Can Williams recapture Bahrain test form in race?

2014 Bahrain Grand Prix preview

Bahrain Grand Prix start, 2013Just one week after enduring the punishing heat of Sepang, the teams and drivers prepare for an event in similarly scorching conditions in Bahrain – albeit minus the oppressive humidity of Malaysia.

With its long straights, big stops and multiple traction zones, the Bahrain International Circuit is more a test of car than driver. Its many slow corners make severe demands of engines, brakes and rear traction, but the desert track is far from the most spectacular venue on the calendar.

Adding a new dimension to the spectacle and marking the tenth anniversary of the race, this year’s Bahrain Grand Prix will be held under lights for the first time. It is only the third venue in F1 history to do so, joining Singapore and Abu Dhabi.

Holding the race after night fall will grant the drivers some respite from the conditions. But how will their equipment stand up to the strain?

Although reliability has not been hit as hard by the new engine regulations as many feared, we have seen a significant increase in failures so far this year. Those who choose to use the same engines for a third race in a row this weekend could be the first to discover any problems. Remember that during testing it was once the engines neared the end of their lives that most failures became apparent.

Bahrain International Circuit

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

Bahrain International Circuit
track data in full

Given the short turnaround between Malaysia and Bahrain and with both circuits sharing many similar characteristics, it would not be at all surprising to see a similar result this weekend to what we saw last Sunday.

At the front, the battle for the win is likely to once again be between the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, while the extent of the fallout from the team orders controversy at Williams in Malaysia remains to be seen.

F1’s presence in Bahrain remains a bone of contention and, for some, a stain on its reputation. Attendance at the race is invariably poor, and not just because local fans don’t want to sit in the blazing sun for two hours. Given the ongoing tensions in the area, and the drama the Force India team was involved in at the track two years ago, F1 personnel would be forgiven for feeling edgy about holding more of the race weekend in darkness.

But like any circuit it only needs the right combination of circumstances to produce a good race, as it did last year. Long straights and twin DRS zones (which are unchanged from last year) mean you tend not to see one car following another for very long.

Thankfully for the teams, Bahrain is the one round of the season where wet weather tyres are never called into action. The hot, dry climate means that we are likely to have our first fully dry qualifying of the season this weekend – something Williams in particular will be grateful for.

The FW36s looked very quick at the circuit in pre-season testing when they were still decked out in their dark blue liveries. They haven’t realised that potential in the two races so far, but with a dry weekend a near-certainty and a track which is likely to play to their strengths, this could be their time to shine.

Bahrain Grand Prix team-by-team preview

Red Bull

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Bahrain, 2014Given how dire Red Bull’s situation appeared to be the last time the team visited the Bahrain International Circuit four weeks ago, the reigning champions can’t failed to be thrilled at their emergence as the second-fastest team so far.

But Daniel Ricciardo will head to Bahrain hoping for a weekend free from misfortune after his setbacks in the first two races. He goes into the race weekend already on the back foot, carrying a ten place grid penalty because his team released him too quickly during a pit stop last week.

A third place finish was as good a result as Sebastian Vettel could have expected in Malaysia. The world champion believes his team are developing at a faster rate at this stage of the season than their Mercedes rivals, and he knows another podium could help sustain his hopes of a fifth successive title until the RB10 becomes more competitive.

Mercedes

Aside from Lewis Hamilton’s retirement in Melbourne, 2014 could not have started any better for Mercedes with the team taking two wins from the opening two races and establishing themselves as the clear early title favourites.

Hamilton has never won in Bahrain before, but he is likely to be the favourite to take the chequered flag first this weekend after such a strong performance last time out in Malaysia.

Nico Rosberg, last year’s pole sitter, heads to Sakhir still leading the championship. He had the measure of Vettel in Sepang, but it’s becoming clear that the main obstacle between him and the title is his team mate, who he’s yet to beat in a straight fight in a competitive session this year.

Ferrari

Fighting a Force India for fourth place, unable to mount a challenge for the podium places, is not what Ferrari expected at this stage in the season.

Fernando Alonso may have to prepare for another race as ‘best of the rest’ this weekend, but he will be pleased to have had the measure of his new team mate so far this season as Kimi Raikkonen admits he had more work to do to get comfortable in the F14 T.

Lotus

Romain Grosjean, Lotus, Sepang International Circuit, 2014Romain Grosjean gave Lotus a boost in Malaysia by being classified in Sepang, one lap short of completing the E22’s first race distance.

The team can increasingly turn its attention to finding more speed from the car and hopefully challenge for points in Sakhir – a circuit that has been a happy hunting ground for Lotus in recent years.

