2012 Bahrain Grand Prix Preview 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix Preview 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix Preview

What are we doing in Bahrain? Isn’t it too dangerous? Should it even be on the calendar? Will the motorsport community be caught up in the crossfire?

There are so many unknowns as we head into the Gulf this weekend, and that’s before we’ve even switched our focus to the on-track action itself. But we need to accept that we’re going after all.

We’ve made our opinions on the event perfectly clear, and you’re more than welcome to explore this website to get our perspective on all matters Bahrain.

But in the spirit and tradition of our event previews, let’s try to look at the event from a Formula 1 standpoint…

The Circuit

Bahrain International Circuit Map
Date: 20-22 April 2012
Lap Length: 5.412km
Race Lap Record: 1:30.252, Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2004) – 2004
Event Schedule: Free Practice Session 1 Fri 10:00-11:30
Free Practice Session 2 Fri 14:00-15:30
Free Practice Session 3 Sat 11:00-12:00
Qualifying Sat 14:00-15:15
Race (56 laps, 305.066km) Sun 15:00-17:00
Past Winners: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari F10) 2010
Jenson Button (Brawn Mercedes BGP001) 2009
Felipe Massa (Ferrari F2008) 2008
Felipe Massa (Ferrari F2007) 2007
Fernando Alonso (Renault R26) 2006
Fernando Alonso (Renault R25) 2005
Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2004) 2004

The entire concept of racing in the Middle East and Gulf states has been bubbling under the surface since the early 1980s, but it took almost a further 25 years to turn the dream into reality when the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain played host to the third round of the 2004 Formula 1 season, at the Hermann Tilke-designed Bahrain International Circuit.

Costing some $150 million to construct, there were initially fears that – it being positioned in the middle of a desert and all – that sand billowing across the track would pose a problem. But organisers found a clever solution: spraying exposed sections of sand with a chemical adhesive to bind it together!

The track layout is typical Tilke fare: long straights, big braking zones and a fiddly, twisty middle sector of the lap to punish tyres and cars with handling deficiencies. It’s one of the toughest circuits on brakes and cooling, with track temperatures regularly nudging upwards of 50 degrees Celsius or more.

Take a look at our Bahrain International Circuit Guide:


Memorable Moments

With the 2011 event cancelled, the last event held at the Bahrain International Circuit was its 2010 race, which opened the championship season and marked the sixtieth anniversary of the modern-era Formula 1 World Championship. With the exception of Nelson Piquet and Kimi Räikkönen, all of the sport’s living champions turned up for a commemorative photograph, and some even took to the circuit to demonstrate their championship-winning cars.

imageThat was one of the few highlights of what was actually a rather dull race. Organisers elected to run the race on its 6.3-kilometre ‘endurance’ layout, which proved a universally unpopular decision. The race saw Sebastian Vettel look set to claim victory from pole position, but his Red Bull developed an engine issue late in the race that saw him drop to fourth place. Fernando Alonso claimed an unexpected win in his Ferrari, ahead of his team-mate Felipe Massa and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton.

So what have been some of the highlights from the races at Bahrain? Let’s relive a few of the better races…

  • 2005: With the race occurring the day after Pope John Paul II had died, Ferrari ran its cars with black noses as a mark of respect. Fernando Alonso comfortably won the race in his Renault, while Pedro de la Rosa – making a one-off appearance in the McLaren as a substitute for the injured Juan Pablo Montoya – provided plenty of excitement with his many attempts to overtake into Turn !
  • 2006: Ferrari returned to Bahrain seeking revenge after an appalling 2005 season, and Michael Schumacher kickstarted the season by giving Fernando Alonso a huge fright in the race, challenging the Spaniard for lap after lap as the pair disputed first place. Ultimately, the battle went in Alonso’s favour, and he claimed back-to-back wins at the track. The race also saw the debut of Nico Rosberg, who posted fastest lap in his Williams.
  • 2007: Lewis Hamilton slips up in pit lane and retires after he had led in the early proceedings. A sterling drive from Kimi Räikkönen in the race nets him the win to keep his last-minute championship hopes alive, en route to clinching the crown by a single point at the final race of the year.
  • Jenson Button claimed victory in 20092009: The last race to be held on the circuit’s conventional layout saw Toyota claim a shock 1-2 in qualifying, with Jarno Trulli claiming pole position ahead of team-mate Timo Glock. The pair reversed the running order as the race started, but a poor strategy by the Japanese team (again!) denied them a shot at their first Formula 1 victory. The race was won by Jenson Button, who claimed his third victory on the trot in the all-conquering Brawn Mercedes.

