Although it may not hold a candle in some eyes in comparison to Melbourne, the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain plays host to the first leg of this already-enthralling and unpredictable season.
However, what Bahrain lacks in history and charm it makes up in enthusiasm, with its organisers second to none in providing some of the sport s most modern facilities.
Race Distance: 191.642 miles
2009 Pole Sitter: Jarno Trulli (Toyota)
2009 Race Winner: Jenson Button (Brawn GP)
Lap Record: To Be Established due to new layout.
Due to an increase in the number of entrants for this year’s championship, the organisers of the Bahrain Grand Prix have decided to use an extra loop, on the exit of turn four. As a result, the sweeping turns 6 and 7 are replaced with a much slower collection of corners.
In Thursday’s Press Conference, Michael Schumacher said of the new layout: “The first part looks quite exciting. The later part a little less exciting, but then you have to drive it and feel it in reality.”
Drivers will get their first taste of the new layout in Friday’s first practice session.
Bridgestone has choosen its Super-soft compound as the Option tyre for this weekend, with the Medium specification being used as the Prime.
Hirohide Hamashima, director of motorsport tyre development, Bridgestone
“There are both technical and logistical challenges for Bridgestone in 2010. No refuelling means we have modified the tyre construction and have all new compounds of dry tyres. As well as cars which will be approximately 100kgs heavier at the start of the race, we will see different pit stop strategies this season and the top ten cars starting with their qualifying tyres brings many strategy considerations for teams too. In terms of logistics we have new teams and 19 races. The Sakhir circuit layout is different this year, with an additional eight turns, and this will have an impact on tyre wear and car set up. We have the super soft tyre, which is from our lower temperature working range, and the medium, which is from our higher temperature working range. All this sets us up for a very exciting opening race to the season, especially with only relatively limited running in pre-season testing.”
With the Sakhir circuit obviously surrounded by barren desert, it is little surprise that sand can play a major factort. Remember that sandstorms were ever apparent in pre-season testing for the 2009 season, and although they have never effected a Grand Prix directly, they are an ominous threat which could one day bear its ugly head. In addition, sand can make straying offline treacherous and play havoc with cooling.
In regards to temperature, Bahrain presents one of the biggest tests of attrition to the drivers with temperatures for this weekend looking set to rise above 30 degrees celcius. Drivers will also be under increasing pressure to maintain their brakes for the entire 49-lap race, with the circuit s layout boasting a host of heavy stoppages. The introduction of heavier fuel loads will also decrease the margin of error in this area.
The circuit presents a number of technical corners to the drivers, and a good low-speed set-up with good traction is necessary to make up as much time as possible. The final two turns, 22 and 23, are key if a driver is to get a good run on an opponent down the pit straight.
Overtaking is limited around this circuit, with the most obvious area being into turn one. Remember Jenson Button s breathtaking move on Lewis Hamilton there in 2009? Surely the reigning world champion will want to repeat something similar on his now-team-mate, to stamp his authority at McLaren?
Bahrain first played host to Formula One in 2004 and since then it hasn t exactly produced a whole series of classic races. One Grand Prix that stands out was in 2006 when the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher and the Renault of Fernando Alonso embarked on a race-long battle for the lead. Schumacher led for the majority of the race, until clever tactics by Renault allowed Alonso to exit from his final pit stop side-by-side with the German and subsequently snatch first place. However such drama is unlikely for this year, with fuel strategy now outlawed in the sport – meaning drivers will have to make their way past on the track.
Last year s race provided the now-defunct Toyota team with its greatest opportunity to win in Formula One. However, after dominating qualifying it all went wrong for Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock, who were let down by a poor strategy call which saw both drivers have to endure a middle stint on the unfavourable prime tyres. As a result, Jenson Button capitalised on the Japanese team s misfortune to take his third win in four races.
If pre-season testing told us anything, it was that this season will be one of the hardest to call. However, expect the likes of Williams and Sauber to spring a surprise if their apparent tyre advantage comes to fruition.
What will Toro Rosso and Force India do? The latter will certainly be strong on the long straights.
Will any of the new teams score, let alone finish the race?
The One to Watch?
