The long wait is finally over with the action set to begin again at the pinnacle of motorsport today! Following the postponement of the Melbourne round, today’s Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix is due to kick-start the 2021 FIA Formula One season!
Bahrain seems to have established itself as one of the epicentres of Formula One recently. The great track in the desert hosted two rounds in the closing stage of last season, and the field is now back at Manama after the pre-season also took place at the very same venue.
The desert circuit was originally set to stage the second round of 2021 F1 season, but it took over the prestigious role of the season-opener from Melbourne after the Australian Grand Prix had been pushed back to autumn due to the travel restrictions that are still in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.
There is every hope that this year's 2021 FIA Formula One World Championship will deliver a truly great and spectacular season with all the changes that are set to cause a stir.
A fixture on the calendar - Today’s Bahrain Grand Prix will be the 17th Formula One race in Manama. The event was first held in 2004 and has only missed the calendar in 2011 when local protests made it impossible for the organisers to stage the event.
Season-opening race – This will be the third occasion that the Bahrain International Circuit will host the season-opening race. It previously hosted the first race of the season in 2006 and 2010.
The kings of Bahrain – Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton are the most successful drivers at the Bahrain Grand Prix with both of them having won this event four times. Vettel was victorious with Red Bull in 2012 and 2013 and with Ferrari in 2017 and 2018. The reigning world champion won in Bahrain in 2014, 2015, 2019 and 2020.
Three rookie drivers – Today’s Bahrain Grand Prix will see Mick Schumacher, Yuki Tsunoda and Nikita Mazepin make their debut at the pinnacle of motorsport with all stepping up from the FIA F2 Championship. The return of the Schumacher name is particularly exciting as the reigning F2 champion joins F1 29 years, seven months and three days since his father Michael made his F1 debut with Jordan at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix.
The two-time world champion – Another new addition to the grid will be Fernando Alonso who returns to the sport after a two-year absence. The two-time world champion made his last appearance at the 2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with today’s Bahrain race set to become his 312th grand prix start.
Three layouts – 15 of the 16 Bahrain Grands Prix were held on the 5.412km Grand Prix layout with the 2010 race representing the only exception. That year, the field raced on the 6.299km Endurance layout, but drivers preferred the GP circuit, so the race then reverted to that layout for the following years. Last year saw drivers try out the 11-turn 3.543km Outer Circuit layout at the Sakhir Grand Prix.
Traction – Traction out of the slower corners is usually the key consideration on the 5.412km track. Drivers will need to complete a total of 57 laps today to cover the entire race distance of 308.38km. There is an offset of 246m between the start and the finish line.
Usual pit lane speed limit – Drivers will need to adhere to a speed limit of 80kph in the pitlane when completing their pit stops.
No changes – Other than routine maintenance there are no changes of note since last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix.
Three DRS zones – Today’s Sakhir race will feature three DRS zones. The first has a detection point 50m before Turn 1, with activation point 23m after Turn 3. The second zone has a detection point 10m before Turn 9 and activation 50m after Turn 10, and the third zone has a detection point 110m before Turn 4, with activation 170m after Turn 15.
The Italians – Ferrari are the most successful constructor in Bahrain, having won the race in Sakhir on six occasions. Mercedes holds the second place on this list with five wins, followed by Renault and Red Bull with two victories apiece. Brawn GP is the only other team to have been victorious in Bahrain.
First occasions – Robert Kubica, Valtteri Bottas and Charles Leclerc all took their first Formula One pole position at the Bahrain Grand Prix. The Monegasque achieved this feat in 2019 when he also set the fastest lap of the race which was also his maiden fastest lap in a Formula One race. The then 21-year-old was on course to take his first F1 victory in a dominant fashion, but an engine problem handed the victory to Lewis Hamilton. For Romain Grosjean, the Sakhir race is a special one as the Frenchman scored his maiden F1 podium in Sakhir, finishing third in 2012 with Lotus.
The first row – Starting from the first row has proved important, but not vital in the 16 races in Bahrain. The race has been won from pole position on six occasions, with four further victories from P2. Three other races have been won from P3 and the remaining two from P4.
The old record – The official lap record which is the all-time fastest race lap still belongs to Pedro de la Rosa. The Spaniard clocked in a time of 1m31.447 with his McLaren in 2005 when he substituted the injured Juan Pablo Montoya.
Two-stop strategy – The past Bahrain races have showed that the one-stop strategy is usually not the fastest approach to the 57-lap race. The abrasive track surface with high degradation makes the two-stop strategy the most likely scenario.
Pirelli indicates that there are different two-stoppers on the table. The quickest one in theory goes as follows: two stints on the P Zero Yellow medium tyre of 18 laps each, plus one central stint on the P Zero White hard of 21 laps: set to be the strategy for all those who set their best Q2 times on this tyre.
The second-quickest two-stopper instead uses all three compounds: the soft for 14 laps, the hard for 24 laps. and the medium for the final 19-lap stint. A soft-medium-medium strategy is slightly slower: this would use the soft for 15 laps and then two sets of mediums for 21 laps each.
Commenting on the possible race strategies, Pirelli's Head of F1 and Car Racing Mario Isola said: " There are a number of possible race strategies, depending also on the tyres each driver has available.
"Nonetheless, there were several teams that felt the medium tyre was the best option to start the race on tomorrow: four of the top 10 will start the race on the yellow medium C3 compound, including the top three, and this will give them more strategic options. However, there are a number of options and the cooler temperatures expected tomorrow might mix up the strategies even more."