Formula 1: Bahrain Grand Prix – Preview

Charles Leclerc, Scuderia Ferrari. Copyright: Mandoga Media

Just over three months on from the two Grands Prix held on the island of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf last season and one week after the only pre-season test session, Formula 1 is back at the Sakhir circuit for the start of the 2021 championship, which is scheduled to feature no less than 23 races, ending in mid-December in Abu Dhabi. Following the test, all the teams have a lot of data that will come in useful for fine tuning their cars. Over the three days, Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow’s SF21 completed 403 laps and is ready to put its efforts over the winter to the test. The rules require that the basic car is unchanged since 2021, but it has been improved in all areas where the regulations allow.

The circuit. Sunday’s race sees the cars complete 57 laps of the 5.412 kilometres of the Sakhir track. It is famous for long straights and heavy braking points, the most difficult of which are at turns 1 and 14. There are three DRS zones where the movable rear wing can be opened: one on the start-finish straight, one between turns 3 and 4 and the third in the section between turns 10 and 11. The race will be run at night, under powerful floodlights which are as bright as anything the sun has to offer. As usual, as night falls on Bahrain, the temperature gradually drops, as is to be expected in this desert setting.

What’s new. For Ferrari, the biggest change is in its driver line-up, the youngest since 1968, with Charles Leclerc now joined by Carlos Sainz, with an average age on Sunday of 25 years and three days. So far, the Spaniard has taken part in 118 Grands Prix, with two podium finishes and one fastest lap to his name. Another change concerns the event timetable, with Friday’s free practice sessions now reduced in length from 90 minutes to an hour. The first one takes place at 14.30 local (12.30 CET), the second at 18 (16 CET). Saturday’s schedule is unchanged with the final free practice at 15 (13 CET) and qualifying at 18 (16 CET). In a change from the past few years, races will now revert to starting on the hour, rather than at 10 past, in this case at 18 (which will be 17 CET, as the clocks change in Europe).

Six wins. Scuderia Ferrari has won six times in Bahrain: the first victory came in the inaugural event courtesy of Michael Schumacher in 2004, while Felipe Massa won in 2007 and 2008. 2010 was the only year the race was run on the 6.299 kilometre Endurance track, when Fernando Alonso won on his debut in red. In 2017 and 2018, Ferrari won with Sebastian Vettel, while in 2019, Sakhir witnessed Charles Leclerc really making his mark, leading from pole until just a few laps from the end when a reliability problem meant he had to settle for third place and his first Formula 1 podium.