Felipe Massa. If Felipe is to stand any chance of beating his illustrious team-mate at Ferrari he will have to start from the off. The Brazilian has a strong record around Bahrain, winning in 2007 and 2008, and could easily upset Fernando s Ferrari debut.
Selected Team and Driver Quotes ahead of the 2010 Bahrain GP:
Jenson Button (2009 Qualifying – 4th Finished – 1st):
“I m really looking forward to getting into my car on Friday morning in Bahrain and knowing that I m the world champion. It s a responsibility and an honour – but it s something I m going to enjoy for as long as I can. I don t want to lose that number from my car! My winter has been an incredible learning experience – joining McLaren has provided me with exactly the sort of challenge I needed. I have put every effort into working with the team, my engineers and learning about my car to ensure that we start the season in Bahrain in the best possible shape. Even after four weeks of testing, it s incredibly difficult to predict the order ahead of the new season. There are a number of teams and drivers who appear to be in the hunt, and, as with the start of every new season, it will be fascinating to see who emerges as the team to beat. I ve never known a team work as hard as we have done over the winter – I ve spent more time with my engineers this winter than I have before any other season, and I feel very comfortable about my preparations.â€
Lewis Hamilton (2009 Qualifying – 5th, Finished – 4th)
“I can t believe the winter s over already – it seems like only yesterday when I was racing in Abu Dhabi. It s been a winter of two halves for me: before Christmas, I really focused on my fitness and training, working away to be as ready as possible for the new season. Since January, I ve been fully focused on working with the team, testing the car and improving our package ahead of the opening race of the year. There s been a huge workload, but it s been fantastic to work with Jenson and the engineers to improve MP4-25, and we re all extremely pleased with the progress we ve made and the direction we ve taken. I think we have a very promising car beneath us: it s a real change of direction for us, and I think the possibilities with this car are very exciting. Now, though, it s all about the racing – once I put my crash helmet on and pull the visor down, I know more than anything that I m ready to go racing.â€
Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren team principal:
“I can t remember the start of a Formula One season where there s been so much interest, excitement and anticipation. The closeness of the winter tests, our double-champion line-up, the return of a Formula One legend and the presence of four world champions on the grid mean that 2010 is already shaping up to be a classic season. From our side, we ve been engaged in one of the most painstakingly diligent pre-season programmes that we ve ever undertaken. We ve amassed an enormous amount of data and we ve learnt a considerable amount about MP4-25 in just four brief tests. We ve been encouraged by our progress, we ve been delighted with the input of both Jenson and Lewis and, finally, we feel ready. Make no mistake: we re a team of racers. We ve been waiting impatiently for the first race to arrive for many months. We feel we ve risen to the challenge and we can t wait to get started – Bahrain is a demanding track for both the team and the drivers and we re looking forward enormously to racing in the home of one of our primary shareholders. It promises to be a fantastic Grand Prix.â€
Michael Schumacher (2009 Qualifying – n/a, Finished – n/a):
“Finally the season will start! I feel like a child looking forward to Christmas. The decision to make my comeback feels like a long time ago now and I can hardly wait for the season to get underway in Bahrain. It’s funny to think that I will be competing in Formula One again when just a few months ago, I would have declined the opportunity categorically. But sometimes things change and the right circumstances come together. I feel fresher than I have for many years. I am perfectly prepared physically and most importantly, my energy is back completely. When I retired from racing in 2006, my batteries were simply empty. Now they are totally recharged and I am ready for the challenge. It is the competition at the highest level that only Formula One offers which has provided the temptation for me. It is always difficult to predict the form in pre-season testing, this year more than ever, but the final test in Barcelona proved to us that we should be competitive. We know that we will have more new parts in Bahrain which should bring extra performance to the car. It’s important to be in the leading group from the start of the season and I am confident that we will be there.”
Nico Rosberg (2009 Qualifying – 9th, Finished – 9th):
“The build-up to a new Formula One season is always an exciting time, particularly when you have a new team to settle into and a brand new car to get used to. It has been a really nice process integrating into the team. Everyone has been very welcoming and I feel very much at home here already. Our pre-season testing programme has gone pretty well in February. We did have some concerns that we were not able to find the right direction to extract the maximum potential from the car but by working hard, we were able to find our way and ended testing on a high. We also have a good upgrade coming for Bahrain which should develop the car further and so I am quite optimistic that we will do well. Bahrain is a track which I really enjoy so it should be a good start to the season all in all.”