“Twice I’ve raced there in Formula One and twice I’ve been on the podium,” says Grosjean, “so that’s a good record.”

“The race finish at Sepang is a big encouragement. No matter what the challenge, we are aiming for podiums and strong performances wherever we go.”

McLaren

Compared to the double podium result in Melbourne, sixth and ninth in Sepang showed that McLaren still have work to do if they are to become regular podium attendees this season.

This weekend marks Jenson Button’s 250th grand prix appearance – making him the fifth most experienced driver in the sport’s history.

Kevin Magnussen may adopt a more cautious approach this weekend after contact with Kimi Raikkonen in Malaysia. This is the first race where the rookie is competing on a track where he has already driven a Formula One car.

Force India

Sergio Perez, Force India, Sepang International Circuit, 2014After two weekends of mixed fortunes for Force India the team will be anticipating racing around a circuit that has tended to suit their cars in recent seasons.

Nico Hulkenberg continues to deliver impressive performances and challenged Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari for fourth place in Sepang after executing a two-stop strategy. But he admits he’s “never had a good result” in Bahrain before.

Team mate Sergio Perez will be hoping for any kind of result in Bahrain after technical problems prevented him from even taking the start in Malaysia.

“Last year I had a good race with McLaren and it was one of my best races,” says Perez. “Normally it’s a good track for me, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Sauber

Sauber head to Bahrain on the back of a double non-finish in Malaysia, with both Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez having retired from mechanical issues within three laps of each other.

The team are looking for their first points of the season, having narrowly missed out in Melbourne with an 11th and 12th place finish but with both cars running outside the points when they retired.

Sutil expects the tyres to behave different in the new conditions, “but we can go back to our data from the night race in Singapore”.

Giedo van der Garde will drive in place of Esteban Gutierrez during the first practice session.

Toro Rosso

Two races, two points finishes for 2014’s youngest rookie Daniil Kvyat mark an impressive beginning to his F1 career. Like his fellow rookies, Kvyat will have the benefit of driving at a track where he’s already logged plenty of miles in an F1 car.

Jean-Eric Vergne reached Q3 in both of this season’s opening two rounds but he’s never qualified higher than 16th or seen the chequered flag in Bahrain on his two previous visits.

Williams

Felipe Massa, Williams, Albert Park, 2014Felipe Massa’s refusal to follow his team’s orders and let team mate Valtteri Bottas past in the closing laps at Sepang was one of the major talking points of last weekend. While the issue will have undoubtedly been addressed by team management behind closed doors, it’s unlikely that we have heard the last of this controversy.

If being told to yield for his team mate last weekend has disrupted his settling in to the Williams team, Felipe Massa will undoubtedly be boosted by the arrival of his long term Ferrari race engineer and friend Rob Smedley from Ferrari.

Having told the team that he was “a hundred percent sure” that he could have passed Button in Sepang, Valtteri Bottas will be out to prove that he really does have more pace than Massa in Bahrain as well as recording a third successive points finish. Avoiding a grid penalty for the first time this year would be a good place to start.

Marussia

By his own admission, 2014 has not been the best start to the season for Jules Bianchi. Mechanical trouble in Melbourne left him out of contention before the race had begun and a collision with Maldonado in Sepang left him with brake problems and a licence endorsement.

“I am hoping that Bahrain will be a case of third time lucky,” he said.

Caterham

After a frustrating opening race in Melbourne, Caterham will have been delighted to have seen both cars safely reach the chequered flag at the team’s ‘home’ race in Malaysia.

Kamui Kobayashi’s 13th place finish matched that of Max Chilton’s finish for rivals Marussia in Australia, while Marcus Ericsson will have been satisfied not just to have finished a race for the first time in his career, but to beat Chilton to the flag in the process.

Caterham’s test driver Robin Frijns will make his debut appearance at a grand prix for the team in Friday practice, driving Kobayashi’s car. He should set his sights low, however: Kobayashi has only covered a total of 11 laps on the two Fridays so far this season.

“It’ll be interesting to see how much progress we’ve made across the whole car since I last drove it,” says Frijns, “but my focus will be on helping the team prepare for the race weekend, something I know I can add value to, assuming we have a problem-free session!”

