Circuit: Bahrain International Circuit
First GP held: 2004
Circuit length: 3.36 miles
Lap Record: 1:31.447 (Pedro de la Rosa, McLaren, 2005)
After the drama of the season opener in Australia, F1 continues with it’s early set of flyaway races with a visit to the Bahrain International Circuit for the second race of the 2018 season, the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Bahrain joined the calendar in 2004, and bar 2011 where the race was cancelled due to civil unrest, it’s quickly become a mainstay on the F1 calendar. After ten years the track installed floodlights, resulting in Bahrain becoming a night race. Set out in the desert this oasis of a track challenges both driver and car as well as the teams. The heat of Bahrain and dust round the desert track are both notorious for testing engines to the very limit, while the stop-start nature of the lap provides a brutal test on both breaks and tyres. Albert Park may have been a gentle introduction back into racing, but Bahrain will prove to be the first big test.
Fans have been treated to some interesting races here over the years, partly due to the decision to switch to a night race. Though Bahrain has become synonymous with one battle in particular, the Duel in the Desert of 2014. This race was the first time really in the turbo hybrid era we saw Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton go head to head in their Mercedes cars, and it was a treat. With a warning from the team to not destroy their tyres or take one another out, they then left it to the two drivers to fight for the victory. The result was one of the best battles of the 2014 season between the two drivers, and a battle that very much sowed the seeds of competition that would sprout into the full-blown rivalry on the next few seasons. The duel in the desert lives on in the memories of many as racing between two champions at it’s best.
As previously seen, the Bahrain International Circuit is a stop-start track with many issues for teams. The rapidly cooling track as the race goes further into the night will affect the balance of the car in ways that it’s not normally affected with a standard afternoon race. Understeer is likely to be a problem here thanks to the cooling track rather than the more standard oversteer problems we see drivers struggling with. The other main issue with racing at night means that Free Practice Two, the only practice session to be conducted in the early evening, will be the only Free Practice session that will have meaningful data teams can use. Expect a lot of teams to be heading into this event a little more underprepared than usual.
Starting from pole here is also no guarantee of victory. Since the inception of the race there have only been five occasions when the pole position driver has converted the advantage of the coveted grid spot into a race victory. However despite this, the winner of the race has never started further back than the second row of the grid. With both Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button winning the race from fourth place on the grid.
While the Australian Grand Prix is not generally considered a reliable indicator of form, events in Albert Park two weeks ago did suggest exciting possibilities for the season ahead. One of the big talking points this weekend in Bahrain will be the fight back from Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes arguably should have won the Australian Grand Prix. Their performance advantage especially in qualifying to other teams is substantial. Expect them to come charging out of the blocks this weekend to stamp their authority on this championship. The other main talking point is Haas as a dark horse for the top of the midfield. Traditionally the team have always gone strong in Australia before their form has tailed off after. And had it not been for their double pit disaster in Australia they would have gone on to score their best finish ever. The main question is was that a one hit wonder for Haas. Or can they show off in Bahrain as well. The quirks of the Bahrain International Circuit ensure the picture will not become entirely clear this weekend – but the Bahrain Grand Prix will further sharpen the focus.
The 2017 Bahrain Grand Prix was best remembered for being a race Ferrari showed that their win in Australia two races previous was not simply luck, and that Sebastian Vettel and the Scuderia had the pace to take this to a season long championship fight. While it was a Mercedes on pole for the race, it was Valtteri Bottas who scored his first Pole Position for the silver arrows. He lost his advantage down into the first corner though as a fast starting Vettel leapfrogged the Mercedes off the line. Vettel then capitalised on his opportunity for victory, and despite a last gasp dash for victory by Hamilton, the Ferrari driver won the second race of the season.