Race starts at 6:10 pm Bahrain time/11:10 pm Malaysian time on Sunday

This weekend sees the second round of the 2018 Formula One World Championship in Bahrain, 12,500 kms from the opening round which was held in Melbourne, Australia. The first of this year’s 21 rounds was a relatively gentle introduction to the season for 2018’s cars but in Bahrain, there is a stiffer challenge. Heat and dust are both notorious engine breakers and the stop-start nature of the 5.4-km track provides a harsh test for both brakes and tyres.

The idiosyncrasies of the Bahrain International Circuit ensure the picture will not become entirely clear this weekend – but the race will further sharpen the focus.

While the conversion of the Bahrain Grand Prix to a night race (in 2014) improved the spectacle for fans, it brings with it challenges for both teams and drivers. The rapidly cooling track affects the balance of the car in ways that are inconsistent with a standard, mid-afternoon event.

Sebastian Vettel, racing after dark at last year’s event which the Ferrari driver won.

The other consequence of racing at night is that it makes Free Practice 2, conducted in the early evening, the only practice session from which meaningful set-up data is gathered. The first and third free practice sessions, both of which take place in the mid-afternoon, are usually not fruitful in the search for a good race balance, with the circuit tending to move from oversteer on the hot track, towards understeer as the asphalt cools.

Available to the teams in Bahrain are Medium, Soft and Supersoft tyres. Superficially, this is the same combination as used in 2017 though last year, no driver raced the Medium compound and the top ten all ran a 2-stop strategy. With the tyres generally considered to have moved one step softer this year, wider strategic choices should be in play.

While the Australian Grand Prix is not generally considered a reliable indicator of form, events at Albert Park two weeks ago did suggest exciting possibilities for the season ahead. While Mercedes appear to have the advantage in qualifying, the gaps between them, Ferrari and Red Bull were fractional on long-run pace. Behind them, an equally compelling battle looks to be developing among McLaren, Renault and Haas. [Click here for the results of the Australian GP]

Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel are the most successful drivers in Bahrain to date, with 3 wins each. Alonso won in 2005 and 2006 for Renault, and 2010 for Ferrari; Vettel won the 2012 and 2013 races for Red Bull, adding a third last year for Ferrari.

The Ferrari team is the most successful with 5 victories here since the Bahrain GP began in 2004, with Michael Schumacher winning the inaugural race and Felipe Massa adding back-to-back victories in 2007 and 2008. Lewis Hamilton also has back-to-back victories at the circuit, winning for Mercedes-AMG in 2014 and 2015.

[Chips Yap]

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