Ding, ding, Round 3. After 3 years of Mercedes dominance we finally have a fight on our hands! Sebastian Vettel was a touch unfortunate with the timing of the safety car in China, and will be hoping to have a bit more luck in Bahrain than he enjoyed last year, when he failed to start the race. Mercedes on the other hand will be hoping their new recruit Valtteri Bottas doesn’t repeat last year’s first corner lunge on Lewis Hamilton!
Ferrari have looked impressive at Bahrain in recent years, generally looking competitive here even when struggling elsewhere, so hope should be high that the Ferrari’s will once again be pushing for victory. They have also looked to not only be fast, but able to look after their tyres here, and with the Chinese Grand Prix not giving any indication that Mercedes are on top of their tyre wear issues, Bahrain will present a great opportunity for Ferrari to retake the momentum in the title battle. Higher track temperatures should also play to Ferrari’s strengths too, and while Kimi Raikkonen may have struggled so far this year, he has great form at Bahrain, and could well be able to make it a tricky weekend for the Mercedes duo.
Last year’s race saw Lewis Hamilton edge Nico Rosberg for pole in an all Mercedes front row, with the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. The race for victory was essentially over after the first corner however. Vettel wouldn’t even make it that far, forced to pull off on the formation lap with smoke pouring from his Ferrari.
Rosberg, who had struggled off the line on the formation lap, got it all together when it mattered, springing past Hamilton on the run down to Turn 1. Having already been cleanly passed, Lewis went for a wider line into Turn 1 to position himself to put pressure on Rosberg on the exit – but this just opened the door for a fast starting Valtteri Bottas, who made a rocket start in his Williams from 6th on the grid, to try a move up the inside of Hamilton – the result was a heavy collision between the two, which saw Hamilton suffer damage and drop back down to 9th place. With Hamilton’s race now heavily compromised, Vettel already out, and a poor start seeing Kimi Raikkonen also drop back behind both Williams and Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull, Rosberg was already set for an easy Sunday drive to victory. Raikkonen would recover to second, with Lewis Hamilton salvaging third place.
Fernando Alonso has the most Bahrain Grand Prix victories with 3, winning here for Renault and Ferrari, but will not be in a position to add to that tally this weekend with McLaren. Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa all have a pair of wins here as well.
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.
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’!
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!
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.
Sitting just below sea-level, the Bahrain international Circuit has a mix of long straights and slow corners. With the long straights comes hard braking, making this circuit a challenging one for braking systems. The night running means teams need to account for the circuit temperature dropping during the race when searching for the right setup, while winds blowing in off the desert can also make finding the right setup tricky, with dust in the desert air sure to test the mechanical limits of the cars. The stop/start track layout also means fuel consumption is on the high side, and this will be something that teams will need to keep an eye on.
Off the starting grid the cars have a 400m charge to Turn 1, the track rising slightly just before the tight right hander that will provide the main overtaking opportunity during the race, as cars have DRS available on the kilometre long start/finish straight. The pit lane exit feeds onto the track on the run down to the corner, so expect some jostling for position here too during the race when the pit window opens. At the start, the combination of the wide straight and tight first corner can see races ruined in an instant (the Hamilton/Bottas collision here last year a prime example).
Out of turn 1 the drivers accelerate down a slight dip into Turn 2, a quick flick left, rolling out to the right over the kerbs and flat out as the track begins to rise through a right hand kink Turn 3, the cars drifting out to the left hand side over the kerbs as the track continues to rise on the long drag up to Turn 4, the high point of the circuit. Expect to see plenty of action on the run down to Turn 4, a favourite spot for overtaking attempts (also the scene of Nico Rosberg’s assertive self-defence moves against Hamilton and Alonso in 2012!). Exiting Turn 4 the cars will tend to run out wide to the left, and anyone attempting to go the long way around the outside at Turn 4 can expect to be run off the track here, so if you’re taking the outside line here, make sure to get fully past before committing to the corner (as Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen showed in passing the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo and the Williams of Felipe Massa here last year)!
From the exit of Turn 4 the track slips downhill through the fast left right of Turns 5 and 6, foot down as the cars are straight into a left hander Turn 7 that opens out into a short dip down to Turn 8, a right hand hairpin.
Coming out of Turn 8 the cars drift back over to the left as the track rises gently on a short burst before dipping down again into Turn 9/10, a blind double left hander. The first DRS detection point is located here, with a good exit out of Turn 10 (the slowest corner on the track) essential, with track opening onto a straight with the first DRS activation zone between Turns 10 and Turn 11.
Down the straight and another opportunity to overtake on the brakes into the left hander Turn 11 (Stoffel Vandoorne made his mark on his debut for McLaren here last year, harrying the Force India of Sergio Perez around the outside of Turns 9 and 10 before using DRS to take the inside line under braking for Turn 11 and nip past).
The cars drift out right around the long curving Turn 11 as the track rises again before switching back to the left hand side and taking Turn 12, a fast flowing right hander, running wide onto the kerbs and braking hard as the track dips slightly down into Turn 13, a 90 degree right hander, with the cars running wide over the kerbs as the exit onto another long straight, the track dipping and then rising into another 90 degree right hander Turn 14, with the second DRS detection point on tentry, flat out on exit as the track curves around to the right through the final turn, Turn 15, and back onto the start finish straight with DRS and another great chance to overtake into the tight first corner.
TYRES WITH PIRELLI:
Bahrain uses the same three compounds selected for China: the first back to back races of the season. Sakhir is a circuit that above all tests traction, and it’s also the first night race of the year, starting and finishing in the evening under the floodlights. As a result, the pattern of tyre behaviour and track evolution isn’t exactly the same as it would be during a conventional afternoon race. Last year, the winning strategy was a three-stopper, with the same three compounds nominated as this year.
