Circuit Length: 5.412 Km
Lap Record: 1:31.447 = 213.054 km/h, P. de la Rosa (McLaren Mercedes), 2005
2010 Results (Race cancelled in 2011)
Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Renault); 1:54.101 = 198.739 km/h
1st: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) 1:39.20.396
2nd: Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
3rd: Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes)
Fernando Alonso (Ferrari); 1:58.287 = 191.706 km/h on Lap 45
`Wind, Sand and Stars’: it’s the name of a famous novel but it could also describe what we are about to see in Bahrain this weekend. A desert location guarantees a sandy track at the start of each session, and the wind can have a surprising effect, especially on lightweight cars at high speeds in seventh gear. But hey, these 24 guys are the stars of world motor sport so they should be able to handle it…
We go back to Bahrain for the first time since 2010, as political unrest caused last year’s GP to be cancelled. It’s also back to the future in terms of track layout: the extended version tried out in 2010 caused some drivers to complain of bumpiness so we revert to the 5.412km layout first used in 2005, Bahrain’s second season on the calendar. The lap record referred to was set on the 5.412km layout.
There are 15 turns in that shorter version, six left, nine right, and it’s notoriously hard on brakes. At Turn 1, for instance, they go from around 315 km/h to 65 in the space of 130 metres, or three seconds… The long (1.2 km) main straight encompasses the DRS zone. One feature of Sakhir is the asphalt run-off areas which promote gung-ho overtaking manoeuvres.
Pirelli takes the Medium Prime/Soft Option combination familiar from Australia and China this year to a venue where so far its F1 product hasn’t raced. There were two significant Pirelli tests there in 2011 and 2011, but as the company’s Paul Hembery says, “The tyres and cars have changed so much since then that it’s almost like starting with a blank sheet of paper.” Hot ambient temperatures, usually in the mid-30’s zone, complicate the issue so once again tyre management and strategy will be key elements of the race.
This is the eight race, then, in Bahrain. So far four men have shared the spoils: three wins to Fernando Alonso, two to Felipe Massa (wouldn’t he love another one now!) and one apiece to Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button. Ferrari has four desert victories to its name, Renault two and Brawn one.
For first-time Shanghai winner Nico Rosberg it’s back to where it all started. A fresh-faced Rosberg debuted here in 2006 with Williams, as team-mate to Mark Webber, and set fastest race lap – the first of only two so far in his 111-race career. Williams, by the way, can claim just one other fastest lap since then – and that was in Melbourne in 2009, also thanks to Nico.
The question is: was China a one-off for Mercedes, adding race pace to qualifying performance, or was it the start of Something Big? Or will the similarly-powered McLaren duo, currently 1-2 in the Championship, be a match for them in Bahrain? It’s the last of the four early-season fly-away races: watch for consolidation this weekend ahead of a development surge starting at the Mugello test in early May.
Three races so far, two wins to Mercedes engines, one to a Ferrari engine. We can discount Cosworth in terms of race win as they power back-markers Marussia and HRT, so that leaves… Renault. No wins, just one podium, for Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel. “Our potential is plain to see,” says Lotus Renault team boss Eric Boullier. “I don’t like being in sixth position in the Constructors’ Championship but we should not remain there for long.” Time to get down to business…
Back to Mercedes: their head man Norbert Haug says “I think this could be one of the best Formula 1 seasons of all time and harder fought than ever.” And that’s not only up front, either. As Marussia’s Timo Glock says, “There’s a lot going on up and down the field at the moment…”