The political unrest in the region has been a focal point of the last two Bahrain Grands Prix (one of which was ultimately cancelled), and yet again it looks like the F1 circus has landed during a time of increasing protests and upheaval.
The headlines will be dominated once again by protests on both sides of the political fence (more on that later), but for the moment, we’ll have 22 cars lined up on the grid for Sunday’s 57-lap race in the desert. Let’s take a look at our 2013 Bahrain Grand Prix Preview…
|2013 FORMULA 1 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX
|Date:||19-21 April 2013|
|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|
|Race (57 laps, 308.238km)||Sun 15:00-17:00|
|Past Winners:||Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault RB8)||2012|
|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:
Last year’s race was its first running following the cancellation of the 2011 Grand Prix, and the weekend went ahead with much nervousness up and down the paddock. Aside from a scare for several Force India mechanics leading up to the event, the event went ahead, although scarcely anyone turned up…
Those who did watch the race saw a lights-to-flag victory for Sebastian Vettel. But the German did not have an easy route to his first win of the season, coming under immense pressure from Kimi Räikkönen in the Lotus, who pushed him hard all race long after charging into second place from eleventh on the grid. Räikkönen’s teammate Romain Grosjean finished third, claiming a fine maiden podium finish in a solid weekend for the Lotus team.
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.
2009: 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
The issues in Bahrain have been bubbling along for some years now. There are a host of in-depth views supporting either side of the political debate and we won’t entertain them here on RichardsF1.com.
Suffice to say, as motorsport journalists, our role should be focused on the happenings on the track and in the paddock. We won’t pretend to be aficionados on the matter, and if the FIA has declared the event safe to run, then the grid will have to show up once again.
So with this in mind, what do the Richard’sF1.com readers and contributors think will happen on the track this weekend?
“Ah, Bahrain. It’s always interesting when F1 travels to a country with it’s own drama and struggles with whether or not that drama should affect it! Thinking about last year, and where the country is this year, it is unlikely anything political will happen, but who knows… protests have started up again this week… Where is F1’s place in the reality of what is happening in the world? On the track side of things though, is it Ferrari’s year? After his decisive victory in China, Alonso will be coming through full of confidence and his teammate Massa has been having a pretty good run as well. In fact, both Alonso and Massa are the track’s two repeat winners. Maybe it is time for the Red’s Prancing Horse rather than the Red (flying winged?) Bull to dominate again…” – Yassmin Abdel-Magied, RichardsF1.com Journalist
“It’s no secret that Nico Rosberg has endured a less than ideal start to his 2013 championship campaign. Rosberg made great progress on the W04 before travelling to Melbourne, topping the time-sheets on the final day of pre-season testing at Barcelona. However, the first three races of the season have left plenty to be desired for the hard-charging German, who has managed to score just 12 points. Two retirements and a “team orders” scenario in Malaysia have left Rosberg’s highly fancied team-mate Lewis Hamilton well ahead in the standings on 40 points. In Nico’s defence, mechanical issues in Melbourne and Shanghai, as well as order to remain behind Lewis Hamilton in Malaysia were largely out of his control, however, the damning statistic that Hamilton has outperformed him in every qualifying session and race this season doesn’t reflect well on the 27 year-old. If ever there was a make-or-break race for the German, it’s the Bahrain GP this weekend.” – Tristan Clark, RichardsF1.com Journalist
“It looks like the Mexican pair of Perez and Gutierrez are under pressure to deliver some points after a slow start to the season. Perez has been urged by McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh to ‘toughen up’ on the track. Meanwhile Gutierrez has had a rough entry to F1, being out-qualified by his teammate every race and causing a collision last race in China, which will see him drop five grid places in Bahrain. Both McLaren and Sauber can’t afford to wait for their respective drivers to start performing and bringing points home for the team. With both teams having a slow start to the season, they may find themselves too far behind their main competitors. I also may have jumped the gun a bit last week and got a little excited over Massa’s return to form at Ferrari, but I do believe it’s just a matter of time until he returns to the podium. When that weekend comes, it will be quite interesting to see how Ferrari manage their drivers on the track (providing they’re both in contention for a podium).” – Josh Kruse, RichardsF1.com Journalist