Bahrain Talking Points

While the event poses plenty of off-track discussion and debate about what on earth Formula 1 is even doing in the country, the on-track action will perhaps pose more questions than it answers, after such a closely-fought start to the season.

With this in mind, let’s touch briefly on three critical talking points before we let our expert analysts have their say…

  • Can Mercedes maintain its momentum? As I said in my debut radio appearance on The Qualifying Lap, Sakhir’s hot temperatures will probably serve to highlight the one major weakness in Mercedes’ armour: the W03’s tendency to eat through its tyres when the temperatures get out of control. This is one of the hottest races of the race – in contrast to last weekend’s unexpectedly cooler conditions at Shanghai – and it’s more than likely that McLaren and Red Bull Racing will be better able to manage tyre wear.
  • How will DRS work here? With last year’s race scrapped, this year will be the first time that DRS will be in action, which should help improve passing opportunities as this generally processional venue. Its advent might tempt some teams to run higher-downforce set-ups to combat rear tyre wear, but this will have to be balanced against the need for good straight-line speed along the circuit’s four long straights.
  • What is happening to Sebastian Vettel? Some of you might be forgiven that Sebastian Vettel has completely gone off the boil – we’ve seen tantrums and angry fists being flashed at drivers who’ve gotten in his way, but his frustration is ultimately stemming from the fact that the Red Bull RB8 is not (yet) a race-winning car. Gone are the advantages he clearly enjoyed from the exhaust-blown diffusers, and he’s now faced with a twitchy-handling package that doesn’t suit his driving style. Make no mistake, he’s certainly hungry to get back to the front of the field again, but team-mate Mark Webber is currently enjoying the upper-hand, and that will not please ‘Seb’ at all…

So what do the Richard’sF1.com readers and contributors think will happen this weekend?

Geoff Burke, RichardsF1.com Journalist

“As I predicted ahead of last weekend’s race at China, it was time that one or more of the teams put their money with their mouth was and lodged a proper protest instead of continually whining to the press about the legality of Mercedes’ double-DRS F-duct concept. Lotus F1 bit the bullet and coughed up a small fortune for the privilege of being told once again that the device was legal, and now everyone will be scrambling to come up with their own design concept to try out at the sole in-season test of the year at Mugello, ahead of the European leg of the season. This is the last event where we’ll see cars in their current flyaway spec, and the likes of Red Bull, Ferrari, Toro Rosso and Caterham will really be looking to the next Grand Prix, at Spain, to properly start their seasons with heavily-revised cars.

“As for Bahrain? I’m simply hoping for an incident-free event with good, clean racing. The start of the season has been brilliant, and I can only hope we see more of it this weekend.”

Matthew Lennon
Matt Lennon, RichardsF1.com IndyCar Correspondent

“Deep down, Michael Schumacher must be a little annoyed it wasn’t him taking Mercedes onto the top step of the podium for the first time in its modern-era incarnation, but on the day, his pit crew was simply not able to get the job done, and his young team-mate Nico Rosberg finally delivered on his potential and commanded his way to victory…no doubt cheered on by Eddie Irvine and Rubens Barrichello watching from wherever they were.

