Predictions – Grand Prix of Bahrain

F1 returns for its first back to back weekend of the year, heading from the haze of Shanghai to the heat of Bahrain.  The Bahrain International Circuit, a mainstay on the F1 calendar since 2004, has been host to thrilling duels in the past between Alonso and Schumacher and Hamilton and Rosberg.  Could we be in for another thrilling one on one battle in 2017?  We very well could.

 

The Track

The 3.36 mile circuit is placed squarely in the middle of Bahrain’s desert.  Since 2014 the race has been run under lights, the second F1 race to do so.  The track itself is a pretty standard Herman Tilke designed track.  Two long straights are lead into a series of fast sweepers with an occasional slow corner.  The main overtaking zones are going into Turn 1.  As with most Tilke tracks, Turn 1 is part of a series of corners that does not necessarily favor the inside line.  As such, we should be able to see a variety of interesting overtakes going into the first corner.  The only other real overtaking zone is going into Turn 4.  The more gutsy drivers (re: Verstappen) may be able to pull off a pass or two going into the blind Turn 10.  But it is not where you normally see a whole lot of action.

Because of the track’s location in the middle of the desert, heat always plays a major factor.  Despite being run at night, the projected temperature for the race is still in the high 70s/low 80s.

 

The Race

By simply looking at the track layout, Bahrain should be a sure fire win for Mercedes.  The long straights favor their power advantage.  But not is all as it seems.  Heat is going to be the operative word going forward in this race.  The cooler temperatures in China allowed for Mercedes, and in particular Hamilton, to be able to push the tires harder than they did in Australia.  Furthermore, we did not witness the loss of grip and graining that Hamilton was complaining about in Australia.  But, that was in low temperatures.  The desert heat will not do Mercedes any favors and we very well could see Ferrari come into their own during the course of the race as Hamilton and Bottas struggle keeping their tires in check.

Speaking of Bottas, he still does not seem 100% comfortable in his car, having had a massive slide coming out of the final corner in FP2.  Especially given his times coming out of practice, I wouldn’t be surprised if he does not so much as make a threatening gesture towards the podium.  I doubt Raikkonen will be able to jump up and take, but this could be a chance for a smaller team like Force India to jump up on the podium.  They’ve been strong in the previous races and should be able to capitalize on the power hungry nature of the Bahrain circuit.

Red Bull will, more than likely, not have their best day.  China was a good race for them, but that was due, in large part, thanks to the variable conditions.  The limited amount high downforce corners will not help Red Bull.  Really with the exception of the sweepers in sector two, everything is a mechanical grip corner.

As for the other teams, Massa look like he may be on for another solid points finish.  Haas and Toro Rosso will scrap for the other slots in the points.

Now, obviously, the engine problems Ferrari experienced during practice are troublesome.  Both cars having similar problems is usually indicative of a larger problem during the team, so we will have to wait and see if their problems continue.  Remember, this was the race last year where Vettel failed to make it to the grid, being plagued with engine problems.  This is a high attrition race, due to the excessive heat, so do expect heavy retirements with a chance at a surprise driver to get up into the points.

 

Qualifying: HAM, VET, BOT

Race: VET, HAM, PER

First DNF: Wehrlein.  Crashes into his teammate going into Turn 1.  Takes out Hulkenberg with them.

Grand Total of Laps Before a McLaren Breaks Down: 2.  The heat is too much for the engine.  It explodes down the backstretch and spreads oil and crankshaft parts all over the track.

Moment of the Race: After the first round of pitstops Hamilton and Vettel go wheel to wheel down the main straight, and into the first turn complex.  They remain side by side until Vettel finally makes it stick going into the braking zone into Turn 4.

 

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