Bahrain Grand Prix Preview

Ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix, Sudha Sundararaj takes a look at the venue for the third race of the 2017 Formula 1 Season.

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The third round of the 2017 Formula 1 World Championship will take place at the hot and dusty Bahrain International Circuit(BIC) at Sakhir, Bahrain. The 13th running of the Bahrain Grand Prix at yet another Hermann Tilke-designed circuit takes place this weekend. The Grand Prix has joined Singapore as the second night race on the F1 calendar. The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is a day/night race. In these three races, F1 cars roar around at night and present a spectacular sight for F1 fans.

Bahrain Grand Prix Preview

The History

The inaugural Bahrain Grand Prix in 2004 was the first F1 race at a Middle Eastern venue. The inaugural race was won by Michael Schumacher in whose honor the first corner of the circuit has now been named. When a rebellion took place against the ruling family in Bahrain in 2011 and was put down with a heavy hand by the Government, the F1 race was cancelled. It returned to Bahrain in 2012, amidst political protests and some unrest. The current edition will take place under more peaceful conditions.

The Drivers and Teams

Ferrari is the most successful team at this GP with four wins. Mercedes has swept all the three races since the hybrid-era started in 2014. They are followed by Red Bull Racing and Renault teams with two wins each. Fernando Alonso has been a dominant driver at this track winning three times, once with Ferrari (2010) and twice with the Renault team (2005, 2006). Lewis Hamilton (2014, 2015), Sebastian Vettel (2012, 2013) and Felipe Massa (2007, 2008) are the other winners on the current grid.

The Circuit

The 5.412 kilometer track at Sakhir has a mixture of 15 slow and medium speed corners and long straights. The track has five different configurations and the longer 6.299 km “Endurance Circuit” was used for one race in 2010 only. The race returned to the shorter “Grand Prix Circuit” configuration in 2012. The huge run-off areas with smooth kerbs, a trademark of Hermann Tilke designed tracks, are prominent here.

The night race this year will see the race take place in cooler conditions. But the heavy braking zones of the circuit cause the brakes and engines to heat up. Combined with the dusty conditions in the desert and actual dust particles on the race track, cooling of the brakes and air filters to keep the dust out of the engines becomes critical. The circuit demands a medium downforce setup. The cars are on full throttle 65% of the time and the fuel consumption is high.

Sectors, Corners, and DRS Zones

Sector 1 (Turn 1 to Turn 4) offers very good overtaking opportunities at Turn 1 itself. Turns 2 and 3 are fast corners leading to the long straight to Turn 4.

Sector 2 (Turn 5 to Turn 12) features a series of left-right-left turns from Turns 5-6-7 to form a S-section, leading to Turn 8 which is a right hairpin. Turns 9 and 10 are blind left hand turns, leading to the long straight between Turn 10 and 11.

Sector 3 (Turn 13 to Turn 15) flows into the long back straight, leading to the right-hander at Turn 14 and onto the last corner at Turn 15.

There are two DRS zones this year also. The first DRS detection point is after Turn 9 and the activation point is after Turn 10. The second DRS detection point is before Turn 14, with activation occurring after Turn 15 on the long start-finish straight. The race has never been won from beyond the second row of the grid.

Tyre Strategies

Pirelli tyre choices for this race are the red-striped supersoft tyres, yellow-striped soft tyres and white-striped medium tyres. The race is likely to be a one-stop race given the durability of the tyres this season. The hardest compounds are not finding favour with the teams so far this season. The softer tyre compounds are faster and more durable. The supersoft and soft tyres are going to be the tyres of choice for all the teams.

Current Form

The season has started with Ferrari and the Mercedes teams recording a win each in the races so far. Mercedes (66 pts) leads Ferrari (65 pts) by a solitary point in the constructors’ title. Red Bull Racing (37 pts) is a distant third. Toro Rosso (12 pts) leads the closely-bunched midfield. Sauber, McLaren and Renault teams are yet to score a point. For the first time in four seasons, Mercedes has a real challenge on its hands led by the Ferrari.

The Maranello-based team has turned up with a fast car and their four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel is in top form. Lewis Hamilton has appeared to relish the challenge from the German driver. Both the drivers are tied at the top of the drivers’ championship with 43 points each. Max Verstappen (25 pts) is in third place with Valtteri Bottas (23 pts), Kimi Raikkonen (22 pts) and Daniel Ricciardo (12 pts) completing the top six in the drivers’ championship.

Pascal Wehrlein returns to drive for the Sauber team after missing the first two races because of fitness issues. The hot and dusty track will suit Ferrari more than it will suit the Mercedes team. Hamilton is on a run of six consecutive pole positions with the streak starting at the United States GP last season. With 63 pole positions, the Briton is edging ever closer to Ayrton Senna (65 poles) for second position on the all-time pole sitters list. Vettel will challenge Hamilton very closely at this race for pole. The results between the top drivers will be settled with small margins and based on crucial strategy decisions on Sunday.
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