2012 Bahrain Grand Prix preview
The deeply divisive question of whether F1 should be racing in Bahrain has been addressed here earlier today.
That debate notwithstanding, what does F1′s return to the desert track this weekend have in store for the teams?
The last time a race was held here in 2010 the organisers, in something of an over-reaction to the presence of an extra four cars on the grid, elected to used the convoluted ‘endurance’ version of the track.
Before last year’s race was cancelled the organisers had already decided to switch back to the track configuration last used from 2005 to 2009 (there were minor tweaks to the layout following the inaugural race in 2004), and that’s what awaits the teams this year.
The high temperatures – mid-30C air, mid-40C track – make cooling a priority. With four long straights and several slow corners, Bahrain places an emphasis on traction, straight-line speed and braking.
Bahrain circuit information
|Lap length||5.412km (3.363 miles)|
|Distance||57 laps (308.2km/191.5 miles)|
|Lap record*||1’31.447 (Pedro de la Rosa, 2005)|
|Fastest lap||1’29.527 (Mark Webber, 2005)|
|Tyres||Medium and Soft|
*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix
Expect to see teams keeping a close eye on the latter on Friday, as well as sussing out top gear ratios and rear wing settings as DRS is being used for the first time here. In the race, drivers will be able to use DRS on the start/finish straight.
The little-used facility lacks grip, especially early in the weekend. The shifting desert winds blow dust and sand across the track which has to be kept out of the engines. It settles on the track and can create problems with tyre graining.
“As the track surface is rubbered-in grip levels improve dramatically,” said Heikki Kovalainen, “so you’ll see lap times dropping fast over the weekend, and that means you have to be on it for qualifying, to make sure you can get the most of out the session.
Teams will use the same tyre compounds as in China – medium and soft – albeit on a much hotter track. This will be the first time they have have raced on Pirelli tyres in Bahrain, although the rubber has been tested here before in the winter of 2010/2011.
Sebastian Vettel’s post-race warning over the team’s lack of straight-line speed will be ringing in their ears as they arrive at a track which will expose that weakness.
The first question of the weekend is whether Vettel will continue use the old exhaust configuration on the Red Bull again as he did in China. The new one offers better performance but Vettel doesn’t get on with as well as team mate Mark Webber.
Remarkably, Webber is 3-0 up on his team mate in qualifying heading into this round.
However their margin is slender. They need to iron operational errors such as the the pit stop problems which delayed Hamilton in Malaysia and Button in China, to lock out the opposition.
Ferrari are marking time until after this race, when a major upgrade package is due to arrive for their car.
The team’s pre-release statement spelled out their fears: “The Sakhir track characteristics seems purpose made to highlight areas, traction and top speed, in which this car is far from brilliant.”
Coming off the back of their victory in China, can they do it again in Bahrain? With 70% of the lap spent at full throttle, this looks like another venue where their Double DRS will prove valuable.
Nico Rosberg found the car’s race performance much improved on Sunday, in cooler temperatures and without much pressure from behind. If they can show similar performance in much hotter conditions in Bahrain they will be looking in very good shape indeed.
Lotus continue to show a lot of potential but haven’t quite managed to deliver on it yet: Kimi Raikkonen started fourth in China but slipped to 14th as he struggled with tyre wear.
“A podium should be possible and I think it has been at all the races we’ve been at so far,” said Raikkonen. “We don’t know exactly how good the car will be until we get there, but we don’t expect any problems.”
The gaps in the midfield are very narrow indeed. Force India may find Bahrain suits their car better with higher temperatures alleviating their tyre warm-up problems and the long straights playing to the strength of their Mercedes engines.
Paul di Resta said: “We will have the same car in Bahrain because it’s just a few days away, but it’s a very different track and we expect different weather conditions so we will try to make the most out of that.”
After the high of Malaysia, China was something of a let-down for Sauber. Unusually for a team which has tended to have better results on Sunday rather than Saturday, they qualified well but slipped back during the race.
Neither of their drivers have competed in an F1 race on this configuration at Bahrain before, but Kamui Kobayashi has tested extensively on it and Sergio Perez won a GP2 race there in 2009.
Following a strong start in Australia the STR7s have slipped to the tail end of the midfield and Jean-Eric Vergne has been eliminated in Q1 in the last two races.
He won’t want to make a habit of that, but it hasn’t stopped him finishing in front of Daniel Ricciardo in the last two races.
The team ran the cars in differing configurations during the last race, which they hope will point to a way forward on set-up in Bahrain.
Racking up more points is the order of the day for Williams after their double-score in Bahrain. The teams will re-use their engines from China in this race.
Kovalainen has been ahead of his new team mate in qualifying so far, but has been frustrated by problems during the races. The team need to stay sharp to capitalise on any retirements to claim tenth in the constructors’ championship from Marussia.
Narain Karthikeyan’s completed just two racing laps on his single previous visit to Bahrain. He’s concerned about how well the car’s cooling systems will cope:
“I don’t know the circuit in Bahrain so I’m going to have to be extra focused and make the most of my time in the car. We have an idea of what we think the set-up should be, so we’ll see if this works.
“We’re going to try a few things in Bahrain and, hopefully, this will help us to improve and progress further. What I do know about this track is that the weather is going to be very hot and we’ve struggled a bit in hot conditions this season so far because of the cooling system in the car, so we’re going to have to work very hard on this.”
Marussia have started the season rather better then expected. According to team principal John Booth, they’re continuing to make progress: “Going into last weekend’s race in China we’d eaten into the gap to our immediate competitors by 0.8s since Malaysia.
“Combined with the 0.6s decrease we’d seen between the first two races, that means we’ve found almost 1.5s of lap time in the first three races which, considering the challenges we faced with our late start, is very pleasing to all of us. It is still very early in the season of course, but it is nice to see that we are heading in a good development direction.”
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