In my post-Australian Grand Prix article I suggested that perhaps because that race hadn’t been a conventional Grand Prix we hadn’t really seen the true pattern of 2016 Grand Prix racing and that we would have to wait until Bahrain, round two. The likelihood is exactly that, mainly because Bahrain is normally a very straightforward race.
The facts are as follows. We will be using exactly the same trio of Pirelli tyres, as in Melbourne: medium, soft and supersoft – and is in China come to that. (Supersofts have never been raced here before).The weather in Bahrain is usually pretty predictable: temperatures in the high twenties, no rain, only sand to contend with. And a normally uninterrupted race; there have been only three safety cars in eleven years. Just to add a caveat, however: none of this is guaranteed!
(For a start, it is currently 22 degrees in Bahrain on Thursday at midday and it has rained several times today already! So much for predictability. And on another front, teams made their tyre choices months ago, long before testing, before the messing about with the qualifying, long before radio restrictions. For instance, Mercedes have chosen just one set of mediums each for Hamilton and Rosberg as have Renault, Verstappen and Gutierrez. Yet the medium was vital to the tyre strategy in Melbourne, even though it was scarcely used until the race itself).
However, the track temperature is likely to be much higher than in either Melbourne or testing in Barcelona, so there is still that variable to contend with. Having said that, it is a ‘late’ race because FP2, qualifying and the race all start at 18.00hrs after the sun has gone down, but at least there is some consistency. Last year, the track temperature never went lower than 28.8 degrees which helps give a steer as to tyre temperature and likely tyre use. It’s the third time that it has been a night race.
So that’s where we start. On the other hand, Bahrain is also known as a power circuit thanks to four straights which then place a heavy demand on brakes. In fact Brembo says it ranks nine out of ten in terms of brake severity, on a par with Singapore and the yet-to-be raced Baku circuit – but this race is on a conventional race track, not a street circuit with speeds approaching 300kph reached on four occasions. During the race, there are 450 brake applications with a total force of 56 tons. The average deceleration is 4.1G which places a fairly heavy burden on not only the brakes but tyres as well. It also makes a fascinating race for the engineers to harvest and burn ERS energy.
So not only will brake cooling will be vital but also traction and power. It’s also an abrasive asphalt; the track surface is made of 60,000 tons of granite which was imported from the UK. There are loads and loads of variables, so much so that Fernando Alonso has opted to stay in Bahrain as a spectator rather than fly home. He’s been ruled out of this Grand Prix as he has rib damage following his accident in Melbourne, but he’s said that he wants to be a fly on the wall and see the race from the outside, to see what he can learn from being a spectator. Not only is that interesting but also admirable, good for him, doing his job properly. Most drivers cannot bear to be at a race meeting and not drive.
The politicians among us will no doubt be the stirring the pot as we struggle on with qualifying schedules without FIA intervention, the drivers await a response to their letter, radio restrictions continue to be varied, Formula One is/isn’t sold etc. It’s not worth commenting on most of this, as the goalposts keep changing. It keeps the sport in the news if you like but even the political commentators tend to look further than the basic facts, preferring to see some further agenda.
As I mentioned at the end of my Australian Grand Prix resume, there’s every reason to think that Ferrari could challenge Mercedes, based on that race, but each race is very different. Lewis has won here twice, Nico has had two poles, clinched the GP2 championship here, had his first GP and scored his first point here. Both drivers have finished all their Bahrain GPs.
Sebastian Vettel has won here twice and been on pole twice, while Kimi Raikkonen has finished second four times and third three times. Felipe Massa has had a couple of wins here, Jenson Button won in 2009 and Fernando Alonso had had a trio of wins and has never failed to finish one of his eleven Bahrain Grands Prix. (He hadn’t retired in Australia either until two weeks ago…)
So is it open or closed, anyone’s race or only Mercedes? One would be foolish to bet against Mercedes but it is never cut and dried, and never as cut and dried as it may seem. Whatever, it’s going be a fascinating Bahrain GP, I’m certainly looking forward to it and I hope Fernando Alonso is – and you!
By Bob Constanduros