Formula 1 News

Bahrain GP Preview: another Mercedes powertrain victory?

The team whose name mirrors its engine has the upper hand, but Williams had excellent performances in Sakhir during testing, and don;t rule out McLaren.
Thursday, April 3, 2014

April 3, 2014 (F1plus/Graham Keilloh).- And so it comes around again. The F1 race that you may feel that you have to brace yourself for, say for the social unrest, politics, plain boring racing or lack of proper ambience.

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But Politics aside, the circuit will host its 10th Formula 1 Grand Prix, which is already far more that what Korean’s and Indian’s combined can claim for.

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The facility is a Hermann Tilke-penned one with everything that entails, only that this time, the race will be the second ‘twilight’ one of the season, as it now features lights.

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As Tilke tracks go this is one of the more tepid; a sort of triangular one dominated by long straights separated by tight turns, with quick corners in there but rather minimised (a little redolent of the A1-Ring except in the desert).

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Along with braking and traction, straightline speed and fuel efficiency are key discriminators at the Sakhir circuit, which means advantage Mercedes, probably even more so than we've already got used to already in the 2014 campaign.

For the win it'll likely again be the Merc cars versus each other versus reliability. And while he leads the drivers' table Nico Rosberg you feel needs something like a bounce back after the goings-on of Sepang last week, which at least needs to involve getting get a lot closer to his similarly-equipped rival Lewis Hamilton than he did on the preceding Sunday.

If he doesn't, then Lewis will have plentiful amounts of that most precious of sporting commodities called momentum.

Bahrain is a happy hunting ground for Nico however - he took a surprise and impressive pole position here last here, once upon a time won his GP2 crown at Sakhir as well as on his F1 debut at this very venue became the youngest ever claimant of the fastest lap. But then again Malaysia was meant to be happy hunting ground for him too.

The other Mercedes power unit runners have a good chance of being next up. The Williams cars' fuel economy (apparently neither car started with the full 100kg in Malaysia) and responsive front end should suit this track and thus they should be well-placed to make good on the FW36's potential which has been dangled tantalisingly so far but hasn't yet converted into proportionate hard results.

The Sakhir track also is the one that Williams wowed us all on in testing of course. Plus keep an eye on Felipe Massa for whom Bahrain, like Interlagos, is one of those tracks that he specialises on.

And Nico Hulkenberg and the Force India will be ones to watch too. While the resurgent Williams and McLaren have got a lot of attention this campaign you could argue that despite the lower profile the Silverstone squad is another British effort (well British-based effort) getting more in the way of consistent results.

In the Hulk's hands it has anyway, and as we know he took fifth place in Malaysia and left Williams and McLarens far behind in so doing. And the Force India often goes well at this Sakhir venue, indeed last year Paul di Resta ran in the top three for most of the way and was only denied a podium finish late on (it also turned out to be by far the closest anyone outside the big four teams got to a top three finish in the whole of 2013). He also finished sixth here the year before.

Force India may be able to benefit from strategy too; the tyre compounds on offer are softer than those in Malaysia (the soft and medium will be available) and here the choice between two and three stops in the race is often a close one.

The track can be demanding on the rubber too, thanks in combination of traction zones, potential for lock-ups under braking and a fairly abrasive surface. Sand getting onto the track can exacerbate these problems.

That the race is to be run after dark and therefore the temperatures should drop may nudge some towards two stops, while as we saw last Sunday Hulkenberg was one of only two to go for a two-stopper, reflecting that the VJM07 is gentle on the Pirellis.

It's open to debate just how successful the strategy was there (despite the good result) but it may be more fruitful still this time.

As for McLaren, the optimism from its Melbourne result and chat about finding another half second per lap of improvements rather evaporated on-track around Sepang. Jenson Button attributed the underwhelming show to the Malaysia heat and the track's high speed. The trouble is that Sakhir might not offer too much relief on these two counts.

Red Bull meanwhile is predicting a struggle, and there is evidence that it is not merely a deliberate management of expectations.

This time the team almost certainly will not have rain in qualifying to help it up the order, while the long straights around the Sakhir track will count against the RB10s, or rather its Renault power unit, too (Christian Horner's stated that on the two lengthy straights at Sepang they lost half a second to the Mercs every time).

Indeed, Ferrari has been whispering that - with what it reckons is better fuel economy than the Renault - it's got a good chance of usurping the Bulls this weekend.

It seems very hard to envisage - barring very unusual occurrences - that it'll usurp the Mercedes though. Or that anyone else will.

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