Welcome to the 2013 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix weekend. A week after the excitement of Shanghai, the Formula One roadshow moves to the Kingdom of Bahrain for the fourth race of the season. Nine points separate the top three drivers heading into the Middle East and with temperatures set to be the highest of the races so far, round four is set to be a step into the unknown for the Formula One constructors.
Previous winners of the Bahrain Grand Prix include Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso (3), Jenson Button, Felipe Massa (2) and Michael Schumacher.
Chinese Grand Prix Recap
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso took the chequered flag in dominant form in front of the Chinese audience, while Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel battled out for best-of-the-rest.
A strong two-stop strategy from McLaren saw Jenson Button take an unexpected fifth place while Daniel Ricciardo recorded his best-ever result when he crossed the line in seventh.
Paul di Resta jumped ahead of team-mate Adrian Sutil in the standings after the latter was eliminated from proceedings by an out-of-control Esteban Gutierrez.
Ferrari’s first and sixth places jumped the team thirteen points ahead of Lotus, while Button’s fifth surged McLaren ahead two places and into fifth, albeit 38 points behind Mercedes.
A late-week decision by Pirelli has resulted in the Soft compound being replaced with the Mediums for the Grand Prix weekend.
The Hard tyres will also be available.
Paul Hembery, Motorsport Director of Pirelli, is expecting the hard and medium compound tyres to last 16 and 14 laps respectively during the Grand Prix, meaning three stops per car.
“There will be plenty of scope for different race strategies, which can even allow drivers who have not qualified as well as they hoped to recover during the grand prix,” Hembery said.
Bahrain has a number of aggressive braking points that will take their toll on the durability of the compounds. The first corner will see cars decelerating from 315km/h to 65km/h in 130m, or three seconds.
Drag Reduction System
The Drag Reduction System will be available to drivers at two points in the lap: between turns 15 and turns one, as well as between turns ten and 11. The track has typically seen fewer overtaking maneuvers than the venues that precede it on the calendar and the inclusion of a second DRS zone should provide the opportunity for overtaking in the back half of the track. Due to the short nature of the back straight, whether or not the zone will be useful as an overtaking point is yet to be seen.
Early predictions by Weather Underground suggest temperatures of up to 33°C (91.4°F) will be reached on both Saturday and Sunday of this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
If correct it will be the hottest race so far this season; the Australian, Malaysian and Chinese Grand Prix reached a maximum of 18°C, 31°C and 28°C respectively.
A disappointing race in China saw Red Bull finish with a fourth place and a retirement. The pair is supposedly still yet to resolve their Malaysian Grand Prix tiff and will be at it again in Bahrain. Webber looked more comfortable in his RB9 than Vettel during the Chinese Grand Prix weekend but already has half the points of his German team-mate. Sebastian enters Bahrain with the championship lead and will be hoping for another solid result to keep him ahead of the game as the teams enter the European leg of the season.
Alonso’s race in China set the bar higher than Massa was able to lift and the Brazilian will be looking to return back to his opening-round pace. Fernando looked unbeatable in Shanghai and Felipe will need to pull out everything he has if he wishes to stay close to the coveted number-one position in the Ferrari stable. The Ferrari looks the best it’s been in years and Maranello will be expecting results.
Button’s fifth place in China was, he claims, better than the team should expect. With degradation expected to once again be high in Sakhir, it could be the two-stop strategy that again steals McLaren valuable points. They sit well behind the top-four teams already and will need two quick and consistent drivers if they want to be close enough to make inroads later in the season.
Raikkonen delivered a strong result in China but his second place wasn’t enough to keep Lotus second in the standings. The ever-reliable Finn will need a strong backup driver if the Enstone team wishes to take the championship to their rivals and Grosjean is not looking like the driver to support Kimi. Eleven points after three rounds might have been acceptable last season, but when the E21 is as strong as it is at the moment, management won’t accept tardiness for much longer.
Hamilton’s pole position might have been a sign of things to come from Mercedes and his third position in the race was nothing to be snubbed at. The team looks to be a much more homogenous clan than it have the past few seasons and Lewis might be the driver to deliver them to glory. Rosberg was again struck with mechanical unreliability in China and will want to get back on Hamilton’s heels as soon as possible. The German driver set the fastest lap during his debut race here, but will need more than that if he expects to prove he’s worthy of equal status to the pit wall.
Hulkenberg’s race-leading performance in China was an impressive result, but Sauber would’ve been disappointed to have come away from the race with a solitary point. The team was jumped by Toro Rosso at the last race and will want to settle the score in Bahrain. While Hulkenberg shows his talent, Gutierrez will need to smarten up quickly if he has any hopes of a Formula One career past 2013.
The score is still tight between Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil, though the Scot has had the upper hand in the past two events. An on-track altercation between the two early in last weekend’s race will have raised tensions in the garage and the relationship between the two could worsen if they come to blows again this time around. Both drivers can be mighty impressive and, in the right conditions, will be able to deliver Force India a strong result under the Bahrain sun.
Williams’s poor start to the season continued in Shanghai, with both drivers finishing out of the points after a disappointing qualifying session. Both drivers will soon bemoan the slow progress of the Grove squad unless the car receives its much-needed updates soon. Nothing seems to be working for the pair at the moment and they’ll most likely lose more important points to their closest rivals in Bahrain.
Ricciardo’s surprising seventh place pushed Toro Rosso into seventh in the constructors, a mere 14 points behind Force India and McLaren. A few more results like Ricciardo managed in China by either driver will put the Faenza squad in a strong position by the time the European leg is in full swing. Bahrain was the scene of Ricciardo’s fantastic sixth place in qualifying last year, but the ever-aggressive Vergne will be looking to level the scores with the Australian soon. They’re two talented drivers vying for a probable Red Bull seat for 2014 – don’t be surprised if neither driver backs off should they come up against each other on-track.
Another disappointing result for Caterham in China saw them finish behind Bianchi’s Marussia again. van der Garde was a mere 0.040 behind Pic in qualifying and looks to be slowly finding his feet, if only in qualifying. A deficit of a minute in the race impressed nobody and the re-introduction of Heikki Kovalainen to the weekend’s proceedings will be keeping both drivers on their toes. For Caterham, the European rounds – and much-needed updates – couldn’t come any sooner.
Another strong result by Bianchi proved once more just how far Marussia have come in 2013. While the team is still far from the points, they look more likely than ever to score them this year. With the Frenchman at the wheel, Marussia could have their strongest driver yet. Chilton hasn’t yet shown his full potential and will be looking to stretch his legs on more familiar territory once the European races begin. It’ll again be between Caterham and Marussia for last place in Bahrain.