Bahrain Grand Prix – Preview

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Following the unusually difficult weather conditions and extremely low grip level in Istanbul, teams and drivers will return to action this weekend as they descend in the Middle-East for the Bahrain Grand Prix, Round 5 of the 2020 FIA Formula One World Championship.

Although both Formula 1 titles are done and dusted already, there are still some exciting questions to be answered in the remaining part of the delayed and curtailed 2020 F1 season. The Bahrain Grand Prix will kick off the final, closing part of the year, the third and final triple-header of this condensed season. Following this weekend’s race, Formula One will stay for another race in Manama, albeit on a different layout, called the Outer Circuit and the event will be run under the name of the Sakhir Grand Prix. The season will then come to an end at Abu Dhabi on December 13.

Concentrating on this weekend, Formula One teams and drivers will return to normality in Bahrain after racing at Portimao, Imola and Istanbul, venues that were not part of the original 2020 calendar. Weather conditions will also return to normality with temperatures expected to rise above 26 Celsius degrees in the desert of Manama.

The 16th race in Bahrain

The 2004 Bahrain Grand Prix marked the first ever round of the FIA Formula One World Championship to be held in the Middle East. The track is located in Sakhir which lies 30kms south-west of the island’s capital Manama.

The track was designed by German architect Herman Tilke. The construction works began in November 2002. As it is located in the desert, huge preparation work was needed. 12000 tonnes of stone was used in the build. One-third of it is Welsh granite which forms the track surface because of its outstanding adhesive qualities.

The first race was held in 2004 with Michael Schumacher claiming the win and doing so he became the first ever winner in the Grand Prix history of Bahrain.

The 2011 Bahrain Grand Prix scheduled for 13 March was cancelled due to the 2011 Bahraini protests. FIA wanted to reschedule the event for October, but, in the end, it was decided that the Moving Circus will only revisit the country when peace returns to Bahrain.

Human rights activists called for a cancellation of 2012 race due to reports of alleged human rights abuses committed by the Bahraini authorities.

Team personnel also voiced concerns about safety, but the race, nonetheless, was held as planned on 22 April 2012. In 2014, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the first staging of the Bahrain Grand Prix, the race was held as a night event under floodlights. The Bahrain round became the second in the history of Formula One to host a night race after the 2008 Singapore GP. Due to its success, subsequent races have also been night races.

Vettel is the king of Bahrain

Sebastian Vettel is the most successful driver in the history of the Bahrain Grand Prix. The German has clinched the victory on four occasions, scoring two of these wins for Red Bull and the other two for Ferrari. Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton have three wins to his name in Manama. The Briton’s last won in Bahrain in 2019 after inheriting the lead from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc who dominated the event until the engine of his car developed technical problems.

Felipe Massa has won two times in the island country. The three other drivers who have won the race are Michael Schumacher, Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg. The seven-time world champion won the first edition of the Bahrain Grand Prix back in 2004.

Among the teams, Ferrari is the clear dominant force with its six victories. The Scuderia won the first ever Bahrain race in 2004, and was again victorious in 2007 and 2008 with Felipe Massa. In 2010, Fernando Alonso won his first ever race for Ferrari in Manama, while it was Sebastian Vettel who proved himself the fastest on the Bahrain International Circuit in 2017 and 2018.

Mercedes is the second most successful team in Bahrain with four victories, Renault and Red Bull have both won two times. The Brawn team won the 2009 race with Jenson Button.

Traction, abrasive asphalt and slow corners

Home to every Bahrain Grand Prix, the 5.412 km Sakhir circuit is known for the abrasive nature of its track surface. It is also particularly dirty, when track action starts on Friday, as it is exposed to sand blowing in from the desert. To go well at this track, you need excellent traction, because the layout features a succession of long straights and relatively slow corners and therefore, good top speed on the straights is the aim. The track is also hard on brakes, which usually start getting critical in the second part of the race. The race begins under a hot sun and ends under spotlights.

The first corner is the best overtaking spot on the track, as drivers brake from 300 to 60 km/h. After the tricky Turn 2 where rear stability is key, drivers head on to another long full-throttle section. Turn 4 is a slow, 90-degree bend again. The second sector begins with Turn 5.
Following some elevation changes, drivers arrive to another long straight before going into the only sequence of faster bends of the track.

Exiting Turn 12, cars have to show good traction in order to maintain good speed onto the last straight of the circuit. The last two bends pose a different challenge as cars tend to suffer from understeer at the exit before reaching the straight-finish line.