The circuit tower, Bahrain

Bahrain Grand Prix preview – racing resumes in the desert

Almost two weeks have passed since Mercedes confirmed what many people doubted during pre-season testing – that it is still the dominant force in Formula One and the team to beat in 2019.

More than that, Valtteri Bottas scored an important psychological blow in Melbourne, and that he will not play the obliging wingman to Lewis Hamilton’s ambitions of a sixth world drivers’ title and Honda is seemingly back with a bang, Max Verstappen securing the Japanese engine manufacturer’s first podium since 2008.

Worrying times for Ferrari, then, who managed just fourth and fifth through Sebastian Vettel and Verstappen respectively? Well, yes and no. Winning in Australia does not necessarily mean driver and team go on to pick up both sets of titles and the next race in Bahrain has very different characteristics that may more suit the Scuderia.

Whilst post-race data supplied by Formula One shows Mercedes bossed Ferrari on the straights and medium-speed corners, Bahrain is much more akin to what teams found in Barcelona, with more low-speed corners preceding the straights. And Vettel knows how to win there, the German taking victory in the last two Bahrain Grands Prix, Hamilton victorious in 2014 and 2015.

“Claiming the maximum 44 points race from the first race was a fantastic result, we could not have asked for a better start to the season,” said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. “But the fight has only just begun: Ferrari will try everything they can to hit back and Melbourne showed that Red Bull will have something to say in the fight, too.

“We’ve seen the potential of Ferrari’s package in Barcelona, so we expect them to come back strong in Bahrain, with Red Bull in the mix as well. We will see a very different race in Bahrain, where the weekend presents unique challenges, especially the change in conditions between the sessions.

“After the Barcelona test, we felt that we were the challengers. Whatever the Melbourne result says, our mindset hasn’t changed since then. One race doesn’t determine the pecking order for the rest of the season. We need to extract every bit of performance from our package and keep on working hard to improve the car over the weekend to be competitive.”

At the other end of the spectrum, the die unfortunately seems cast for another year of data gathering, development and learning for the Williams team, whose troubles seem to have lasted as long as Brexit negotiations. On the plus side, the historic team has two of the most popular drivers on the grid and loyal fans wishing them every success, no matter how minor it may be.

Other teams to watch after Melbourne appear again to be Haas, Kevin Magnussen scoring a strong sixth ahead of Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault and the Alfa Romeo of evergreen Kimi Raikkonen.

The Acronis Mission Control Centre in Silverstone will also have high hopes for Racing Point, Lance Stroll grabbing two vital points despite the team admitting it struggled to have the car in optimum shape for the season opener and shipping parts at the last minute.

“Two points are important, but we came away from Melbourne knowing there’s lots of work to do,” commented Stoll in the team’s Bahrain preview. “We knew the midfield had closed up, but there was just half a second covering about ten cars in qualifying. Every tenth is going to count this weekend as well.

“I think Bahrain is one of the best of the modern F1 tracks with good overtaking opportunities in turns one and four, and even into turn 11. There’s a nice flow to the lap with a combination of long straights and some slow to medium-speed technical corners. We often see entertaining racing there. The weather is usually pretty consistent – dry and sunny, but there’s always a big temperature shift when the sun goes down. Because some of the practice sessions are run in the daytime, you need to adapt to a very different track for qualifying and the race in the evening. You also need to look out for sand getting blown onto the track which can make things quite slippery.”

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.