Ross Brawn, Mercedes GP team principal
“Everyone at Mercedes GP is proud to be representing the rich motorsport pedigree of Mercedes-Benz as we start the season as the first Mercedes works team for over half a century. In addition, knowing that we go into the new season as the reigning World Champions gives the team confidence and a fierce pride to defend our position. However this is a new season and a new challenge. We had a strong pre-season testing programme with the MGP W01 but we are not quite reached the level of preparation that we would have liked prior to Bahrain. The car shows promise and we have a strong development programme planned for the season but there is a lot of hard work ahead to ensure that we will be in the fight for the title. I am very pleased with how our new drivers Michael and Nico have settled into the team and developed a close working relationship. They have really pushed the development of the car throughout testing and they will push each other to achieve better results on the race track. This season should be a fantastic one for the fans with so many talented drivers competing and what is likely to be a very close fight for the title between the top teams and that can only be good for our sport.”
Norbert Haug, vice president Mercedes-Benz Motorsport
“The Bahrain Grand Prix as the first race of the 2010 Formula One season marks the beginning of a new era for Mercedes-Benz. 55 years after the last race of the Silver Arrows works team, Mercedes GP will start to continue this tradition. In preparation for our first season, we have covered over 6300 kilometres during 15 test days from the 1st to the 28th of February. Judging our competitiveness for the first couple of races, my impression is that we are not quite where we want to be and I would not see our team in the role of favourites. Having said that, I am fully convinced that the whole team and our drivers Nico and Michael are fully prepared to get on top of our job and fulfill our targets which are winning races and fighting for world championships.”
Rubens Barrichello (2009 Qualifying – 6th, Finished – 5th):
“I’m delighted to be entering my eighteenth season. I’m so motivated and I’m in a much better physical condition than I have been at any other time. I’m also really happy to be driving for AT&T Williams. I’ve settled in well, and I already feel like I’ve been here five years! We covered a lot of miles with the car during winter testing, working on reliability during the first few tests and then some upgrades for Bahrain at the final two. In terms of set-up, reliability and drivability of the engine, we’ve done a good job. The car has improved a lot and the team have done well preparing me so I’m completely familiar with everything heading into the first race. I think we re strong, I’m optimistic, but it is very hard to draw a conclusion as to where we are so I’m going to wait and see. It’s going to be a fantastic season with the new teams, the new drivers and the new regulations.â€
Nico Hulkenberg (2009 Qualifying – n/a, Finished – n/a):
“Being a Formula One driver is a great feeling and I’m very excited about going to Bahrain. I learnt a lot as the team’s test driver, which has prepared me well for the season ahead. Working in the factory has also helped give me more of a technical understanding of the car, it won’t make me quicker, but it will help me with set-up. Winter testing was good for us. Having completed a good amount of mileage, we are well placed going into the season. The Cosworth engine is also looking strong; it’s powerful and reliable. We have potential, but we have to wait to see where the competition is. It’s going to be an exciting season and I can’t wait to start it!â€
Sam Michael, Williams technical director
“The FW32 completed almost 7,000kms during winter testing with the new Cosworth engine installation. We have made great progress on reliability and we’re still working on improving that, albeit at high mileages that we shouldn’t encounter during race weekends. Performance has been solid throughout the test sessions, but Bahrain will tell us where we are. We tested the majority of our Bahrain race package while in Barcelona, while a couple of additional parts will go straight to the race. Rubens and Nico will also go through their first race weekend as teammates. Signs from winter testing are that they’ll push each other all the way!â€
Robert Kubica (2009 Qualifying – 13th, Finished – 18th):
“Bahrain is a circuit that requires good braking stability and traction. There are no real high-speed corners so the set-up work focuses more on the mechanical side. I don’t think the layout will make overtaking easier. The biggest overtaking opportunities are still there in the old part of the track and the new part is quite twisty with a lot of corners, but no heavy braking zones. So the overtaking will happen in the usual places – into turns one and four.â€
Vitaly Petrov (2009 Qualifying – n/a, Finished – n/a):
