Alex Yoong’s Bahrain Grand Prix Preview

The Formula One circus leaves China and moves to Bahrain this weekend, in the first of back-to-back races this year.

Bahrain has historically been the third race of the season and was the first F1 race in the Middle East when it hosted its inaugural race in 2004. Another Herman Tilke designed track like Shanghai, it’s fairly similar with wide-open spaces, filled in with a mixture of corners, joined by long straights to try and encourage overtaking.

It’s the first twilight race of the year (Abu Dhabi being the other) and the teams have to chase the setup up into the race, as the conditions cool quite a bit during the race of light into dark. It’s also a hard track to nail in qualifying as there is often quite a bit of wind, and bits of sand on the track.

Pascal Wehrlein returns this weekend in the Sauber after missing the first two races due to fitness concerns. Bahrain is middle to high on the scale of being physical to drive (like Shanghai) so it will be interesting to see how he does. It’s important that he show the team he is fit and fast.

While the top three teams are quite a bit faster than the rest, the race for the midfield is looking good. We saw in Melbourne and China that Williams, Haas, Renault, Torro Rosso and Force India will be mixing it up – and I think this close battle will resonate all season long. McLaren are not in that mix yet (pace wise), but I’m hoping they will be come Barcelona.

At the front though, we are also being treated to a mouth-watering spectacle. Ferrari (mostly Vettel) and Mercedes (mostly Hamilton) are very close on pace and we have seen enough from the first two races to know that it’s a genuine rivalry they have. Vettel and Hamilton have seven world titles between them and both of them are relishing the challenge of going toe to toe here. It’s incredibly good for the sport to have both of them in competitive cars (and in different teams) fighting for the title.

It’s going to be too close to call this weekend in Bahrain. Mercedes still have a slight advantage in qualifying, but I would say Ferrari is slightly quicker in the race, especially on the softer tyres. Ferrari will be keen to show they have made progress in qualifying to try and take their first pole of the season, however if they don’t quite get the most of Hamilton on Saturday – we have seen it’s possible to overtake.

Melbourne and Shanghai have both shown us that overtaking and over cutting in the pit stops is possible. This is down mostly to the more durable Pirelli’s allowing the drivers to push hard in traffic. I’m very pleased with the work they’ve done this year and it was especially shown with Max Verstappan (he went from 16th on the grid to third) and Fernando Alonso’s charging drives in Shanghai – long may it continue.

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