The second round of the 2016 Formula One season will take place in the Middle East, where the beautiful country of Bahrain will host the Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir. This race has been on the calendar since 2004 and has been a favorite with fans throughout. The race has been held 11 times, with the 2011 event not going ahead because of protests.
The track is a 5.412km circuit with the race held over 57 laps. In 2010, the track used a longer 6.299km endurance circuit in an attempt to spice the race up, to no avail. In 2014, to celebrate the circuit’s 10 year anniversary, lights were installed to hold the race during the night. This definitely worked and 2014 produced the classic “Duel in the Desert”, which is still well known as one of the best battles of the Mercedes in the new Hybrid Turbo V6 era.
The Bahrain International Circuit consists of four long main straights, as well as slow speed corners at Turns 1, 4, 8 and 10. A car with a fast engine and low downforce is needed here. Drivers also need to manage their brakes extremely well, as this is one of the toughest circuits on brakes.
Qualifying is very important at this event. Out of the past 11 races, 5 have been won from pole position, with the lowest grid spot for a winner being fourth place.
There will be an even greater emphasis this year on qualifying, as teams are still coming to grips with the new elimination qualifying format. In the first round of the season at Australia, the new system caught Daniil Kvyat out and cost him a crucial grid position. If that happens to either a Mercedes or Ferrari, it gives someone else a serious opportunity to score serious points this weekend.
Strategy is also very important here, as there is a low chance of a safety car. In the 11 year history, the safety car has only been deployed twice. Last year, the race was won by Lewis Hamilton on a two-stop strategy which ran two stints of soft tyre compounds before switching to mediums at the end.
The tyres on offer this weekend are the mediums and softs with the super-softs also available. This will mean that the conventional two-stop, which Mercedes won the race with last year and the year before, could be overthrown by many people opting for a three-stop strategy using softs and super-softs.
A potential strategy may look like this: starting on super-softs and stopping around lap nine for softs, going to about lap 28 for another set of softs and taking them through to lap 47 with a ten lap sprint to the finish on another set of super-softs.
Drivers do get to choose their allocation of the three types of tires, with a total of 13 sets of tires to be spread between the mediums, softs and super-softs. The drivers choices is the photo on the left.
The man with the most wins here is Fernando Alonso with three in 2005, 2006 and 2010. The victory in 2010 was also his first for Scuderia Ferrari, but he won’t get the chance to score his first win with McLaren, as he will be sitting out the weekend. He failed the FIA’s medical examination prior to the weekend due to fractured ribs and a collapsed lung from his accident in Australia.
Kimi Räikkönen loves this circuit as well, as he has been on the podium seven times out of the ten times he has raced here. However out of all the podiums he’s scored, he’s never actually stood on the top step. The closest he came was in the race last year where a late charge saw him finish second and Lewis Hamilton snuck home with brakes that were failing. If the race was a lap longer, it might have been Räikkönen’s victory.
Sebastian Vettel has also enjoyed his time at Bahrain, winning twice and taking two poles. With this combined experience of the circuit, we could see Ferrari enjoying themselves here and maybe even pull a race win out of the hat. I have my money on them because I think their combined experience of the track should be greater than Lewis Hamilton’s short success in the last two years, as he never made an impact here at McLaren.
The other team who could use the historical backing this weekend is Renault. In 2012 and 2013, when under the Lotus-Renault badge, they had their cars finish both races in second and third with Kimi Räikkönen leading Romain Grosjean on both occasions.
Last but not least, I am hoping Sauber could have some good luck here, as this was the track where they took their only pole position (albeit under the BMW ownership) in the mighty 20 years they have endured in Formula One.
The Bahrain Grand Prix will get underway on Friday April 1 and finishes on Sunday the April 3. The race will be held under lights this year, and when you mix the new qualifying, Pirelli’s new tires, the strategy and what history tells us, it certainly promises to be another “Duel in the Desert”.