After a long wait with no Formula One, we’re now at the second race of the season. The first went as most of 2014 and 2015, with a Mercedes 1-2 in qualifying and race, with only the names reversed.
But importantly, Mercedes’ rivals have also all had faster engines and improved aerodynamics this year, losing out mostly on strategy. Newcomers Haas also impressed on debut, with Romain Grosjean managing a 6th place finish, while firm midfielders Williams, with the consistent Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas at the helm, have also kicked off 2015 with good points finishes.
Red Bull, despite their engine drama in 2015, also did well, with Daniel Ricciardo finishing in 4th.
The latest news from the track is that McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, who was involved in a serious shunt at the Australian Grand Prix, is unfit to drive in Bahrain, with his CT scans “not satisfactory.” He’ll be replaced by Stoffel Vandoorne, the team's reserve driver and 2015 GP2 champion.
Now at the second race of the year, the Bahrain Grand Prix, spectators will see 2016’s first night race. What should you expect?
The race is held at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, and was conceptualised by famed F1 track designer Hermann Tilke. It is the only track in the middle of a desert, as a result of which organisers took measures to ensure there was no sand blowing on to the track and disrupting racing. The track itself is quite wide, and is the friendliest to drivers who tend to veer off-track.
Made of Graywacke aggregate, it provides more grip than most circuits. There are multiple tracks at Sakhir within the Bahrain International Circuit, but the one that has been most frequently used – and is currently used for the Formula One race – is the Grand Prix Circuit. 5.412km long, the race sees drivers race 57 laps – and 308 kilometres in the process.
The track sees four long straights with a series of kinks and turns, although only 3 of these are very sharp. The large run-off areas help drivers who go off track, but also prevent sand from finding its way onto the circuit.
The first corner of the track was renamed in honour of F1 icon Michael Schumacher following his tragic skiing accident in 2013.
Past winners and best teams
Schumacher was the first winner of the Bahrain Grand Prix, which was instituted in 2004, but it is current McLaren-Honda driver Fernando Alonso who has had the most success here. The Spaniard won the race both of his championship-winning years – 2005 and 2006, and then again with Scuderia Ferrari four years later.
Alonso’s onetime teammate Felipe Massa has also won two races here – in 2007 and 2008, and as a result, Ferrari are the most successful constructors in Bahrain. Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton also have two wins apiece at the venue.
Mercedes dominated 2014 and 2015, with Lewis Hamilton winning at Bahrain both years. However, Ferrari and Williams have both looked competitive in 2016, with the Prancing Horses losing out on strategy rather than speed. If they can iron out these issues, they could well be close title contenders this year.
Despite engines that team principal Maurizio Arrivabene admitted were “nowhere near as good as Mercedes" in 2015, it was Kimi Raikkonen who started the race on pole – and finished in second.
Force India, who are on Mercedes power again in 2016, do well on circuits with long straights, and may benefit here; however, given Williams are also using Mercedes power units, and have displayed brilliant aerodynamics in testing and at the Australian Grand Prix, it looks as though it will be a Mercedes – Ferrari podium yet again, with perhaps an outside chance for Felipe Massa, who had a good run in Melbourne.
Debutants Haas F1, who are on Ferrari power, excelled at the Australian Grand Prix, with Romain Grosjean managing a 6th-place finish. Secondary driver Esteban Gutierrez had a steady drive until the shunt with Alonso, which is largely considered to be the fault of the Spaniard.
Ahead of the season, McLaren had hoped for an improvement in their performances. They did in fact iron out the majority of their 2015 reliability issues, but given Alonso's accident – due to an overtaking error, and the fact that Button finished near the back of the grid, neither driver will be particularly positive going into Bahrain.
Reserve driver Vandoorne, however, is fresh off a GP2 title win and showed both speed and consistency, which augurs well for the Stoke-based outfit.
It’s a night race, so visibility will obviously be lowered. Luckily for drivers, the weather appears to be largely sunny and moderate, with only a small chance of rain.
Fun fact: Bahrain is the only race where drivers are not given champagne on the podium – instead, they uncork a local drink named Waard, which is rosewater-based.