“People are asking me if I feel nervous, but I’m used to racing and I know what I need to do. Of course things are different in F1 and I’m still learning about the car and how to work with the team. But I feel good and I can’t wait to go racing in Bahrain. I know the track and raced on the old layout in GP2, but obviously the new section is a new challenge for all the drivers. I don’t think about whether I enjoy tracks: all that matters to me is that the car works well and we can find a good balance. Bahrain is all about braking performance and, with the heavy fuel loads, this will be very challenging because it will be easy to lock a wheel and flat-spot your tyres early in the race. I need to be realistic in Bahrain because it’s my first race and it will be a big learning experience. So my first aim is to build my confidence through the weekend, to finish the race and try to be as close to my team mate as possible.â€
Eric Boullier, Renault team principal
“If we discount the bad weather, then overall our preparations have gone very well. We had a couple of minor glitches, which is quite normal for winter testing, but generally the car has run well and shown good reliability. Overall, considering that six days out of 15 were affected by rain, I think we have managed to maximise our mileage with the car. You can still learn a lot in the wet, especially for reliability, but the problem is that you don’t push the car to the limits like you do in the dry. I won’t go into details, but there is a big upgrade package for Bahrain, the main part of which is aerodynamic. I have a dream result in mind, but I need to balance my expectations with reality. If we can have both cars qualify in the top ten and finish the race, that would be a great way to start the season.â€
Adrian Sutil (2009 Qualifying – 19th, Finished – 16th):
“The baseline car we have now after 12 days of testing looks very good and promising. The changes we have made during the winter have all had a positive effect. Testing went well and although there was a lot of rain over the period, the last two days in Barcelona were okay. We did our long runs and a lot of work with the tyres so we are fully prepared. We are pretty confident that our car is good enough to be in the top ten in Bahrain. I would hope we could score a few points. For everything else, it is very difficult to say what else will happen, but I am fine with any position within the top 10 – that’s my goal for the moment.â€
Vitantonio Liuzzi, (2009 Qualifying – n/a, Finished – n/a):
“In my five years of F1 this is definitely the best car I’ve driven, it s the most balanced, and knowing that has made me feel so much stronger and confident. Of course you can never know exactly where you are compared to the others but we can go to Bahrain feeling optimistic and positive. For the first race we want to show that our winter work has paid off. Points are our target for the time being and getting into the top ten, as high as possible. Being realistic, a few points should be feasible and hopefully everything goes as well as in testing with good reliability for the first race. I’ve had a look on Google earth and on the simulator. I think they have just made the Bahrain track layout much longer and slower and I’m not a big fan of this type of track as I love high speed corners and circuits. I don’t think there will be any more overtaking opportunities as the track goes through too tight an area. But it’s the same for everybody and we need to get used it. We’ll see when we walk the track on Thursday.”
Dr Vijay Mallya, Force India chairman and team principal
“We finished 2009 on a real high note – our first-ever points, a podium and one place up in the constructors’ championship. That is enough in itself to set the bar much higher this season, but we’re really determined to take it to the next level. Regular points and the odd podium have got to be the aim and we know it is possible. I have a lot of faith in the drivers and the technical staff, I think we’ve got into a very good rhythm together now. I have been very encouraged by the entire performance, both at the track and at the factory. The testing times gave very positive headlines, but it is very difficult to know where we are until we get to Bahrain. Certainly however the initial reports from the drivers are encouraging and when that happens it’s worth another three to four tenths – if they feel happy and confident in the car then that they can really attack.â€
Timo Glock (2009 Qualifying – 2nd, Finished – 7th):
“Pre-season testing has been pretty eventful for our team. We saw some very positive signs of the potential of the car and the team, but we also experienced some reliability issues and too much rain, the combination of which prevented us from maximising our track time. However, if I stand back and look at what we have built together in the space of only nine months, we should all feel pretty proud.
