Need to know ahead of the highly-anticipated 2023 season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Bahrain, Bahrain International Circuitbh

The 2023 FIA Formula One World Championship gets underway today under the artificial lights of the Bahrain International Circuit. F1Technical’s Balázs Szabó picks out some key areas to keep an eye on in the season-opening Sakhir race.

Following the successful Official Pre Season Test in Bahrain, the 20-car field is ready and eager to kick off the second season of Formula One's new era. The three-day testing and yesterday's qualifying showed that defending Drivers' and Constructors' champions Red Bull have carried over their double title-winning form while there is a group of three outfits behind the Milton Keynes-based squad with Ferrari, Mercedes and Aston Martin separated by close to nothing in the current pecking order.

Sakhir’s 5.412km circuit demonstrated its challenges in pre-season testing, offering a formidable combination of heat, wind and sand for the drivers to contend with, as well as a highly abrasive track surface. The Manama track is a perfect location to kick off the season that sees the arrival of many novelties.

A fixture on the calendar - Today’s Bahrain Grand Prix will be the 19th 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 fifth occasion that the Bahrain International Circuit will host the season-opening race. It previously hosted the first race of the season in 2006, 2010, 2021 and 2022.

The kings of Bahrain – Lewis Hamilton is the most successful driver at the Bahrain Grand Prix with five victories to his name. Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel is the second most successful driver in Manama, having won the Sakhir race with Red Bull in 2012 and 2013 and with Ferrari in 2017 and 2018.

Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa are the only repeat winners in Bahrain. The Spaniard won in 2005 and 2006 with Renault in his two title-winning years and in 2010 in his debut season with Ferrari. The Brazilian won two times - in 2007 and 2008 both times with Ferrari.

Three rookie drivers – Today’s Bahrain Grand Prix will see Logan Sargeant, Nyck de Vries and Oscar Piastri make their debut at the pinnacle of motorsport. In truth, de Vries has already completed a race, having stepped in for Alexander Albon at the 2022 Italian Grand Prix. Former FIA F2 champion Piastri joins McLaren, replacing fellow countryman Daniel Ricciardo and becoming the 15th Australian to race in F1. Sargeant, who is set to become to first American to race in F1 since Alexander Rossi's departure in 2015, joins Albon at Williams.

Tyre allocation - At the Bahrain Grand Prix, C1 will be the P Zero White hard, C2 will be the P Zero Yellow medium and C3 will be the P Zero Red soft. The teams will have at their disposal two sets of hard tyres, three sets of mediums, and eights sets of soft per car, as well as the usual allocation of Cinturato intermediate and full wet tyres.

Return to the action– The Bahrain Grand Prix will mark the full-season return of Nico Hulkenberg. The 35-year-old German joins the American Haas F1 Team, four years after he contested a complete season with Renault in 2019. Since then, he has raced two times for Racing Point and two time with Aston Martin.

Three layouts – 15 of the 18 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. The pandemic-affected 2020 season 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 seven occasions. Mercedes holds the second place on this list with six 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 18 races in Bahrain. The race has been won from pole position on eight 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.

High degradation - Tyre degradation will be a key factor when it comes to deciding the strategy. Last season, all the drivers bar one stopped three times (rather than the anticipated two-stopper) due to a late-race safety car. The winner Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) carried out his first two stints on the soft, before swapping to the medium. Pirelli thinks that the best approach for today's Sakhir race will be a two-stop strategy.