After a dramatic opening race in Melbourne, the teams head to Bahrain for the thrills of a night race in round 2 of the Formula 1 season.
The purpose-built Sakhir circuit was first opened for Formula 1 in 2004. Located 30 kilometres south of the capital city, Manama, the desert setting and night race makes for an exciting backdrop for spectators.
The 5.412 kilometre track has a bit of everything. It demands a lot from the engines and is equally hard on the brakes. Renowned for long straights and plenty of over-taking opportunities, the cars need to have good downforce around the 15 corners combined with plenty of torque to accelerate down the 4 straights. The first and third sectors are quicker with 3 of the straights and 2 of the DRS sections, while the second sector is more technical with some challenging corners.
Tyre strategy mixes things up
A unique characteristic of Bahrain is how the track and tyre performance changes over the weekend. Set in the desert, the strong winds often push sand over the surface sometimes making it dusty and slippery during the early practice sessions. But as the weekend progresses and rubber is laid down the circuit evolves and gets quicker.
The track also works the tyres extremely hard. A staggering 54 percent of the lap is run at full throttle while nearly 80 percent is spent cornering. It has the highest degree of asphalt roughness in all of the season’s races to the detriment of the tyres’ thermal degradation.
With several teams showing good pace in the opening race, tyre strategy could be decisive. The likely front-runners of Mercedes and Ferrari have chosen vastly different tyre options. The Mercedes drivers of Hamilton and Rosberg each selected only 1 set of medium tyres, while the Ferrari drivers of Vettel and Raikkonen chose 3 sets of medium tyres each.
Mercedes will surely look to make use of their raw speed, downforce and softer tyres to set the pace out front. Meanwhile, many have pointed to Ferrari’s tyre strategy in Melbourne as the reason for Vettel slipping back from the lead to his eventual third place. Ferrari won’t want to give up track position so easily again and could try a one-stop pit strategy.
The fight for points
Other teams will also be hopeful for strong results in Bahrain.
Williams will look to take advantage of their quick straight line speed to battle for a podium position. And the Red Bull cars appear to have picked up some extra pace and will be in the mix for points.
“There is a long straight which was our weakness last year but this year we are looking to find some improvements so it could turn out to be quite a competitive track for us. If we can grab a few good points for both cars that would be great,” said Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat.
The Haas team will also be keen to use their momentum from Australia and finish in the points again.
Qualifying up in the air
A new qualifying format was used in the opening round that saw drivers eliminated every 90 seconds through three sessions of qualifying. But it came in for heavy criticism with the track empty for the last four minutes of the top-eight shootout as teams saved their tyres rather than do another lap.
The teams held an emergency meeting before the Melbourne race and unanimously agreed to go back to the qualifying system that had been in place for 2015 which consisted of three knockout sessions, with the slowest cars only eliminated after each session had finished.
But, remarkably, this option was not on the table when the F1 Commission met on 24 March and instead the teams were given the option to retain the rules used in Melbourne or keep the elimination format for the first two sessions of qualifying but with an extra minute’s duration, followed by a final qualifying session run as it had been in 2015.
Neither option had been presented to the teams before the meeting so unanimous agreement was not reached. But with just days before Bahrain race it remains to be seen what changes – if any – will be adopted.
The race will start at 1800 local time (1500 GMT) and will run over 57 laps.