There are quite a few unknowns going into this race weekend. Sakhir circuit has been modified from the 2010 event, without the extra loop, which was added just for that event. This means the track is shorter by just under a kilometer and four braking zones have been removed. The last time this layout was used there was still refueling in F1, so the strategy for this year will be completely new.
With lots of corners following each other and a heavy car at the start of the race, Bahrain is one of the toughest circuits of the year on brakes, with four major stops per lap from over 300km/h.
The late April date means that the temperatures are likely to be very high, which will lead to increased tyre wear. Also making the picture pretty interesting is the fact that there was no race at Sakhir last season, so Pirelli has not raced there before. It did conduct some tyre testing on the track however, during the early stages of its 2011 development programme.
The track, being in a desert, is also at risk of being coated in fine sand and this can compromise grip levels.
When you’ve read all about the considerations the teams will go through when deciding their plans for the race, see if you can find the best strategy using our Race Strategy Calculator. Click here to use it. Race Strategy Calculator
Sakhir Circuit; 5.41 kilometres. Race distance: 57 laps = 308.23 kilometres, 15 corners in total, mostly medium speed, with three long straights
Aerodynamic setup – Medium downforce. Top speed 322km/h (with Drag Reduction System on rear wing) – 310km/h without.
Full throttle – 50% of the lap. Total fuel needed for race distance: 150.8 kilos.
Time spent braking: 16% of the lap. 7 braking zones. Brake wear: High.
Loss time for a Pit stop = 18.6 seconds
Total time needed for pit stop: 22.6 seconds.
Fuel effect (cost in lap time per 10kg of fuel carried): 0.38 seconds (average/high). Fuel consumption: 2.6 kg/lap
The Bahrain Grand Prix is the fourth round of the 2012 FIA F1 World Championship.
The first two races of the season saw McLaren dominate in Australia, with Malaysia hard to draw many conclusions from due to changeable weather conditions, although Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso won the race from Sauber’s Sergio Perez. In China the Mercedes was fastest in qualifying and its race pace was strong enough to win the race in cool track conditions. McLaren has the fastest car in general, with Red Bull faster in the race than in qualifying.
As far as drivers’ form is concerned at Bahrain, Fernando Alonso has won the race three times, Felipe Massa twice while Jenson Button and Michael Schumacher have both won it once. Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have never won in Bahrain. As far as teams are concerned, Ferrari has four wins from the seven races held at the venue since the 2004 inauguration.
The end of April is quite late for a Bahrain Grand Prix, which has generally been held in March or early April previously. The temperatures rise throughout the month and it is forecast to be around 33 degrees over the race weekend. With very dark asphalt the track temperature tends to be significantly higher, well into the 40 degree range with such ambient temperatures.
Likely tyre performance and other considerations
Pirelli tyre choice for Bahrain: Soft and Medium.
This race is likely to produce the highest track temperatures of the season so far and it will be a learning experience for the teams and for Pirelli as the Italian tyres have never raced at Bahrain before. They have tested there in up to 50 degrees temperature and feel they know it well enough.
The high temperature creates more movement in the tyre compound and this accelerates the tyre degradation.
The stable weather conditions in Bahrain are likely to mean that the practice sessions will give strong indications for race strategy, which hasn’t been possible in the previous races this season due to interruptions and rainy conditions.
The pattern which has emerged so far from the first three races is that hotter track conditions tend to suit the McLaren, Red Bull and Lotus, while cooler conditions play to the strengths of the Mercedes, Ferrari and the Sauber.
Number and likely timing of pit stops
Before any practice has been done on the circuit, Pirelli predicts three stops in the race. It will be the degradation in tyre performance, which will decide the pit stop strategy and this is likely to be dictated by the high track temperature and by the way the teams get their cars set up to cope with it. The rear tyres will go off first due to the number of traction events out of corners.
The teams may also be looking to manage their strategy differently, possibly looking to use the medium tyre more as a primary race tyre than the soft, possibly using it for two stints rather than one. This proved a winning ticket for Mercedes in China.
The front runners, who must start the race on their qualifying tyres, will be likely to start on used soft tyres as it is clearly the faster tyre for a qualifying lap.
The simulations show that the difference between the soft and medium tyres will be around 0.6 seconds per lap, although this will come right down in the race and that the life of the soft tyre will be 18 laps, with 22 laps the longest the medium tyre will last.
Our own analysis, using the Race Strategy Calculator shows that a two stop strategy with stops on laps 18 and 37 for new medium tyres looks like a good default strategy. Saving a set of new soft tyres looks like it has some advantages too. See if you can find a better strategy.
Chance of a safety car
The chance of a safety car at the Sakhir circuit is low, due to the vast expanse of run off areas around the circuit. There was a safety car in the 2007 race to clear away on track debris, but otherwise the races have been fairly clear.
Recent start performance of drivers
Starts are crucial in race strategy and can make or compromise a race. In China we saw Kobayashi, who had been the best starter in the first two races, lose 4 places off the grid. Webber lost 3 places, as did Vettel, while Button, Hamilton, Perez, Kovalainen and Massa gained 2 places. Webber is already back at the bottom of the table, where he finished last season.
Glock, Kovalainen, Massa and Alonso are consistently good starters who gain places off the line at most races.
As far as 2012 start performance is concerned drivers have gained (+) or lost (-) places off the start line this season, on aggregate, as follows –
+10 Massa, Perez
+4 Pic, Di Resta
+3 Rosberg, Button, Maldonado
+2 Hulkenberg, Senna
+1 Hamilton, Schumacher*, Karthikeyan
-1 Vettel, Vergne, De la Rosa
– 6 Webber
* Senna, Ricciardo and Hulkenberg were all involved in accidents on 1st lap in Australia
** Schumacher and Grosjean collided on Lap 1 in Malaysia, Senna and Perez pitted for wet tyres on opening lap
Pit Stop League Table
Of course good strategy planning also requires good pit stop execution by the mechanics and we have seen tyre stops carried out in less than two and a half seconds by F1 teams. It is clear that the field has significantly closed up in this area, as well as on track performance, with 8 teams within 1.1 seconds of each other – much closer than last season.
The league table below shows the order of the pit crews based on their fastest time in the Chinese Grand Prix, from the car entering the pit lane to leaving it. The 2011 league table positions are in brackets.
Worth noting is that Ferrari again had not only the fastest time outright, but the most consistent. All four stops were under 20.2 seconds, far quicker than any other team. They have improved a lot in this area.
1. Ferrari 20.024s (5)
2. McLaren 20.177s (3)
3. Red Bull 20.377s (1=)
4. Force India 20.387 (4)
5. Mercedes 20.645 (1=)
6. Sauber 21.012 (8=)
7= Lotus 21.184 (6)
7= Williams 21.184 (7)
9. Marussia 21.327 (11)
10. Caterham 21.851 (8=)
11. Toro Rosso 21.884 (8=)
12 HRT 23.151 (12)
Now you’ve read all about the considerations the teams will go through when deciding their plans for the race, see if you can find the best strategy using our Race Strategy Calculator? Click here to use it. Race Strategy Calculator