First stop of the F1 season left us in a bittersweet flavour. While the race was thrilling as it could possibly be, the debacle over the new qualifying format brought the sport in the wrong limelight again.
After making a fantastic start in Australia, it would be interesting to see if the Ferrari renaissance is real or not. This weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix might provide us with some answers.
The Bahrain International Circuit, designed by Hermann Tilke, is one of the new tracks, first used in 2004. It is famous for being the first circuit holding an F1 event in the Middle East. There wasn’t a race in 2011 due to protests in the country.
Length of the circuit is 5.412 km and drivers will complete a total of 57 laps for a race distance of 308.238km.
In 2014, to celebrate the 10th anniversary, the race was held under floodlights. It has stayed like this since then.
The Sakhir circuit is a very wide track with big paved run-offs, allowing drivers to rush braking since it doesn’t punish the drivers too much who stay off the track. It has 4 long straights, which demand a lot from the power units, quite a few slow corners and just a few high-speed turns.
The circuit's width varies at the end of the different straights; this allows for diverse racing lines, and the 15-corner design provides at least three genuine overtaking opportunities. There were 35 overtaking moves in 2015. Cars can be destabilized by the heavy winds usually blowing in Bahrain, bringing sand on the track and reducing the grip.
A bit of history
Most successful driver in Bahrain is Fernando Alonso, having won at the Sakhir Circuit at three occasions: 2005, 2006 and 2010. In second position, we find Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa with two wins each: 2014 and 2015 for the British driver; 2012 and 2013 for the German and 2007 and 2008 for the Brazilian. Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button have won once each. The Kaiser won in the first Grand Prix held at this circuit, while Button took the top spot on the podium in 2009. Kimi Räikkönen is the driver with most podiums but has never won here.
Nobody has won in Bahrain from lower than fourth but pole position is not so important. Only at five out of 10 occasions, the poleman went on to win the race. .
Pedro De la Rosa holds the lap record since 2005, when he was driving in the place of Juan Pablo Montoya. He recorded a 1.31:447s.
The main straight is about 1090m long and ends with the “Michael Schumacher” turn, a very close right-hander where there is a very good overtaking opportunity as the DRS use is allowed. Braking point for that corner is about 100m before and drivers shifts down to first gear, going from 340 to 65 km/h.
They need to get a good grip at the exit of that corner because right after that is turn 2, to the left, and 3, to the right - both flat out where the more kerb they take, the better, as a straight follows.
This second straight is 655m long and speed goes up to 300km/h again before corner number 4, to the right, another good overtaking point with a heavy braking and a wide run off that allows the risk.
Sector 2 starts with a left-right-left “S” section, with corners 5, 6 and 7. These are high speed corners in which kerbs must be used at maximum. Right after there is a slope which leads into turn 8, a hairpin to the right, followed by another slope before the corner 9, taken at 250km/h and to the left. Second DRS detection point is located here.
Followed by turn 10, this is a very tricky part of the track. Both corners are blind and drivers have to brake, downshift and turn at the same time. It is easy to lock up front tyres. The speed at turn 10 is about 70km/h.
A good traction and speed at the exit of the corner is highly useful as the third straight of the track comes, with 680m length, where DRS can be opened. Full throttle to get up to 250km/h before getting to the last part of sector 2, starting with a corner to the left, slightly sloped and taken at fourth gear. Right after, turn 12 is a fast and open one to the right.
Next corner, the first one of Sector 3, is a right-hander and medium speed in which drivers shift down to third gear and slow down from 260 to 130km/h. Again, as it is followed by the fourth and last straight, a good exit from it is necessary to gain speed.
It is worth to start accelerating early and to use all the kerbs. Last straight is 750m long and ends with heavy braking to take the corner number 14, to the right, where the DRS detection point is located. A little bit of oversteer is usual here. It is a medium speed corner, taken at second gear. Right after, drivers will find the last corner of the track, number 15, to the right, a soft one before the main straight.
Tyres and technical requirements
In general, the circuit is not too demanding on the tyres as it doesn’t have many fast corners but it is the hardest track for the brakes. The capacity of traction out of slow corners and brakes are vital, while the downforce ideally requires a compromise between having good cornering and not losing too much speed on the straights. Also good refrigeration is very important. The throttle remains fully pressed 50% of the lap and fuel consumption is an important issue in Bahrain.
Pirelli will bring to Sakhir the medium, soft and supersoft compounds. It is the first time the supersoft tires will be used at this circuit so it’s a mystery as to how will they work in a scenario where the temperature drops at night; we shouldn’t forget that Bahrain has the highest level of roughness of the asphalt in the whole calendar.
Paul Hembery said about the new regulations and how they affect to this race: “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.”
Yesterday we had the confirmation by the FIA doctor that Fernando Alonso won’t be allowed to race in Bahrain due to the accident he had in Australia two weeks ago. Stoffel Vandoorne will be the one in charge to confirm us if McLaren-Honda is capable to be in the middle of the field or they continue relegated in the back pack.
Race local times
FP1 Friday 14.00h
FP2 Friday 18.00h
FP3 Saturday 15.00h
Qualifying Saturday 18.00h
Race Sunday 18.00h
by Cristina DeLarge