After one of the best and most controversial seasons in the history of the sport, the new 2022 FIA Formula 1 World Championship season is just days away and will begin with the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The Bahrain International Circuit (which is sometimes referred to as “Sakhir” after the area where it is located), was constructed at a cost of $150m ahead of the inaugural Bahrain Grand Prix in 2004 and became the first Middle Eastern track to host a Formula 1 race.
There are six layouts, including the 5.412km Grand Prix circuit that consists of 15 corners, that has been used for all but one of the 15 Bahrain Grand Prix races held to date. The exception was in 2010 when the race was staged on the 6.299km “Endurance” layout of the Circuit with 24 corners. The race was remembered for Fernando Alonso winning on his debut with Ferrari.
However In 2020, Formula 1 staged back to back races in Bahrain. The second race, known as the Sakhir Grand Prix, was run on the much shorter 3.543km circuit with just 11 turns to create more opportunities for overtaking. This race saw George Russell make his debut for Mercedes due to Lewis Hamilton testing positive for Covid 19. Russell looked on course to get his first win in Formula 1 but due to a pit lane mix up and a puncture, it ruined his chances of winning and Sergio Perez went on to claim his first win in the championship.
What happened over the three days of Testing at Bahrain?
Coming into testing at Bahrain, there were questions over whether the teams would make any significant changes to the looks and performance of their cars from testing in Barcelona.
The main talking point was the change in design of the side-pods on the Mercedes car compared to their main rivals Red Bull and the rest of the grid. Many thought that the side-pods would give the Mercedes car an advantage of extra pace in turning and through corners with there being questions around whether they are legal or not.
However, Mercedes seemed to struggle during testing, with Lewis Hamilton commenting that they are going to find it difficult as a team to be competitive this season. Red Bull on the other hand excelled and have emerged as the early favourites this season with Max Verstappen putting up the fastest lap across the three days, going nearly a second clear of George Russell’s quickest time.
Other talking points included McLaren with Daniel Ricciardo testing positive for Covid and missing all the three days of testing. This meant that Lando Norris had to put in some extra time on track due to Ricciardo’s absence and in doing so, he completed the most laps over the three days with 200 laps.
Norris complained about a braking issue with the car in testing which will need to be fixed ahead of the race weekend. Also, If Ricciardo is unable to race this weekend, Alpine’s reserve driver and last season’s F2 Champion Oscar Piastri will likely take his seat for the race.
In addition, Ferrari looked strong in testing with Leclerc putting up the third fastest time and they will be hoping to be up there competing with the likes of Red Bull this season.
After missing the opening hours of the test due to logistics issues, Haas put their two hours on track time at the end of the opening day to good use through Mick Schumacher who hit the second fastest lap time over the three days and with Kevin Magnussen who finished with a top 10 lap time. However, there were some issues for Williams and Alfa Romeo with Williams lacking pace and Alfa Romeo having a gearbox issue in testing.
What happened at the Bahrain Grand Prix in 2021?
In Saturday’s qualifying, Max Verstappen, having led all three practice sessions for Red Bull, took pole position for the fourth time in his career. In Sunday’s race, Verstappen led the first 17 laps. Lewis Hamilton then led the next 9 laps before Verstappen took back the lead of the race. He led for the next 11 laps.
On lap 40, Hamilton regained the lead and was able to hold on with pressure from Verstappen, who had tried to overtake but exceeded track limits, and therefore was told to give the position back, leaving Hamilton to claim victory. Valtteri Bottas, Hamilton’s teammate, achieved a podium with a third place finish and an extra point with the fastest lap of the race, giving their team Mercedes a large lead in the Constructors’ Championship.
However, the race was marred by controversy on the rules surrounding track limits, with leading figures from both teams criticising what they saw as unnecessary complicated regulations.
An Overview of the Bahrain Circuit
The Bahrain International Circuit is a 5.412 km long motor racing circuit designed by Hermann Tilke in Sakhir, Bahrain, in the sparsely populated southwestern part of the country.
Sector 1 – The start / finish line and pits are on a 0.75 km straight, which is the first DRS zone of circuit. (Turn 1) is a tight 135 degree right which is followed immediately by (Turn 2), a wider 60 degree left than (Turn 3) which is flat out with a gentle right turn. This is followed by a 0.5km straight and the second DRS zone. This leads into (Turn 4) which is another 135 degree turn but not as tight as turn 1.
Sector 2 – This starts at a gentle sweeping left (Turn 5). (Turn 6 and Turn 7) are a quick and sweeping 60 degree right to left combination which leads into a short straight before (Turn 9), a 45 degree left. Turn 10 is a tight 135 degree left that leads onto the beginning of the 0.5km back straight. (Turn 11) is a very brief straight allows the cars to set up for (Turn 12) itself, which is a sweeping 90 degree right which leads to (Turn 13).
Sector 3 – (Turn 13) is a decreasing 120 degree right and is one of the most difficult turns on the circuit. This leads onto a fourth straight which is 0.5km long but is not a DRS zone. At the end of the straight is (Turn 14), which is a sharp right just over 90 degrees and (Turn 15) follows after with a slight right kink that puts the cars on the straight to the start / finish line.
Tyre Strategy for the Bahrain Grand Prix
Pirelli has selected the three hardest compounds in the new 18-inch tyre era in Formula 1 for the season opening Bahrain Grand Prix. These consist of the C1 white hard tyre, the C2 yellow medium tyre, and the C3 red soft tyre.
This choice has been made because of the tracks layout, asphalt characteristics and temperatures. This is due to a high percentage of granite within the asphalt, which leads to high levels of wear and degradation.
Although asphalt abrasion is high, sand that blows in from the surrounding desert can cause a lot of sliding that affects grip which makes these tyres chosen, the best at being able to combat the conditions on the track and the weather.
What to look out for in this race
The key things to look out for in this race will be the performances of the two championship rival teams from last season Red Bull and Mercedes. Will Mercedes’ issues from testing be resolved in time to challenge Red Bull for the race win? Or could Mercedes be bluffing to confuse the competition?
Last time George Russell was in a Mercedes for a race, it was at the Sakhir Grand Prix, where he replaced Hamilton after he tested positive for COVID 19, and nearly went on to win the race. Now he is a full Mercedes driver, will he be able to get the win at Bahrain that he deserved back in 2020?
Can Lewis Hamilton win back to back Bahrain Grand Prix’s and get some redemption against a really quick Max Verstappen and Red Bull after the controversy at Abu Dhabi in the last race of last season or will the current World Champion show the mentality of a champion by starting this season off the way it ended in 2021 to get the race win.
Could another team win on Sunday? Ferrari looked good in testing and have been favoured by many this season to be competing for the World Championship.
After watching the action last year, which will go down as one of the best seasons, there will be more eyes on the sport than ever, the world will be eagerly awaiting to see how everyone on the grid performs and whether there will be any surprises or shocks in the aftermath of the Bahrain Grand Prix. Only time will tell.
How to keep up with the action
- Free Practice 1 – Friday 12:00pm GMT
- Free Practice 2 – Friday 15:00pm GMT
- Free Practice 3 – Saturday 12:00pm GMT
- Qualifying – Saturday 15:00pm GMT
- Grand Prix – Sunday 15:00pm GMT