The off-season finally draws to a close and the teams have assembled at Bahrain for the first round of 2010.
After little to no testing the 12 teams have to tackle one of the most punishing tracks on the calendar in the first race of the year.
With Michael Schumacher returning, exciting new driver pairings at McLaren and Ferrari, new teams and more this is one of the most highly anticipated Grand Prix seasons I can remember. Who will start the year with a victory?
Practice clues to form
Pre-season testing has been even more difficult to read than usual now that the cars can have much greater differences in fuel loads.
That will also make practice tricky to suss but with 24 cars all on-track at roughly the same time we should have a much better idea of form by Friday evening.
Many teams will be running their latest aerodynamic upgrades for the first time, including Ferrari and Mercedes. McLaren already ran theirs at the last test session at Barcelona and are only bringing minor developments to Bahrain.
McLaren will also learn whether the stewards approve of their design of rear wing, which has been challenged by Red Bull among others. They have brought alternate parts if it is deemed illegal.
We also expect to see the first appearance of the HRT cars in practice, with Bruno Senna and Karun Chandhok at the wheel.
High temperatures and high brake wear are the two greatest demands at Bahrain. Although we have already seen the teams testing their cooling solutions they haven’t been able to simulate the consistently hot 30C-plus temperatures forecast for this weekend.
Changes to the track
For the seventh running of the Bahrain Grand Prix the race will be held on the longest of the track’s configurations, which is now called the ‘new Grand Prix circuit’.
At a whisker under 6.3km this is the second-longest track on the calendar. Only Spa-Francorchamps is longer, but the two circuits couldn’t be more different. The new section at Bahrain adds even more slow corners to a track which had a lot of tight bends to begin with.
The extra section itself isn’t new, but it isn’t used much, so the teams will find it has even less grip than the rest of the circuit. It’s also quite narrow – as little as 11m in places whereas parts of the original track are 16m wide.
This all adds up to a section which is not likely to produce much overtaking but could provoke errors from drivers. Locked wheels and flat-spotted tyres could prove especially costly in the new refuelling-free era so drivers will have to exercise caution in the curved braking zones.
Drivers to watch
You could pick any of them, really, but here’s the four I’ll have my eye on the most:
Michael Schumacher – Obvious, really. Mercedes aren’t far off the pace and their upgrade could bridge the gap. Can he win on his return to F1?
Jenson Button – The other driver who’s made a big off-season move. We’ll get our first glimpse of how the two most recent world champions compare head-to-head in identical cars.
Bruno Senna – Both Senna and Karun Chandhok face daunting challenges in getting the HRT up and running. Will the car run? How far off the pace will it be?
Remember to join us for the F1 Fanatic live blogs during every session of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Keep an eye out for the live blogs on the site during the free practice periods, qualifying and of course the race itself.