The season-opening Australian Grand Prix brought a controversial qualifying format, a massive crash for Fernando Alonso, some unexpected points for Haas in their debut race and a Mercedes 1-2 finish. The next destination for the Formula 1 Paddock is the island kingdom of Bahrain in the Arabian Gulf, where drivers will complete the first night race of the season.
The 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix brings the challenges of high temperatures and dusty conditions, on a track where good traction is crucial and a versatile compromise set-up is required. Moreover, this weekend will show us a much clear picture of where every team is in terms of performance as the circuit is much more representative than Albert Park.
Located at Sakhir, 30 km from the island's capital, Manama, the Bahrain International Circuit is a purpose-built facility for Formula 1. It was added to the calendar in 2004 and became the first Grand Prix to be held in the Middle East.
The race was initially held in the afternoon and in 2014 was moved to the night time, to mark the tenth anniversary of the first staging of the Bahrain GP. The race starts around dusk and finishes under the lights. The temperature adds a significant variable to the car’s setup as it changes from the heat of day to the cool of night. On average, the temperatures in Bahrain in late March can reach 27*C
“Bahrain is not a circuit that looks very technical from a paper point of view. It’s a big straight into turn one, big braking and a tricky exit to turn two, and then you head up the hill approaching turn four. It’s got tricky braking with long lateral g’s and acceleration going into the high speed section of (turns) five, six and seven. The wind can have a big influence at those corners”, says Haas F1 Team’s Romain Grosjean.
“Then you have the hairpin down the hill, going up against (turns) nine and 10 where you can easily have some front locking because there’s a lot of G’s there under braking. Then the back straight takes you to turn 11, an uphill corner, then turn 12 where it can be flat out if you’ve got a really good car. Tricky braking into turn 13 because you’re coming from a high-speed corner. You really want to go early on the power to go down to turn 14, which is the last corner, again big braking before accelerating to cross the start-finish line.”
Nico Rosberg comes to Bahrain with the first victory of the season in his pocket and is seven points ahead of Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton. However, Rosberg has yet to savour success at the circuit. Previous winners in Bahrain are Michael Schumacher (2004), Fernando Alonso (2005, 2006, 2010), Felipe Massa (2007, 2008), Jenson Button (2009), Sebastian Vettel (2012, 2013) and Hamilton (2014, 2015).
Pole position is not necessarily important in Bahrain as history shows us. Only five of the 11 races were won from top spot but none of the victories came from lower than fourth place on the grid. Coincidence or not, eight of the winners have gone on to win the Drivers’ Championship.
The track surface will be quite dusty for the first practice session due to the sand that comes from the surrounding desert, but picks up more grip as we go on into the weekend. Teams also need to be prepared for a different circuit specification than Melbourne as well as for significant weather changes during the race. The four straights of the Bahrain International Circuit bring bigger demands on the power unit while the short ones place heavy pressure on brakes.
The layout doesn’t make this track particularly hard on the tyres, although the abrasive asphalt increases wear. Tyre management shouldn’t be a big surprise for anyone as teams have now experienced the new regulations. On the other hand, there are still things to be learned regarding the Super Soft tyres as they have never been raced at Sakhir.
Tyres: Medium, Soft, Super Soft (mandatory compounds: medium and soft)
DRS: Zone 1 (detection point before turn nine, activation point after turn 10), Zone 2 (detection point before turn 14, activation point after turn 15)
Driver Steward: Derek Warwick
Facts and stats
Circuit length: 5.412 km
Turns: 15 (9 right and 6 left)
Race laps: 57 laps
First Grand Prix: 2004
Lap record: 1:31.447 (Pedro de la Rosa, McLaren, 2005)
Most wins (driver): Fernando Alonso (3)
Most wins (constructor): Ferrari (4)
2015 Qualifying: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2015 Race: 1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), 2. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari), 3. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Timetable (GMT +3):
Friday 1 April
Practice One: 14:00 – 15:30
Practice Two: 18:00 – 19:30
Saturday 2 April
Practice Three: 15:00 – 16:00
Qualifying: 18:00 (60 minutes)
Sunday 3 April
Race: 18:00 (57 laps or two hours)