There was a fiery post-race squabble between the Mercedes drivers after last weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix, with Nico Rosberg accusing his race-winning teammate Lewis Hamilton of compromising his race.
With the tension between the two threatening to escalate once again, it’s perhaps fitting that the Formula 1 circus heads to the scene of one of the pair’s most famous on-track battles last year: the Bahrain Grand Prix
|2015 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix|
|Date||17-19 April 2015||Lap Length||5.412km|
|Free Practice Session 1||Fri 14:00-15:30||Free Practice Session 2||Fri 18:00-19:30|
|Free Practice Session 3||Sat 15:00-16:00||Qualifying||Sat 18:00-19:00|
|Race (57 laps)||Sun 18:00-20:00||2014 Winner||Lewis Hamilton|
Session times quoted in Arabia Standard Time (GMT + 03:00)
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.
The Form Guide
While Ferrari managed to break Mercedes’ stranglehold of the top step of the podium in Malaysia – where it admitted that hot track temperatures and a clever strategy call with the early Safety Car helped it to victory – normal service was resumed in Shanghai last weekend with the Silver Arrows taking another 1-2.
The red cars were on Mercedes’ pace, but neither Sebastian Vettel nor Kimi Räikkönen was able to mount a serious challenge in China.
Bahrain should deliver similar temperatures to what was seen in Malaysia, so it’s logical to expect a genuine challenge at the sharp end of the field this weekend. Pirelli is bringing its Soft and Medium compounds to the Gulf nation, and they will be seriously tested under floodlights in the desert heat.
In theory that should favour the Ferraris, but with qualifying and the race taking place in the (slightly) cooler night-time conditions, honours could be evenly split between the two carmakers’ works teams.
A distant ‘third best’ is the Williams team, which has failed to repeat the podium-challenging pace it showed at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in March. At Sepang and Shanghai, the Grove team’s cars were well off the pace, which is a worrying indicator that the team’s performance has plateaued in contrast to the obvious gains Mercedes and Ferrari have made.
Bahrain’s unique track conditions might be a factor in allowing them to close the gap, but in all honesty it looks like the team will have to wait for the European leg of the season – where the first major upgrades are run on everyone’s cars – for evidence of what potential the FW37 actually has.
Pace-wise, Red Bull Racing is about the fourth-fastest of the teams, and that’s hardly a position that will give the former champions any great comfort. Hopes of an improvement in Shanghai were dashed, as once again both Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat suffered with poor reliability and driveability.
Bahrain’s hot conditions are unlikely to help matters at all, and one feels that the break before the European rounds cannot come soon enough where both team and engine partner will have time to regroup and assess what needs to be done to improve matters. What’s abundantly clear is that change is needed, quickly.
The fight in the midfield should be an interesting affair this weekend. Sauber, Red Bull Racing, Scuderia Toro Rosso Force India and Lotus are covered by just 13 points in the Consctructors’ Championship standings. All of the teams fought for the lower reaches of the points last weekend, while McLaren are also making considerable gains as its Honda engines get more power.
While the F1 cars will provide the headline act in Bahrain, this weekend will also mark the start of the GP2 Series season, where a number of up-and-coming drivers will have a chance to strut their stuff in Formula 1’s official feeder series.
Six drivers – Pierre Gasly (Red Bull), Alex Lynn (Williams), Marco Sørensen (Lotus), Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren), Jordan King (Manor Marussia) and Raffaele Marciello (Ferrari) – currently hold official roles with Formula 1 teams, while there are a number of other talents, such as Alexander Rossi, Mitch Evans and Richie Stanway who should count themselves as serious prospects this year. It will be a fascinating sideshow, so make sure you keep an eye out for our GP2 journalist, Josh Kruse’s, feature stories and reports throughout the year.
Image via Daimler AG