“Here we are, heading into our first race and I m very excited. We re as ready as we can be. We re a small team but we have the resources and people to keep building something special together and that is what we must all keep in mind as we progress. We have some great team members at Virgin Racing who know what it takes to be quick and what we have to do to get to where we want to be. Our objective remains to be the best of the new teams and that particular race starts this weekend.â€
Lucas di Grassi (2009 Qualifying – n/a, Finished – n/a):
“It s very exciting to be here at last, ready to take part in our debut Grand Prix. It s also my own personal F1 debut which definitely makes this weekend the high point of my career. I d like to thank everybody in the team for the hard work and determination that we have all seen, especially over the past few weeks in pre-season testing. It hasn t always gone our way but the team have fought hard and their spirits are high. Bahrain will be a tough challenge for sure. We will need to learn how to get the maximum out of the car in race weekend conditions.â€
Nick Wirth, Virgin technical director
“The past nine months have flown by so quickly, it s hard to believe that our Grand Prix debut has arrived. Despite the challenges we encountered in pre-season testing, we have conducted a great deal of off-track preparation, to give ourselves the best possible chance of a strong showing in our inaugural race. The rest will be down to good fortune and we’ve probably stored some of that up by now!
“We think that we have identified and applied appropriate fixes to the various hydraulic problems that affected our winter testing so badly. We also didn t get the chance to set times with low fuel or the super-soft tyre in testing and so going into Bahrain we have yet to show our true performance level. Free practice on Friday will provide our first real barometer of relative competitiveness, but we’ll only know our true Bahrain pace on Saturday afternoon. To give us our best possible chance, we will be introducing the first of our season s aerodynamic and mechanical development parts, which will significantly improve our pace versus our testing configuration, with more planned developments being added for Melbourne.
“As one of the most challenging circuits for car and brake cooling – with several hard braking corners on the lap – Bahrain is going to provide an altogether different challenge after three wet weeks of pre-season testing. Therefore the spotlight will inevitably fall upon the car s cooling systems – and those of our drivers, who face cockpit conditions of around 45°C.
“Our simple objective for Bahrain is to do everything possible to ensure we have a strong debut race from lights to flag. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved with Virgin Racing and Wirth Research for their support and the massive effort that has brought us so far in such a short space of time.â€
Pedro de la Rosa (2009 Qualifying – n/a, Finished – n/a):
“I have good memories of Bahrain. In 2005 when I had to jump in I scored the fastest race lap. In 2007 I was there for two days of testing. However, I think the new section which is added to the infield will make it an all new track, because it means we have to adapt the downforce level. The best aspect of the circuit is that you can overtake. There are three long straights with each followed by a corner where you have to brake really hard. We will have good racing there, I think, and all I want is to fight because this is what I missed most. It is difficult to tell yet which track will be good for our car. In any case it will be very interesting to see how the strategies unfold, and how the teams will react to each other’s strategy in the race. Due to the fact that refuelling isn’t allowed anymore, the team can influence the outcome a lot more. After we have had four good tests on three different circuits I feel very confident for the season’s start. I covered a lot of mileage with the team and we learnt a lot. Bahrain will mark my return to racing and I can’t wait.”
Kamui Kobayashi (2009 Qualifying – n/a, Finished – n/a)
“I won two GP2 Asia races in Bahrain in 2008 and 2009 and I have been testing there in Formula One in 2009. I like the fact that the season starts on a circuit I know so well. The track is quite nice, I like every corner and now we get some more of them. The track has a lot of stop-and-go corners and I really enjoy that style, while I also think it will suit our car. During the tests I learnt a lot and I’m training hard. I definitely feel ready for the start of the season and I’m also looking forward to the usual good weather in Bahrain, as I really like it warm.”
Willy Rampf, BMW Sauber technical director
“The kick off for the coming season promises extra excitement because very few of the teams showed their full potential during the tests. Due to the refuelling ban the fuel cells have become much larger and, therefore, we’ve got radically different cars. It is an engineer’s task to find a set-up which provides a good balance for the cars, although they will now be a hundred kilos heavier at the start of the race. Race strategy also provides totally new challenges. Pit stops will be mainly dictated by the tyre performance. Both tyre specs still have to be run. The circuit lay-out in Bahrain has changed significantly as it is now dominated by a narrow section in the infield with eight additional corners. The downforce level will be a compromise. On the one hand the many low speed corners require high downforce, but on the other the extraordinary width of the track encourages overtaking and this means you can’t disregard the need for top-speed.”
More to follow…