F1 GP Bahrain Preview

Can Mercedes maintain momentum?


On the track, Bahrain is going to be all about tyre wear, as this is a tight circuit which places a high premium on tyre performance and conservation, and where the surface offline is always dirty thanks to the sandy environment.

So can Mercedes continue the dominance they showed in China, and if so will it be Nico Rosberg making it win number two or team mate Michael Schumacher taking win number 92?

“All the engineers, especially in the past few weeks, have been working very, very hard just improving the set-up, because we really struggled in the first two races with race pace,” Rosberg said just days after finally breaking through at his 111th attempt in Shanghai. “It’s great to see just how quickly we managed to progress. It’s just fantastic. 

“It’s all been about set-up, really. Really thinking about what’s going on in the race and why are we struggling and trying to improve that situation. Surely the conditions helped us in China, I think, but even so, we’re just moving forward and that’s very nice to see. Already from the beginning of the year we’ve been very strong in qualifying, perhaps more difficult in the race. Now we’re still strong in qualifying - very strong, maybe even stronger - and also improving the race, so it’s good progress forward and I’m sure that we will continue this on-going development.”

McLaren go to Bahrain intent on winning again, as Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button lead the world championship after their respective third and second places in China. “I’m sure that this won’t be Nico’s first and last win,” Button said after that race. “They - the team - seem very competitive this year and Nico obviously hasn’t put a foot wrong all weekend. So I think we’re going to have a battle on our hands this year which is good to see.”

“I had a great race in China but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be like that at every race,” Rosberg says. “Bahrain could be a little bit of a different story again. We need to wait and see. It’s difficult to predict.”

Button, meanwhile, is looking forward to Bahrain’s heat. “We would hope to go even better. I just struggled - I think everyone did - with trying to get the tyres in an operating window in China, which was so difficult. The change in four or five degrees has been massive difference in car balance. I would rather it to be a little bit more straightforward and we can really get down to business.”

It’s unlikely that teams will have many big updates here after they took whatever they had to China, but Red Bull are expected to put Sebastian Vettel’s RB8 back to the latest specification rear end after his experiments in Shanghai. Ferrari and Lotus will largely be unchanged, while Sauber are determined to make the most of the C31’s noted kindness to its rear tyres to make up for their disappointing result last week.

The Sakhir track has reverted to its original 5.412 kilometre (3.363 mile) ‘Grand Prix’ layout, after the 2010 experiment with a new ‘Endurance’ complex did not prove popular. So once again it's a sequence of long straights with low-speed corners, which means that it’s very demanding on the brakes as drivers slow from 315 km/h to 65km/h in just 130 metres and three seconds for Turn One. The heat means that brake cooling is also very important. 

Now that teams have DRS here for the first time some may be tempted into high-downforce set-ups, but good straight-line speed is also crucial so the drag pay-off conundrum may take some figuring out during practice. The single DRS zone is on the start-finish straight, with the detection point at the end of the preceding straight, just prior to Turn 14.

The track surface is smooth but quite abrasive, and is very tough on the rear tyres because of the proliferation of first-, second- and third-gear turns which demand plenty of traction and grip. The combination of high temperatures and sand blown on the circuit also plays a key part. 

Pirelli will be bringing the same soft and medium compound rubber seen in Shanghai. “There are a number of technical challenges that we are anticipating for Bahrain,” says their motorsport director Paul Hembery, “with the hot conditions in excess of 30 degrees Celsius putting the compounds into a different working range. We’ve gathered some data from the track as the result of our tests there in the past, but the tyres and cars have changed so much since then that it is almost like starting again with a blank sheet of paper. However, we’re expecting a notable degree of degradation that should certainly test the teams in terms of strategy.

“With the circuit not having been frequently used, we are anticipating quite a high degree of track evolution over the course of the weekend. The risk of sand on the track can be an issue, as it takes time to clear and can cause graining. So tyre management will again be crucial, with rear traction in particular the key to a strong qualifying and race pace.”

Interestingly, HRT’s Pedro de la Rosa, a former Pirelli tyre tester, expects most teams to opt for two-stop strategies as the tyres are holding out longer this year and the new Pirelli profile is very beneficial to making the most out of the rubber.

The weather forecast is settled for the weekend, with partial cloud each day and the ambient temperature rising from 27 degrees Celsius on Thursday to 28 on Friday and 29 on Saturday and Sunday.

Friday's opening practice is expected to see Williams give tester Valtteri Bottas another outing in Bruno Senna's car, while Sunday's race will run over 57 laps or 308.238 kilometres (191.533 miles) and will start at 1500 hours local time, which is three hours ahead of GMT.

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