After the season-opening Australian Grand Prix produced equal mixes of delight and disappointment depending on who you quizzed, the Formula 1 World Championship regroups for its second race of the 2018 season at the Bahrain International Circuit.
|Bahrain International Circuit|
|Location||Sakhir, Bahrain||Circuit Length||5.412 km / 3.363 mi|
|Opened||2004||First Grand Prix||2004|
|Lap Record||1:31.447 – Pedro de la Rosa (McLaren, 2005)||2017 winner||Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)|
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 – 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 traction, brakes and cooling, with track temperatures regularly nudging upwards of 50 degrees Celsius or more.
The decision to switch the Grand Prix to a night-time schedule from 2014 onwards made for a spectacular backdrop in the desert, but also created its own unique set of challenges. The rapidly cooling track surface sees a marked shift in how the cars handle, calling for a set-up that is focused on compromise between managing snap oversteer and countering mid-corner understeer.
|Formula 1 2018 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix – Schedule|
|Event Dates||06-08 April 2018||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 18:10-20:10|
Session times quoted in Arabia Standard Time (GMT + 03:00)
Rewind to 2017
Mercedes newcomer Valtteri Bottas claimed his first Formula 1 pole position after narrowly pipping teammate Lewis Hamilton in Saturday night’s qualifying session.
Despite both Mercedes’ locking out the front row, the duo was split by Turn 1 thanks to a fast-starting Sebastian Vettel, who slotted his Ferrari into second place behind Bottas. The trio was chased early on by the two Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, with the second Ferrari of Kimi Räikkönen in sixth.
At the end of Lap 10, Ferrari made the aggressive call to bring Vettel in to the pits for a fresh set of tyres. The two Mercedes stayed out, but pitted simultaneously when the Safety Car was dispatched after a Turn 1 collision between Carlos Sainz Jr and Lance Stroll.
Vettel’s ‘undercut’ strategy gave him the jump on Bottas and allowed him to leapfrog the Finn for the lead, while Hamilton was issued a five-second penalty for baulking Ricciardo at pit entry as the pair peeled off for their tyre changes.
Vettel maintained and then extended his lead after the second cycle of pit stops, finding the Soft Pirelli tyres more to his liking than Bottas. The Finn was falling back into the clutches of Hamilton – despite the Briton’s longer stop because of his penalty – and he allowed the Englishman through to try and challenge Vettel over the remaining 10 laps of the race.
Hamilton ran out of laps to close down Vettel, who returned to the outright lead of the Drivers’ Championship standings with his second victory in the first three Grands Prix. Bottas completed the podium ahead of Räikkönen. Ricciardo faded to a lonely fifth place, while the remaining points’ finishers were Felipe Massa (Williams), Sergio Pérez (Force India), Romain Grosjean (Haas), Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) and Esteban Ocon (Force India).
Tyre Compound Selections
Pirelli heads to Bahrain with its Medium, Soft and Supersoft tyre compounds on offer. While they are superficially the same compounds used in 2017, the 2018-spec constructions are a step softer compared to last year.
In 2017 no one raced on the Medium compound and all of the top-ten finishers ran a two-strop strategy – with softer tyres on offer this year, pit strategies could be blown wide open.
The Bahrain Form Guide
The season-opening Australian Grand Prix historically throws up a few surprises given it is the year’s curtain-raiser and also because of the nature of the Albert Park circuit.
Bahrain, however, is traditionally a different prospect altogether. Higher ambient temperatures and dust place major strain on the power units, while the stop-start nature of the Sakhir circuit is a major test for tyres and brakes.
If last fortnight’s Grand Prix in Melbourne is to be used as a form guide, then expect the Mercedes’ of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas – last year’s pole-winner – to be in front on pure one-lap pace.
Over 57 race laps, however, the gap between the Silver Arrows, Ferrari and Red Bull Racing was slashed. There is still some suggestion that the F1W09’s true speed was masked by dint of Hamilton being bottled up behind Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari in the second half of the Australian Grand Prix.
The midfield looks to be a close scrap between the Haas, McLaren and Renault teams, who ran in close company in Australia and are likely to do so again this weekend.
Bahrain’s unique characteristics won’t be the truest indication of a ‘form guide’ for 2018, but the results this weekend will create a more accurate picture.
|2018 Bahrain Grand Prix Weather Forecast|
|Friday||23°C – 31°C||Saturday||23°C – 32°C||Sunday||23°C – 32°C|
Images via FIA, LAT, Mercedes AMG Petronas F1, Pirelli Motorsport