaster for Ferrari, as Fernando Alonso saw his hopes of chasing Vettel for victory evaporate when his DRS stuck open after passing Rosberg – Alonso was forced to pit, and while the Ferrari mechanics were able to shut the DRS, it stuck open again, forcing Fernando back to the pits. He would stay without DRS for the race, and only come home in eight position. The race was also notable for an exciting wheel bumping battle between the two McLaren drivers which saw new signing Sergio Perez, who had been told to get his elbows out by team principle Martin Whitmarsh, eventually tag the back of Buttons McLaren. After Alonso’s angry outburst at Rosberg the year before this time it was Button’s turn to entertain us on the team radio, complaining bitterly of Perez tactics in hitting him up the rear…although Button didn’t seem to think running Perez off the track was unacceptable!

For 2014 the race moved to its twilight start, and the race was an instant classic, with the two Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg having a wonderful duel for victory, with no holds barred and plenty of use of the ample run off areas around the track! Hamilton got the jump on pole sitter Rosberg at the start and looked set for victory after just about maintaining his lead prior to the first round of stops, only for a safety car caused by a moment of Maldonado madness later in the race to hand Rosberg a reprieve, and a short dash to the finish on the soft tyre starting on Hamilton’s gearbox, with Lewis forced to defend on the medium tyre. Despite Nico’s best efforts Hamilton prevailed, with the Mercedes team relieved to come away with a 1-2 rather than a double DNF! Read more

2015 saw Mercedes again the class of the field, with Lewis Hamilton enjoying a comfortable drive from pole to victory, as the Ferrari’s got between him and the second Mercedes of Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes at the start, with Rosberg putting in an impressive race, passing and repassing the Ferrari’s to look to secure second place before succumbing to brake problems in the dying stages and losing second place to Raikkonen’s Ferrari.

Last year’s race saw everything fall into place for Rosberg to finally win the Bahrain Grand Prix, with Vettel’s Ferrari expiring on the formation lap, and pole sitter Hamilton being clobbered by Valtteri Bottas Williams in the first corner after a poor getaway, resulting in damage for Hamilton who was also dropped back into midfield as a result of the crash. Raikkonen came home second for Ferrari after recovering from a poor start, while Lewis Hamilton was able to salvage third place.

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