THE THREE NOMINATED COMPOUNDS
1/ Red – Supersoft
2/ Yellow – Soft
3/ White – Medium
THE CIRCUIT FROM A TYRE POINT OF VIEW
- Pirelli knows Sakhir well, as a favoured year-round test venue for different series.
- Tactics can be varied: there were nine different strategies in the top 10 last year.
- Surface is granite but not very abrasive: thermal degradation is a bigger factor.
- Falling track temperatures in each session mean that the surface tends to get faster.
- Rear-limited, due to traction demands.
- One of three night races scheduled for this year, along with Singapore and Abu Dhabi. MARIO
ISOLA – HEAD OF CAR RACING
“The biggest gains at Sakhir are all to be found in traction: it is quite a stop-start circuit, so getting the power down properly and keeping the rear tyres in good condition is very important. Last year we found quite a high degree of wear and degradation, so it will be interesting to see how this has changed with the introduction of our 2017-specification tyres. The second free practice session will be particularly important, as it is the only one held in representative conditions of qualifying and the race.”
- For the first five races the teams all have seven sets of the softest compound available, four sets of the middle compound, and two of the hardest compound.
- Bahrain is also the first round of this year’s inaugural FIA Formula 2 Championship, which is the new name for the GP2 Series: supplied by Pirelli.
BAHRAIN MINIMUM STARTING PRESSURES
(SLICKS) 21.5 psi (front) | 20.5 psi (rear)
EOS CAMBER LIMIT -3.75° (front) | -2.00° (rear)
The safety car scuppered Sebastain Vettel’s hopes in Shanghai, but it looks as if there is little between Mercedes and Ferrari, and Ferrari will hope that they can once again take the fight to Mercedes in Bahrain, while we can expect Red Bull to be a safe number 3, followed by a tight midfield grouping of Haas, Toro Rosso, Renault, Force India, Williams – well, everybody except Sauber and McLaren. While the Mercedes/Ferrari battle promises to be interesting, it will also be interesting to see how the internal battle at the two teams shape up, and with contracts expiring at the end of the year (silly season already, why not), both Bottas and Raikkonen already run the risk of finishing up in the role of number 2 driver! Bottas may have spun his hopes away under the safety car in Shanghai, but he wasn’t that far off Lewis pace in Q3 as Lewis gave everything he had to deny Vettel – could this be the weekend Valtteri manages to get on terms with Lewis? Raikkonen on the other hand has simply not matched Vettel’s pace this year, and would seem to staring down the end of his career – only he’s been here before and managed to turn it around. Kimi might not have ever won the Bahrain Grand Prix, but he has always gone very well around Bahrain, so maybe we might see a Kimi revival in the desert? Red Bull don’t look like they’ll be able to get involved in the championship battle this year, but we can expect the battle for supremacy between Verstappen and Ricciardo to rage all year long, with not much separating the pairing another lively encounter between the two could be on the cards again this weekend. Further down the grid, The Renault powered Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz impressed in China, while Renault’s disastrous race took the gloss of Nico Hulkenberg’s fine qualifying showing, but the improvement in the Enstone team from last year is plain to see – in Hulkenberg’s car at least. The Ferrari powered Haas certainly looks a match for the Mercedes powered midfield teams, and we can expect them to be in the thick of the hunt for points again this weekend. Felipe Massa has enjoyed some good days in Bahrain, and Williams could do with him rediscovering some of that old magic – as things stand, its starting to look like the compensation they received for Valtteri Bottas may not have been enough! Fernando Alonso continues to give everything, but McLaren and Honda are still failing to give him a car worthy of his talents, and it’ll be another tough weekend for the three time Bahrain Grand Prix winner this weekend.
2006 – A classic teletext duel (watch the gap between the top two every lap in preparation for the pitstops!) between Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher’s and Renault’s Fernando Alonso, which also saw a charging debut from an aggressive young driver called Nico Rosberg. Read more
2012 –An entertaining race that saw Kimi Raikkonen come close to his first win for Lotus, coming up just short in his chase of Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, who would record his first win of the season. There was plenty of action behind in a lively encounter, Nico Rosberg’s aggressive defending providing the main talking point, with Fernando Alonso sure to have his say on the radio. Read more
2014 – A wonderful no holds barred fight for victory between the dominant Mercedes drivers, with Lewis Hamilton coming out on top. Read more
GP2 is back – now rebranded the FIA Formula 2 championship. The opening round will see this year’s crop of potential F1 stars look to establish themselves as title contenders and follow in the footsteps of recent champions Stoffel Vandoorne and Jolyon Palmer in making the jump to F1. Last years GP3 champion and Ferrari Academy driver Charles Leclerc will step up with PREMA racing, where he will be paired with fellow Ferrari Academy driver and GP3 graduate Antoniou Fuoco, who placed third in GP3 last year. GP3 runner up Alexander Albon also makes the step up with ART, while McLaren protégé Nyck de Vries also makes the step up from GP3 with Rapax, so the development ladder to F1 appears to be functioning. 2016 Formula V8 3.5 series runner up Louis Deletraz has made the switch to Racing Engineering, while last years GP2 race winners Norman Nato, Jordan King, Luca Ghiotto, Artem Markelov and Nobuharu Matsushitaare all returning for one more crack at the title, where the will be joined by former race winner Stefano Coletti, who returns to the series after a two year absence.
|2013||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|
|2012||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault|