Formula One arrives in the deserts of Bahrain this weekend for round three of the 2014 Formula One season, with Mercedes expected to continue their dominance despite the harsh conditions of the Sakhir circuit.
While heat was a problem for everyone in Sepang last weekend, this year’s Bahrain event promises to be a little cooler than normal with the race scheduled to take place under floodlights for the first time since its introduction to the calendar in 2004.
Medium and soft tyre compounds are the order of the day from Pirelli to cope with the often abrasive track surface, a victim of the area’s desert surroundings and infrequent track activity; little has happened here since the final F1 pre-season test in early March. Protests in the gulf state have quitened somewhat since the height of the Arab spring that resulted in the 2011 race being shelved, but some still remain resolved to use the Grand Prix as their window for the world; expect the yearly round of news bulletins questioning F1’s continued devotion to Bahrain.
What can we add to this section that hasn’t already been said; and after a mere two races? The F1W05 is in the most incredible season-opening form witnessed since perhaps even the legendary 1988 McLaren MP4/4 that carried Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost to all but one victory that year. With an overwhelming qualifying advantage and an even bigger race deficit to nearest rivals Red Bull in Malaysia, you would be foolish to assume it will be anyone other than Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg on the top step of the podium by the time the floodlights are switched off on Sunday evening. Hamilton himself admits that he has ‘never had a gap that big before’ in his entire F1 career, and the F1W05, with it’s second-a-lap advantage looks set to make the season a year-long battle between the Briton and team-mate Rosberg. Rosberg leads the way after winning in Australia and finishing 2nd to Hamilton in Malaysia, and surely will continue to lead the title race after Sakhir so long as he finishes – reliability is something Merc have proven good at despite Hamilton’s demise in Melbourne. The question is will he have extended the lead, or will it have narrowed?
Red Bull have firmly got over their pre-season testing woes and are cemented as ‘best of the rest’; though Daniel Ricciardo has not been able to make the most of that tag thus far. Disqualified in Australia, hit with a pit crew mistake in Malaysia and now slapped with a ten-place grid penalty for Bahrain, it’ll be entertaining to see the Aussie claw his way back through the order on Sunday. Sebastian Vettel looked pleased to be on the podium in Sepang despite being blown away by the Mercedes duo, and rests safe in the knowledge that he has the pace for pole position tucked inside his belt.
Williams and McLaren both slipped back in Malaysia, with Williams’ plight highlighting the difficulty of overtaking in F1 2014-spec. Both have updates on their cars for Sakhir and while McLaren don’t expect to be challenging to win this weekend, for Williams it is imperative they get their season kick-started soon. Points have been trickling in but this is a far cry from the team that set fastest time in the final Bahrain test. Perhaps they can recapture that form this weekend?
Forecasts predict a dry weekend for this year’s event, somewhat unsurprising given the barren nature of this circuit – not once has rain fallen in the race’s nine year history so far. Temperatures are set to hit a high of 26’c for qualifying on Saturday, and not predicted to dip below 20’c over the three days.
TV times are a little different to usual this year thanks to the altering of the race start time to ensure darkness – thus the race on Sunday begins at 18:00GMT.