This weekend will see the ninth running of the Bahrain Grand Prix, a race that made history in 2004 when it became the first Formula One race to be staged in the Middle East, but also one that has attracted much controversy over the last few years.
Without wanting to detract too much from the fact we have a race on this weekend, there are clearly a lot of people (both in Bahrain and around the world) that do not think this Grand Prix should go ahead for political reasons.
However, the race will go ahead as normal and the fact that there has been no further deterioration in the political situation in the Gulf state since last year’s event, which attracted just as much criticism, means that anyone lobbying for the Grand Prix’s cancellation this time around was as likely to be successful as a Jacques Villeneuve comeback bid.
With that little titbit about Bahraini politics out of the way, let’s move onto the race. And it promises to be yet another exciting one after the three crackers we’ve had to start off the season. Lotus, Red Bull and Ferrari have all taken turns at the front in the first three races, and with Messrs Raikkonen, Vettel and Alonso all tasting victory so far we are almost halfway to a repeat of the electric start to last year’s championship, when seven different drivers won the first seven Grands Prix.
However, with those top three teams looking more likely than anyone to take the victory this weekend, and those three teams all having established lead drivers, it’s quite likely we’ll be seeing that little run come to a crashing halt on Sunday.
The big talking point last time out was the tyres, particularly the durability (or lack of) of the softer compound. With cars not being able to get more than five or six laps out of it in Shanghai, Pirelli have taken the last-minute decision to bring the medium and hard tyres to Sakhir, rather than the soft and medium rubber.
Whether it’s a kneejerk reaction or not, or whether teams like Red Bull have coerced them into the unexpected change of heart is not yet known, but it’s definitely something that will delight a large section of the paddock who have become fed up with using tyres that don’t last.
Will that decision affect the race? If anything, it’s Red Bull that will benefit the most from it. The team have struggled to make their tyres last as long as the Lotus and Ferrari on the longer runs so far this season, meaning they have been unable to unleash the full potential of their car. Therefore, compounds that last longer should help them out a bit in this respect and help them keep up.
However, should these harder compounds have the effect of pushing the race into a borderline two or three stop race, it could be the Lotus, the best car on its tyres so far, that benefits from being able to run one less stop than its rivals and gains the most from it.
All that, and much more, means we are set for a fascinating race on Sunday, and if the opening gambit of this season is anything to go by, we’re in for a treat in Bahrain this weekend.
Designed by (you guessed it) Hermann Tilke and opened for business in 2004, the Bahrain International Circuit was one of the earlier tracks to be brought to the F1 calendar by the sport’s resident architect.
With the exception of 2010, when what can only be described as the most boring section of track in the history of the F1 world championship was added to the circuit (and wisely removed just as swiftly), the race has been held on the original 3.3-mile layout.
The track features a mixture of long straights and hairpins, meaning those with good traction and rear end grip should go well here. There are a couple of fast, sweeping bends that provide a good test of a car’s aerodynamics, but overall this is a track that plays into the hands of those with good mechanical grip.
With several first and second gear corners the circuit is one of the harder ones on the calendar for braking, so its vital for the drivers not to get too trigger-happy with the left foot, or that could become a major concern later in the race if the brakes become too hot and the chances of a failure (never a pleasant experience at 200mph) increase.
Now instead of talking through each part of the Sakhir circuit one-by-one (which isn’t the most exciting thing that’s ever been done), I’ve gone for something different this weekend. So, courtesy of Marussia reserve driver Rodolfo Gonzalez, here’s an onboard lap of the Sakhir circuit from practice earlier today.
Location: Sakhir, Bahrain
First Race: 2004
Track Length: 3.363 miles/5.412km
2012 Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull-Renault)
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) – 1:30.252 (2004)
2012: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull-Renault)
2010: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
2009: Jenson Button (Brawn-Mercedes)
2008: Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
2007: Felipe Massa (Ferrari)
2006: Fernando Alonso (Renault)
2005: Fernando Alonso (Renault)
2004: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari)