The Bahrain Grand Prix has been a toxic subject for Formula One since the cancellation of the 2011 race in the wake of the government’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests which claimed the lives of dozens of Bahrainis.
Last year’s race went ahead amid a massive security operation. Despite this Force India team members were involved in a petrol bomb attack which led two of their members to leave the country and their cars to be withdrawn from the second practice session.
Bahrain has seen little improvement in the relations between the government and protesters in the 12 months since. In many respects the situation appears to be festering.
So far there has been been little to show from the resumption of talks between the government and the leaders of the opposition two months ago. It remains to be seen whether this is another ploy by the government to present an image of calm before the race, along with pre-emptively arresting protesters who live near the track. But the dialogue should be given its chance to bear fruit.
In the meantime F1 is taking a clear risk by allowing itself to be used for political ends and granting the government another propaganda coup. After the horror of Boston we do not have to search far back in our memories to be reminded about the potential for carnage were someone to make a target of a sporting event.
Bahrain Grand Prix team-by-team preview
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||Hard and Medium|
*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix
Sebastian Vettel won here last year and was on course to win the preceding race in 2010 before an exhaust problem forced him to drop back.
Having lobbied for more conservative tyres, Red Bull are unlikely to be disappointed by the news that Pirelli will bring the medium instead of the soft tyre this weekend. But Mark Webber’s weekend is already compromised by the three-place grid penalty he received following his tangle with Jean-Eric Vergne.
In previous years Ferrari have been less well-suited to Pirelli’s hardest tyres. But the aggressive generation of tyres being used this year means that may no longer be the case.
“As the conditions will be very different with much higher temperatures, we can expect this to affect the way the tyres perform,” said team principal Stefano Domenicali.
Although the MP4-28 won’t see its major upgrade until the Spanish round, McLaren expect to build on the progress made at the previous races this weekend.
Lotus were firmly in the hunt for victory in Bahrain last year with both drivers finishing on the podium. Kimi Raikkonen pressured Vettel for the win despite starting outside the top ten. That gave him the advantage of extra sets of fresh tyres to attack with.
Once again the team have a car that’s gentle on its tyres and they should go well on this track where traction and preserving the rear tyres is key.
Rear tyre degradation has been a notable weakness of recent Mercedes. This race weekend will be an important test of their car and will reveal much about how competitive they are this year.
“This should give us a good understanding of the car that we have to work with for the rest of the season,” said team principal Ross Brawn.
Although the team were disappointed with their result in China, they are optimistic that they are now heading in the right direction with the C31. However Esteban Gutierrez carries a five-place grid penalty following his crash in the last race.
Paul di Resta had a strong drive in this race last year, bouncing back from the team’s pre-race disruptions to claim sixth place.
He believes the key to improving their performance at the moment is cutting out mistakes: “We need a clearer weekend; we don?óÔé¼Ôäót need things to go wrong, as they did in third practice in China.”
“It lost us a session, lost us a few hundredths, and that would have made the difference to put us out of position in qualifying to have an easier first lap. So that will be the plan – to be more consistent.”
Although the FW35 has not met the team’s expectations so far, they expect it to respond well to Bahrain’s combination of high brake wear, maximum strain on the rear axle and punishment temperatures.
“We feel that the current car, whilst not as competitive as we would like, will be more competitive in Bahrain because of these factors,” said technical director Mike Coughlan. “For engines it is a high power, high efficiency circuit that places a premium on straight line speed and the Renault engine should be robust at this sort of circuit.”
After scoring his best-ever finished in China, Daniel Ricciardo returns to the track where he achieved his best qualifying finish 12 months ago.
“I’m definitely coming in with some confidence after Shanghai,” he said. “Looking on paper I think we can fight for points again. We were quick here last year – or, at least, I did a quick lap on Saturday – so I think I’ve got a fair idea how to get around the track. Our strong points in China will serve us well here. We seemed to use the tyres quite well we weren’t too hard on them.”
In an effort to get on top of their current car Caterham are bringing former driver Heikki Kovalainen back to drive for them.
It may only be for practice, but it will inevitably raise speculation that he is set to replace one of their full-time drivers.
Max Chilton said “it?óÔé¼Ôäós all starting to come together” for him after his third race start last weekend. However he lost a lot of running during practice with engine problems.
“I hope that we will have an easier time of it in Bahrain so I can make another positive start to the weekend and then have the opportunity to maintain that momentum,” he added.
2013 driver form
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Images ?é?® Red Bull/Getty, Lotus/LAT, Force India. Caterham/LAT