2014 driver form

Driver G avg R avg R best R worst Classified Form guide
Sebastian Vettel 7.00 3.00 3 3 1/2 Form guide
Daniel Ricciardo 3.50 0/2 Form guide
Lewis Hamilton 1.00 1.00 1 1 1/2 Form guide
Nico Rosberg 3.00 1.50 1 2 2/2 Form guide
Fernando Alonso 4.50 4.00 4 4 2/2 Form guide
Kimi Raikkonen 8.50 9.50 7 12 2/2 Form guide
Romain Grosjean 17.50 11.00 11 11 1/2 Form guide
Pastor Maldonado 18.50 0/2 Form guide
Jenson Button 10.00 4.50 3 6 2/2 Form guide
Kevin Magnussen 6.00 5.50 2 9 2/2 Form guide
Nico Hulkenberg 7.00 5.50 5 6 2/2 Form guide
Sergio Perez 15.00 10.00 10 10 1/1 Form guide
Adrian Sutil 15.00 11.00 11 11 1/2 Form guide
Esteban Gutierrez 17.00 12.00 12 12 1/2 Form guide
Jean-Eric Vergne 7.50 8.00 8 8 1/2 Form guide
Daniil Kvyat 9.50 9.50 9 10 2/2 Form guide
Felipe Massa 11.00 7.00 7 7 1/2 Form guide
Valtteri Bottas 16.50 6.50 5 8 2/2 Form guide
Jules Bianchi 18.50 0/2 Form guide
Max Chilton 19.00 14.00 13 15 2/2 Form guide
Kamui Kobayashi 17.00 13.00 13 13 1/2 Form guide
Marcus Ericsson 20.50 14.00 14 14 1/2 Form guide

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2014 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Images © Red Bull/Getty, Lotus,/LAT, Force India, Williams/LAT

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34 comments on Can Williams recapture Bahrain test form in race?

  1. Girts (@girts) said on 3rd April 2014, 12:06

    The Bahrain GP will also be the 900th world championship race. I looked back at the previous anniversary GPs and it seems that all of them have been remarkable for one reason or another:

    100th – 1961 German Grand Prix: Stirling Moss clinched his final Grand Prix victory in an impressive manner. He not only chose the right (wet) tyres but was also massively praised by his fellow competitors for getting “all corners right on every lap”.

    200th – 1971 Monaco Grand Prix: Won by Jackie Stewart and captured in the documentary film ‘Weekend of a Champion’.

    300th – 1978 South African Grand Prix: Won by Ronnie Peterson after a dramatic last lap battle with Patrick Depailler.

    400th – 1984 Austrian Grand Prix: Niki Lauda’s only home win.

    500th – 1990 Australian Grand Prix: Nelson Piquet won on Sunday but the weekend was probably more notable for off-track events, such as the pre-race interview with Ayrton Senna where the Brazilian famously stated “If you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver”.

    600th – 1997 Argentine Grand Prix: Jacques Villeneuve won, while Eddie Irvine ensured the best result of his career at that point by finishing second. Both Jordans, driven by Ralf Schumacher and Giancarlo Fisichella, collided but Schumacher still scored his first podium finish.

    700th – 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix: Giancarlo Fisichella won a chaotic race, which was red- flagged after heavy crashes involving Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso. Only two drivers (Fisichella and Kimi Raikkonen) stood on the podium, in the wrong order.

    800th – 2008 Singapore Grand Prix: Nelson Piquet Jr deliberately crashed to help his team mate Fernando Alonso win the race.

  2. Keith Campbell (@keithedin) said on 3rd April 2014, 12:11

    I hope Williams is on form. I have a sneaky bet on Bottas for a podium at 5:1. I know betting is a mug’s game but makes the race a bit more exciting if you have someone to really root for (i often don’t). They should do better with a dry qualy and have good top speed so should be a strong circuit for them. Other teams can’t have made drastic improvements to their cars since Melbourne (apart from PU refinements).

    • Hans Herrmann (@twentyseven) said on 3rd April 2014, 15:52

      @keithedin That’s a good price.. He’s been in the mix for the last two races with bad luck keeping him away from the top spots. Plus with this track suiting the Williams…

    • Rooney (@rojov123) said on 3rd April 2014, 17:18

      Teams are on a very steep learning curve this year. Williams has to make use of their car’s potential in the upcoming couple of races or face the risk of being stranded behind by the development war.
      But seeing as how they weren’t all that competitive on a dry Malaysian race makes me think that the performance of their car shows up only on circuits with slow corners and long straights.
      Here’s to Felipe standing on the podium again. Fingers crossed.

  3. electrolite (@electrolite) said on 3rd April 2014, 12:14

    Hopefully, if the weather stays dry. I knew they shouldn’t have been so hyped pre-season…I really want them to get a good result though.

