Hot on the heels of the Chinese Grand Prix is the Bahrain Grand Prix this weekend. This Grand Prix was cancelled last year due to domestic political turbulence, and its inclusion on the calendar this year has been controversial. The latest critic is The Guardian, which has declared that “Formula One demeans itself with this event” and “whoever participates in this race is tainted by association with a malign regime.” Politics aside, those without HD set top boxes will be pleased to hear that the race on Sunday (10:00 PM AEST) will be aired on channel Ten.
After a 2011 season that was dominated pretty much from start to finish by Sebastian Vettel, 2012 is proving to be highly unpredictable. We’ve had three different drivers from three different teams win the first three races. Hamilton sits top of the table with three 3rd place results, which suggests that consistency will be the key to winning this year’s title.
Bahrain Circuit History
The Bahrian International Circuit entered the Formula 1 calendar in 2004. The circuit is regarded as being one of the safest in the world for drivers due to the extensive run off areas, however some have argued the track does not sufficiently punish drivers for straying off the track. The circuit has high breaking demands, and the track surface does occasionally get sandy.
The circuit has hosted seven Formula 1 races to date. Alonso will have fond memories of this venue, having won three races here (two with Renault, one with Ferrari). Only three of the seven pole winners have gone on to win the race, with four of the past five pole sitters failing to win.
Below are the most recent Bahrain Grand Prix results:
– Pole position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) – finished 4th
– Winner: Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) – qualified 3rd
– Pole position: Jarno Trulli (Toyota) – finished 3rd
– Winner: Jenson Button (Brawn-Mercedes) – qualified 4th
– Pole position: Robert Kubica (BMW Sauber) – finished 3rd
– Winner: Felipe Massa (Ferrari) – qualified 2nd
Last Year (2010 discussed due to the cancellation in 2011)
The Bahrain Grand Prix was the first race of the 2010 calendar. Vettel (Red Bull) qualified on pole, 0.141 seconds ahead of Massa (Ferrari) in second, with Alonso (Ferrari) third and Hamilton (McLaren) over 1.1 seconds off pole in fourth. In the first lap Alonso overtook Massa to move into second place, with Vettel maintaining first position.
The main contenders only pitted once. Vettel maintained a comfortable lead, however in the latter stages of the race he suffered a mechanical issue that was later identified as being caused by a spark plug. He lost pace and was overtaken by Alonso, Massa and Hamilton, but he managed to keep Rosberg at bay to take fourth.
It proved to be a battle of attrition, with nine drivers out of twenty-four failing the complete the race. Chandhok crashed out, while the other eight retirements were due to mechanical issues.
Overall, it was a pretty boring race! Hopefully the fact that the drivers are using Pirelli tyres, which have been designed to be less durable than the 2010 Bridgestone tyres, will result in more pit stops on Sunday. Also, let’s hope DRS plays its role in facilitating overtaking manoeuvres.
Impressions from the 2012 season thus far, plus other titbits
Rosberg put in an incredible qualifying performance in Shanghai. He was over 0.5 seconds faster than Hamilton and almost 0.6 seconds faster than his teammate Schumacher. Mercedes had commented previously that their 2012 car only seemed to get the tyres to perform well in a narrow temperature window, but their work during the time off between Malaysia and China appears to have made great inroads into that issue.
Vettel looks out of sorts this season. He is known for his strong qualifying performances, but has been out qualified by his teammate Webber in all three races this year. Vettel opted to go with an older car setup than Webber in Shanghai, which may explain some of his relative performance problems in that race.
Alonso is pessimistic about his chances in Bahrain, saying “this weekend will be all about damage limitation for us.”
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director, has said “we’re expecting a notable degree of degradation that should certainly test the teams in terms of strategy. With the circuit not having been frequently used, we are anticipating quite a high degree of track evolution over the course of the weekend.”
Caterham driver Heikki Kovalainen has said “Bahrain is another one of the typical modern circuits. It doesn’t have any really challenging corners and you can push hard for most of the lap, particularly over the kerbs which are pretty easy on the cars. As the track surface is rubbered in grip levels improve dramatically, so you’ll see lap times dropping fast over the weekend, and that means you have to be on it for qualifying, to make sure you can get the most of out the session.”
Bahrain Grand Prix Preview
Honestly, I wish I could tell you what to expect, but 2012 has been highly unpredictable thus far. Having said that, with only one week between the Chinese Grand Prix and this one, there’s barely any time for teams to make adjustments to the cars, so you wouldn’t expect too many mechanical upgrades between the last race and this one. The main spanner in the works, however, is the track temperature. The race in Shanghai was run with track temperatures below 25 degrees Celsius, while the track temperature in Bahrain can reach over 50 degrees Celsius. A car that makes good use of its tyres in one temperature window is not necessarily going to be as competitive in a different window. Just look back to the performance drop offs for McLaren and Mercedes in Malaysia compared to Australia.
Bahrain Grand Prix Betting
Below are the latest qualifying and race winner odds (subject to change):
Given the short turnaround from China to Bahrain, there shouldn’t be too many mechanical changes in the cars from last week. Obviously, the track conditions will be different, but Rosberg and Schumacher are probably worth considering for pole and/or the race win. With that being said I certainly wouldn’t commit to anything until I’ve seen the results from practice sessions 1-3. It will come down to which team can get the most out of their tyres in the hot Bahrain conditions.