“China was a race that was won by a calculated strategy, executed to perfection by Fernando Alonso. Apart from that, the race lacked a lot of drama, with the exception of Esteban Gutierrez’s kamikaze-style lock-up at the end of the back straight. F1 fans of late have become reaccustomed to drama returning to races in a regular form these days, and China lacked that in a lot of ways. Here’s hoping Bahrain can deliver what China didn’t. Sebastian Vettel was a largely forgotten man in China. Fernando was that commanding in his strategy, only losing the lead following his pitstops. Lewis Hamilton was right in it also and is close to winning, and may even do so in Bahrain. As for Mark Webber, fever pitch speculation he is off to Porsche and sports cars next year mean this may very well be his last year in F1 and if he doesn’t get it done this year, it will close an F1 career that had all the potential in the world but never able to put the whole package together. In some people’s eyes, that could be deemed a failure.” – Matt Lennon, RichardsF1.com IndyCar Series Journalist
“‘Sergio. Sergio. Are you there?’ Nope, that’s because he is so slow he hasn’t crossed the finish line yet. What has McLaren done?! Not only have they produced a slow car, they’ve gone and hired a slow driver too. People are starting to rumble about Sergio Perez’s lacklustre start to the season, and I want to add my name to the list of people that are saying ‘I told you so.’ On numerous occasions last year I said on The Qualifying Lap that Perez had not blown away Kobayashi like many people perceived, and now McLaren has fallen into the trap. Can Perez turn it around this weekend in Bahrain? I doubt it. I believe we have another Antonio Pizzonia situation on our hands. Oh dear, Nico Hulkenburg and Paul di Resta must be spewing (or laughing)…” – Samuel McCrossen, The Qualifying Lap radio show co-host
“In China, it was a race determined by sheer speed, as well as the car/driver’s ability to look after the volatile Pirelli tyres. I imaging Bahrain to be much the same, however, the Sakhir circuit tends to be a much hotter race than Shanghai, and thus, we would probably see some teams struggle with their tyre wear. Last year we saw Sebastian hold onto a slim lead with Kimi romping towards him at warp speed after starting 11th on the grid. I think much the same will occur this year given the dependencies on the tyres, but with a much improved car from the Scuderia, perhaps they can assert their recent performance in this upcoming race too.” – Joseph Sheu, RichardsF1.com Features Writer
“Have we ever seen an exciting Bahrain Grand Prix? It’s almost like Valencia in the desert isn’t it? At least Valencia has some nice scenery to look at, all we have in Bahrain is sand and a pretty tower at Turn 1. All that aside, I’m still looking forward to Round 4 of the 2013 season. Bahrain, although boring, still is good for the tactical side of the sport so we should follow on well from the strategic excitement that was China. My predictions are always horribly wrong (although I’m still chuffed that I correctly tipped Lewis Hamilton for pole in the RichardsF1.com Predictions Competition) so I think I need to start choosing drivers I want to lose, rather than win! My tip for this week? Back to back wins for Fernando Alonso!” – Ben Waterworth, The Qualifying Lap radio show host
The Form Guide
Political machinations aside, the grid will arrive in the Middle East on the back of three fascinating Grands Prix in Australia, Malaysia and China, which have yielded three different racewinners. Could Bahrain continue the trend and deliver a fourth different driver on the top step of the podium?
After disappointing outings in Malaysia, both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen staged impressive turnarounds last weekend in China, finishing 1-2 to close the championship fight up to reigning champion Sebastian Vettel. Four of the grid’s five World Champions are covered by just 12 points at the top of the standings.
The main talking point will again be tyre management. Pirelli copped plenty of flak for the poor durability of its Soft-compound tyre last time out at Shanghai, and has this weekend elected to dispense with that as its ‘option’ tyre and bring the Medium rubber instead.
The conditions will really play their part, and those who can manage their tyre wear better than the rest will ultimately come out on top.
Given the warmer conditions, Lotus could hold the advantage here, with the E21 being blessed with good tyre management and plenty of straightline speed.
But the last time we saw those conditions – in Malaysia – it was the Red Bull Racing duo who came out on top. Ferrari’s win last time out also puts them in the category of likely winners this weekend, and a win for either Fernando Alonso or Felipe Massa (who are the circuit’s only multiple winners) would go down nicely.
Of the Red Bull pairing, it will be Mark Webber who will be hungry for a strong result after a disastrous outing in China. After being excluded from qualifying, he then collided with Jean-Éric Vergne in the race before retiring with a lost wheel. There’s certainly plenty of speed and determination in the veteran Aussie – who will mark his 200th Grand Prix start this weekend – but just not the luck…
Mercedes failed to live up to its qualifying hype in Shanghai, with Lewis Hamilton driving hard but not able to muster anything better than third place. Again, the Silver car is perhaps a little too hard on its tyres, and with Nico Rosberg suffering another reliability-induced retirement, the team may have to sacrifice a little bit of performance here in order to get both cars to the chequered flag.
Don’t forget to enter your F1 Predictions!
The fourth round of the 2013 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 Bahrain Grand Prix fix!