“It will be interesting to see how the Bahrain Grand Prix proceeds this weekend, and whether everyone will feel totally safe, but the FIA have declared the event safe, Bernie has probably spent the sanctioning fee so therefore, the race will proceed. And as two years have passed since the circus was last at Sakhir and three since they raced on the original circuit, most will practically be starting from scratch. Ferrari has always been strong here, winning several times with Schumacher, Alonso and Massa, but do they have the car to add to their tally this weekend?”

Joseph Sheu, RichardsF1.com Technical Contributor

“Nico’s excellent drive in China can be contributed to a number of factors; his classic qualifying lap, lower track temperatures in China, and his consistent and unwavering performance over the course of the race are the highlights. Although Mercedes GP and Nico would love to repeat the performance, the jury is still out on whether that is possible in Bahrain, this is why:

“As a track, Shanghai is what is commonly referred to as "Front limited circuit", as in, the front tyres would usually be worn quicker than the rears. Sakhir, on the other hand, is a rear limited circuit. Track temperatures have traditionally been very high, and the middle sector punishes rear tyres.. Mercedes has tended to struggle to maintain rear tyre longevity in the past, and this race would be a fine test to see if they simply got lucky with the conditions in China, or whether they have genuinely made a step forward.”

Ben Waterworth, RichardsF1.com Feature Writer & ‘The Qualifying Lap’ radio show host on Edge 99.3FM 

“I have to admit I was wrong. I was extremely scathing of Nico Rosberg at the start of this season and announced that I never thought we would win a race and just be ‘the next Nick Heidfeld’.

“Well after such a great race last weekend, I’ve well and truly eaten my words and I can now see the cork let out of the bottle. We saw it with Mark Webber & Mika Hakkinen and while Nico would love to go on to have successful careers like them; he now has that pressure of his shoulders and really should be a more focussed driver.

“Bahrain is a bit of an unknown for most teams given that it hasn’t been raced on in this layout since 2009, but with three teams now capable of race victories, I expect this weekend to once again be a barnstormer of a race!”


The Form Guide

So what should we be expecting this weekend? We’ve tried, and largely failed, to come up with a clear form guide each weekend, but the first three races have thrown up some seriously unpredictable results. This is going to be a fantastic season!

The circuit’s long straights will play into the straight-line speed advantages enjoyed by Mercedes and Sauber, who were very slippery in a straight line last weekend.

Logic says that McLaren is still the form team. The expected higher temperatures should play right into the Woking squad’s hands, and our prediction is for the silver cars to challenge – but perhaps not claim – pole position, and be in prime position to claim a 1-2 in the race.

For Red Bull Racing, this weekend might give them another shot of a podium finish, particularly for Mark Webber, who’s been the pace-setter in the team and outqualified team-mate Vettel for three races in a row. For Sebastian, he’s going to have to claim as many points as he can this weekend and pray that the Adrian Newey-led design team can come up with some upgrades to unlock the RB8’s potential.

The same will apply to Ferrari, which will probably be treating this weekend as a damage limitation exercise until it can get some serious testing miles under its belt at Mugello. The F2012 is lacking in both straight-line speed and traction, and a top-eight finish would be a fine result in the circumstances. Felipe Massa will be hoping he can break his 2012 points’ drought: he has the indignity of being the only driver – excluding those piloting a Caterham, Marussia or HRT – who is yet to claim a points’ finish.


Don’t forget to enter your F1 Predictions!

The fourth round of the 2012 RichardsF1.com F1 Predictions Competition is now open, and you can enter your predictions for the race right here to be in the running for some great prizes throughout the season and at the end of the year!

The cut-off to submit your predictions is no later than five minutes before qualifying starts, so make sure you’re in it to win it!

As we have already seen in the first three rounds of tipping, some of our contestants elected to claim their ‘double up’ early on to give them a head start over the rest of the field. Are you confident enough in your predictions to use yours this weekend?

To enter your predictions, click here.


As always, RichardsF1.com will be bringing you the best of the on- and off-track action this weekend, so make sure we’re your first port of call for your Malaysian Grand Prix fix!

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.

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