Formula 1 returns to action this weekend in Bahrain as drivers get another opportunity to showcase their progress from the offseason. After Valtteri Bottas’ dominating victory in Australia along with Ferrari’s struggles in challenging for a podium spot, there is much debate as to how much was actually learnt about the teams in Australia. But surely, Sebastian Vettel will be hoping to extend his dominance of Bahrain where he has won the previous two races.
The Bahrain International Circuit will feature three DRS zones for the first time at the Middle Eastern circuit. The numerous opportunities for overtaking along with the new regulations regarding the front wing could provide a more energetic spectacle than what was seen at Melbourne. Teams will need to be able to find the right combination of straight line speed while also finding solid grip in the corners to set up an overtake coming out of turn 10 and turn 13. Gasly was quoted as saying
“Probably you can go with a more aggressive strategy with that extra DRS zone…”
Some drivers also expect their to be a likelihood of two stop strategies, which would prove to be a refreshing change. One-stop strategies have often been the preferred approach last season, but two-stop strategies create additional chances for the undercut. Mercedes, Red Bull, and Ferrari will all likely attempt to employ a variety of strategies between their two drivers.
Three drivers that will be gunning for redemption this weekend are Daniel Ricciardo, Pierre Gasly, and Sebastian Vettel. Ricciardo suffered an unlucky home Grand Prix when his Renault clipped a dip in the grass knocking off his front wing and bringing an early end to his chances of getting off on the right foot with Renault. His teammate, Nico Hulkenburg, managed a seventh place finish, but lost out to Kevin Magnussen for “best of the rest” honors. Bahrain should serve Ricciardo well with his expertise for overtaking.
Pierre Gasly endured a disappointing qualifying session at Melbourne which led to a frustrating race for the French driver. He was unable to get himself into the top ten and failed to get by Red Bull’s sister team’s Daniel Kyvat. He would find some positives in knowing that his teammate, Max Verstappen drove himself onto the podium after besting the Ferrari drivers. Should Pierre manage a good place on the starting grid, he could be a contender for the podium.
Sebastian Vettel, and to a larger extend Ferrari, will need to prove critics wrong after a disastrous opening race. Vettel and Leclerc were well off the pace from where they were in pre-season testing. Vettel told the media,
“The last couple of weeks have been very intense. I think we have some answers, but as always you never get all the answers because we never get the chance to go back and repeat.”
If Ferrari simply made mistakes regarding the setup of the car, then there is a hope that they can get back to winning ways this weekend. Still, should there be a more serious issue that prevented the team from being more competitive, it is more likely they will be unable to remedy all of the issues in two weeks. They could be in some trouble this weekend since two of the three main straights are preceded by slow corners, which was an area where Ferrari struggled with in an attempt to combat their lack of straight line speed.
Pirelli will offer its three hardest compounds for this weekend: the C1, C2, and C3, while Renault and McLaren are the only two teams to have both drivers selecting to use an extra set of the C1 (Hard) compound tires (F1.com). This might provide some insight into how these teams will approach race day as it would seem unlikely to utilize and extra set for practice.
The Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix looks to be an enticing spectacle for race fans. Can Haas or Renault begin to cement their place as the fourth best team on the grid, or will one of the other midfield teams jump into the mix? Mercedes will hope that last race was not apparition and Bottas and Hamilton can continue to dominate the field for a second race in a row.
FP1 will kick off tomorrow morning at 7:00am EST. Qualifying will take place at 11:00am EST on Saturday with the race kicking off at 11:10am EST on Sunday. The race will air on ESPN2 with Sky Sports providing the coverage. The season looks to be one of the most competitive since 2012, where seven different drivers won the first seven rounds.
*Photo Credit- Unsplash: Kevin Langlais