  4. WilliamB (@william-brierty) said on 3rd April 2014, 12:16

    Massa did a 33.2 in testing which, yes, was on the supersoft tyre, but owing to the fact that the track will be cooler in the nighttime temperatures and the cars will be substantially further down the line in terms of development, I see no reason why the FW36 can’t match, if not beat, that time. And based on the gap between the W05 and the FW36 we’ve seen in the season so far, is it not possible that we might see a Mercedes match, or even improve on, Rosberg’s 2013 pole?

  5. Bradley Downton (@bradley13) said on 3rd April 2014, 12:16

    Avoiding a grid penalty for the first time this year would be a good place to start.

    Haha, that made me laugh.

    In all seriousness though, Bottas has shown he can fight from towards the back of the grid, and still score points. Imagine what could happen if he actually started inside the top 10?!

    • fractal (@fractal) said on 3rd April 2014, 13:50

      I feel Williams is underperforming so far this season. Given the level of performance they had demonstrated in testing earlier this year, they should have at least come closer to some podium no matter what the weather condition is, unless they are screwing things up. I think they are really screwing things up here. Why the hell Williams be the only team running on so less fuel compared to others as per FIA real time telemetry? I don’t think Massa got a significant role in Williams performance improvement if any. Williams must tidy up their quali and come with a better strategy for race to be any good.

      • Keith Campbell (@keithedin) said on 3rd April 2014, 14:24

        They haven’t maximised their potential so far, but a fair bit of that was out of their control. Massa taken out first corner of Melbourne and Bottas making a mistake and getting a puncture. The two wet qualifying sessions also seemed to hurt them more than other teams.

        They used less fuel because they put less fuel in at the start, i believe they have stated that as fact. Obviously they chose to run lighter to optimise their race and they seem to have the most fuel efficient car on the grid, which should help a lot through the season. The team orders in Malaysia were badly handled though, which may have cost them a couple of points.

        Massa has a lot to prove this year, i’m far from convinced about his race pace (and consistency), but we will see over the year. I expect Bottas to score more points though.

        • Deej92 (@deej92) said on 3rd April 2014, 18:40

          I think Massa so far has given Bottas more trouble than was expected. He’s outqualified him twice, beaten him in the one race they both finished, and avoided getting any penalty points or grid penalties.

          Being up against a highly-rated driver who’s had a couple of years with the team already, Massa hasn’t had a bad start by any means.

  6. I think Bahrain is a drivers circuit, because of the tricky shape of many corners including the infamous turn 9 hairpin much time can be loss in the slow parts of the track rather than gained through an advantage in downforce, that said in previous years with blown diffusers there were cars and drivers that excelled here like Sebastian Vettel, which is my favourite for pole next Saturday. It’s nature also plays havoc in the mechanics I have to agree with that, so lets hope it’s cooler by night time. I think Williams and Mclaren should do well just for the fact that both have good traction and this track can mask their high speed woes, Ferrari will suffer though as their only strength is high speed.

    • In_Silico (@insilico) said on 3rd April 2014, 12:59

      Mercedes are still way ahead of everyone else, including Red Bull so I’m not sure how anyone could have Vettel as a favourite for pole. And it’s almost certain to be dry so the advantage won’t be cut between Mercedes and Red Bull due to rain like what we’ve seen in the two previous qualifying sessions this year.

    • James (@iamjamm) said on 3rd April 2014, 16:20

      Williams were the fastest cars in the speed trap in Malaysia, and Ferrari have stated more than once that they do not have enough top speed.

  7. Ricardo Ferreira (@yes-master) said on 3rd April 2014, 12:55

    Well, since Bottas argued that he’s faster than is team mate and able to fight for a position against a Maclaren, is up to him to show if Williams is more competitive or not. I believe the pressure is on Bottas shoulders. Let’s see if he has what he takes.

  8. joetoml1n (@joetoml1n) said on 3rd April 2014, 13:02

    I love the Bahrain Grand Prix, a good track, and one that has often produced a good race as well.

  9. Fer no.65 (@fer-no65) said on 3rd April 2014, 13:28

    I have so little sympathy towards Sauber this season… how sad.

    I wish Williams really gets on it on Saturday and fights for something big on Sunday. Relegating Red Bull for 2nd best of the race would be veeeery nice !

  10. Rooney (@rojov123) said on 3rd April 2014, 13:36

    Mark my words. This will be the race that determines the winner of Marussia Vs Caterham battle for this season. I expect a lot of retirement and if Max Chilton can keep his uninspiring, but applaudable race finishing spree, Marussia will win the battle.

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