• Bahrain Grand Prix Preview

The waiting is over

Laurence Edmondson March 12, 2010
Four world champions will line up on the grid for one of the most hotly anticipated season openers in recent years © Sutton Images
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It's hard to remember a season opener that has been surrounded by as much hype as this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix. The pressure is on Formula One to perform as Michael Schumacher returns, three new teams make their debut and rule changes promise to shake up race strategy beyond recognition. However, those expecting more overtaking and eight-way battles for the lead might be disappointed - this is still F1 and many of its problems have not been addressed. Nevertheless, the race at the front appears to be open and we are guaranteed at least one or two surprises from the weekend ahead.

One to watch

At the start of last year Force India was firmly rooted to the back of the grid, with hopes set no higher than the odd point. However, since it scored its first podium at the Belgian Grand Prix in August expectations have changed dramatically. The car is equipped with exactly the same engine and drivetrain as Mercedes and McLaren so won't be lacking in power. The chassis and aero has been evolved from last year's car, which was quick in high-speed corners, so look at its sector two times in Bahrain to see if it has maintained that advantage.

Talking points

Schumacher - No matter where he finishes it will make a story. If he wins he'll be lauded as the greatest ever and if he finishes outside the points he'll be considered past it. Expectation is stacked unfairly high. Don't forget he's up against some of the toughest competition of his career in the likes of Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, and the current cars have changed beyond all recognition from the ones he last raced in 2006.

Fuel - The ban on refuelling means the drivers will start the race on a full tank, adding up to 160 kilos of weight to the car. Depending on the fuel efficiency of the engine, some cars will be able to start lighter than others and as a result will have an advantage that won't necessarily be apparent during low-fuel qualifying. The Renault and Cosworth engines are tipped to be the most frugal.

Tyres - Starting the race on a heavy fuel load will put extra strain on the tyres, with some predicting the softest compounds will last just seven or eight laps. This year the top ten drivers on the grid will have to start the race on the same tyres they qualified on, meaning the decision to go for pole on soft rubber might backfire early in the race. What's more all the teams' tyre data gained during testing will be thrown out the window, as track temperatures will be up to three times higher in Bahrain.

Pit Stops - Now that refuelling is banned, the speed of a pit stop will depend entirely on the speed of the wheel. Some predictions are as low as two seconds but a more realistic target is around three seconds. Either way, any mistakes by the pit crew will be heavily punished.

The Circuit


 
Located in the middle of nowhere, the circuit has been described as having all the charm of an airport departure lounge, although some of the more modern airports might be offended by the comparison. The circuit itself mainly consists of 23 slow to medium-speed corners which means cars need to be set up for good traction.

Stat Attack

  • This will be the seventh Bahrain GP; the race was first staged in 2004
  • Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso have each won twice in Bahrain. The first winner was Michael Schumacher, while Jenson Button was victorious in 2009
  • Three of the six Bahrain Grands Prix have been won from pole position
  • Michael Schumacher's 2004 qualifying time of 1:30.139 still stands as the official fastest lap on the old layout.

Trivia

  • The drivers do not spray champagne on the podium, using a non-alcoholic rosewater drink known as Waard instead
  • The run-off areas are sprayed with a decidedly eco-unfriendly sealant to stop dust drifting onto the track and making the surface slippery
  • The Bahrain International Circuit has eight different layouts, this year the race will take place on the longest possible configuration
  • The fastest corner is turn 20, a flat-out sweeping right hander taken at 160mph

Weather


 
The circuit is in the middle of the desert so invariably it will be blisteringly hot. High winds can potentially cause sandstorms but the risk is low.

Betting

Fernando Alonso is the bookies' favourite at 5-2 with defending champion Jenson Button back at 11-1. Lewis Hamilton is 4-1, Sebastian Vettel 9-2 and the returning Michael Schumacher 6-1. As if to underline their feeling Hamilton has the edge on Button at McLaren, you can get 100-30 on Hamilton qualifying in pole while Button is back at 14-1. Click here for more details from Bet 365

ESPN Prediction

Massa has always been quick in Bahrain, and with his extra experience at Ferrari over Alonso, he has the potential to be a surprise winner. However, Ferrari's dominance is not necessarily a given. Even if the F10 qualifies on pole, a lot will depend on tyre wear and fuel consumption. The McLaren was easy on its tyres over long runs in testing and Red Bull's Renault engine is likely to be the most frugal. Hamilton, Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber will all be in a position to challenge right at the front.

Laurence Edmondson is an assistant editor on ESPNF1

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Laurence Edmondson is deputy editor of ESPNF1 Laurence Edmondson grew up on a Sunday afternoon diet of Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell and first stepped in the paddock as a Bridgestone competition finalist in 2005. He worked for ITV-F1 after graduating from university and has been ESPNF1's deputy editor since 2010