|Nico! Amma beat ya! Again!|
The Bahrain International Circuit is holding its 12th round of the world championship this year. A typical modern circuit with wide run-off areas and frequent braking zones, it has nonetheless produced some memorable races in recent years. The purpose-built venue was designed by Hermann Tilke and is characterised by long straights and slow corners. This puts a premium on top speed and traction.
Despite the focus being on the controversial decision to stick with the unloved ‘elimination’ qualifying, the tactical game in the race should once again prove the main attraction.
The opening race in Melbourne showed that the new rule permitting the drivers a choice of three tyre compounds in the race is the most interesting and exciting of the changes to the 2016 regulations, far more than the team radio or qualifying changes. It opens up several viable strategy options and this leads to cars racing each other with performance offsets, enough to promote close battles and more overtaking.
Track length : 5.41 kilometres
Race distance : 57 laps (308.23 kilometres)
Corners : 15 corners in total, mostly medium speed, with three long straights. Very tough on brakes.
Aerodynamic setup : Medium downforce
Top speed : 322km/h (with Drag Reduction System on rear wing) – 310km/h without
Full throttle : 64% of the lap
Time spent braking : 16% of the lap. 8 braking zones.
Brake wear : High.
Total time needed for pit stop : 23 seconds.
Pit lane length : 480 metres
Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried) : 0.38 seconds (average/high)
One thing Bahrain tends to be very good for is stable weather conditions and this weekend is set to be no different. Following a rain-affected Friday practice in Melbourne, the teams will be pleased with warm and dry representative running, with temperatures expected to be a relatively cool 24C. With some cloud expected too, that should help ensure track temperatures in FP1 and FP3 are closer to the conditions which will be seen during qualifying and the race which take place under floodlights.
A glance at last year’s race shows that the soft was the preferred race tyre; the shift to a twilight race means that the track temperature comes down in comparison to the 2pm start we used to have there and that greatly reduces the thermal degradation on the tyres. The temperature is forecast to be around 25 degrees for qualifying and race.
As the supersoft will once again be the preferred qualifying tyre and therefore the starting race tyre, the key to this race will be whether the teams can cover the 57 lap race with two stints on softs after the initial pit stop to get off the supersofts. It will be touch and go and you cannot rely on a safety car as these are pretty rare in Bahrain due to the wide open nature of the track. The alternative is to go supersoft, soft, medium, with a longer stint on mediums. Mercedes will not fear this, as they did not in Melbourne, as they can make the mediums work better than the Ferraris can.
Last year the longest stint for the soft was 21 laps, while the medium was good for 32 laps on Massa’s Williams, so it is tough and go for soft tyres.
The DRS sectors at the Bahrain International Circuit will be the same as last year. The detection point of the first zone is 10m before turn 9 and the activation point is 50m after turn 10. The second zone's detection point is 108m before turn 14 with activation occuring 270m after turn 15.
Mercedes’ 1-2 finish last time out in Australia was its 24th since the beginning of 2014. Every team that has previously secured a 1-2 in Melbourne has gone on to win both championships and the victorious driver has also won the drivers’ championship on those six occasions, which will be a boost for Nico Rosberg.
There is a sense of status quo at the top of the order, but Ferrari looked clearly closer to Mercedes than it was a year ago in Melbourne, and should have won the opening race had it got its strategy under the red flag right. As it was, Mercedes started with another one-two but will know the gap is closing, while Red Bull similarly made a step towards the front. Realistically the RB12 will only be a major threat later in the year but it looks to have the legs on Williams, while Haas has shown it can mix it with the likes of Force India in the midfield. Toro Rosso has more potential than ninth and tenth in Melbourne showed, while Renault can also target points if it can improve its qualifying pace. Perhaps the biggest unknown surrounds McLaren, with Fernando Alonso spectacularly crashing out early in Australia and Jenson Button suffering from a poor strategy that left him at the back of a midfield pack.
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