Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing, Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing, Fernando Alonso of Spain and McLaren F1 , Stoffel Vandoorne of Belgium and McLaren F1, Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP and Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Mercedes GP pose for a photo to announce the F1 Hot Laps program during previews ahead of the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at Bahrain International Circuit on April 5, 2018 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

The second round of the 2018 Formula 1 season will take place at the hot and dusty Bahrain International Circuit(BIC) at Sakhir, Bahrain. The 14th running of the Bahrain Grand Prix at the Hermann Tilke-designed circuit takes place this weekend. In 2014, this Grand Prix joined the Singapore GP as the second night race on the F1 calendar. The Abu Dhabi GP is a day/night race. The cooler temperatures at night at this desert venue has been easier on the cars and drivers.

Preview of the Bahrain Grand Prix

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. In 2011, a rebellion took place against the ruling family in Bahrain. It was put down with a heavy hand by the Government and the F1 race was cancelled that year. It returned to Bahrain in 2012, amidst political protests and some unrest. The current edition will take place under more peaceful conditions.

The Teams and Drivers

Ferrari is the most successful team at this GP with five wins. Mercedes had swept all the three races since the hybrid-era started in 2014. In 2017, Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari stopped the winning run. Red Bull Racing and Renault teams have 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). Sebastian Vettel (2012, 2013, 2017) also has three wins. Lewis Hamilton (2014, 2015) is the other winner 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 are a trademark of all Hermann Tilke designed tracks. This makes the chances of a Safety Car very low. Track limits are strictly monitored by race control.

The night race sees 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 of 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 FIA has extended this DRS zone by 100 metres to improve overtaking opportunities. 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. Drivers have chosen seven or more sets of supersoft compound tyres of the thirteen sets allocated to each driver.

Current Form

Ferrari leads the constructors’ championship with a double podium finish at the Australian GP. The team seemed to have a small deficit in pace to the Mercedes team. But a smart move under the VSC saw the team engineer a win for Sebastian Vettel. In the hotter conditions in Bahrain which favor the Maranello-based team, they will start as co-favorites with Mercedes. Red Bull was the third fastest team. Haas F1 will look to rectify the pitstop errors in Melbourne and make sure they are the best of the rest. All the other teams would be looking to improve their showing at the first race.

Sebastian Vettel is the defending champion at this race and would like nothing better than following up the win at the first race with another win. Lewis Hamilton lost a race that seemed in the bag in Australia. A software bug saw the Mercedes team caught out by Vettel pitting under the VSC and coming out ahead of Hamilton. Kimi Raikkonen was also denied a second place by the VSC. Daniel Ricciardo finished a strong fourth. Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas with mistakes in the race and qualifying respectively did not perform upto expectations at the first race. Both drivers will be looking to rectify their errors in Bahrain.

Three teams are closely matched at the front. Strategy and the team game could provide the edge that sees a driver winning this race.

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