Not long after the chequered flag dropped at the end of the Chinese Grand Prix, the big pack up had already begun for the next round in Bahrain for Round 3 of the Formula 1 World Championship.
The Bahrain International Circuit situated about 30km south of the Bahraini capital Manama was completed in 2004 and has been hosting F1 races ever since. The circuit is an ultra modern facility with many possible configurations. The F1 configuration consists of 15 corners with 4 straights which precede heavy braking zones and potential overtaking chances. The twisty in-filed section has a stop start nature with slow and medium speed corners. There are two DRS zones. One the main straight to Turn 1 and the second between Turn 10 and Turn 11.
The abrasive track surface puts tyre degradation on the upper end of the scale and with the stop-start nature of the circuit the cars require lots of mechanical grip from the tyres. Playing it safe for the first few races, Pirelli have opted for the white medium, yellow soft and red super soft tyres this weekend. Although degradation is quite high the new Pirelli compounds, which we’ve seen in the past two races are quite durable, should hold it’s own around the Bahrain International Circuit and we should see a two-stop race compared to three stops last year.
Hamilton vs. Vettel
If there was any doubt that Ferrari’s performance was a once off in Australia, their showing in China may have put some of those doubts to rest. Although still lacking a bit on one lap pace in qualifying trim, the SF70-H holds it’s own during the race and has shown that it is the better car on race day. However, we are only two races into the season, so one should be weary about singing their praises just yet.
We did not get to see a full on Hamilton vs. Vettel fight in China. Vettel’s strategy in China was compromised by the safety car after Antonio Giovinazzi’s crash. We could see a close battle between the two this coming weekend. Perhaps similar to the Rosberg v Hamilton battle in 2014.
The Battle in the Middle
This year the battle is in the mid field is as close as it can ever get. With Red Bull not on pace with Ferrari and Mercedes and with Williams very close on pace to Red Bull, we’ve seen two tiers emerge in the mid field. The second tier is very close between Force India, Toro Rosso, Haas and to some extent, Renault. The on-track battles that are being served up is great for the fans as the drivers leave nothing to chance and snap up every chance they get.
It’s shaping up to be a long hard slog for superiority in the mid field and it could be the source of many talking points in the races to come. Few teams will be looking very closely as the young guns fighting it out as they look to replace drivers that are out of contract at the end of the season.
Further down the field we have Sauber and Mclaren. Since the departure of the Manor team, Sauber has picked up the label of the back marker team. Antonio Giovinazzi who subbed in for the injured Pascal Wehrlein put in an impressive performance at the first round in Australia. Two weeks later and he was less impressive after crashing out in Qualifying and crashing again in the same spot in the race.
Over at McLaren it just seems that the team is on a knife edge. Alonso is growing increasingly frustrated in the car and is not shy to make his frustrations known over the team radio. One wonders what he may be saying behind closed doors. Make no mistake, McLaren do seem to have a good package put together, and just like last year, the engine is letting them down. Honda say they their confidence is increasing with the new engine and that upgrades should make things better. In the mean time Stoffel Vandoorne and Alonso will have to put on a brave face.
Battle in Bahrain
Meredes and Ferrari will be fighting it out in front. The warm conditions may suit the Ferrari’s more than the Mercedes. Mercedes are also bringing their longer wheelbase car to Bahrain to try and maintain their small advantage now.
While Hamilton and Vettel were clear ahead of the field in China, both their team mates had races they would rather forget. Bottas spinning twice under the safety car dropped him down the field. After the race he apologised for his “amateur” mistake. Raikkonen was unable to pass Daniel Ricciardo which held up Vettel behind. Vettel was able to eventually pass his team mate and Ricciardo but Raikkonen remained stuck behind Ricciardo. The Finn feels confident enough to turn things around this weekend.
As we get settled into the season it’s plain to see that Vettel and Hamilton will battle it out till the end. On the way there, they will definitely be thrown some curve balls and do not rule out Red Bull just yet. When they get over their issues and move to tracks that are more suited for their car they should be able to take the challenge to Mercedes and Ferrari. But for now it’s a damage limiting exercise for them.
Fans have been waiting for the day when Mercedes gets challenged. It looks like that day is here. The battle continues in Bahrain.