Formula 1: 2013 Bahrain Grand Prix Preview
The 2013 Formula One season has got off to a great start, and the fourth race of the year takes place this Sunday. The Bahrain Grand Prix will be the ninth held in the tiny island Kingdom.
The race was cancelled in 2011 due to the "Arab Spring" protests in Bahrain, and the 2012 race went ahead despite significant opposition from anti-government activists.
This year, there are reports of isolated disorder, but F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone believes the weekend will be trouble-free. We shall see.
Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso go into the race with one win apiece, while the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have shown some promise as well.
McLaren are improving; Felipe Massa is a man reborn, and we can't rule out drivers like Mark Webber or Romain Grosjean either.
Much will depend on who can get the most out of the tyres in the hot, dry conditions.
As It Stands
Sebastian Vettel heads the Drivers' Championship on 52 points. Kimi Raikkonen is just three points behind, and Fernando Alonso is a further six adrift.
It's looking increasingly likely that these will be the three men fighting for the title, but Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa and Mark Webber won't be giving in just yet.
It's hard to see McLaren challenging, but you never know. The current Top 10 are:
|01||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull||52|
|06||Mark Webber||Red Bull||26|
|10||Paul di Resta||Force India||8|
In the Constructors' Championship, Red Bull have a narrow five-point lead over Ferrari. Lotus and Mercedes aren't too far behind.
Three teams remain without a point—Williams, Marussia and Caterham—and only Williams look capable of changing that any time soon. The current Top 8 (those with at least one point) are:
Bahrain International Circuit
The Bahrain International Circuit is located in the desert close to the western coast of Bahrain and was designed by Hermann Tilke. No matter which direction you face, you'll be looking at a sea of sand.
And that can be a problem. The local authorities spray the surrounding area with adhesive to prevent large quantities of the stuff blowing onto the circuit, but some still makes it and this can affect grip levels.
Turns 1, 2 and 3
Turn 1 comes at the end of the long pit straight. It's a very slow right-hand hairpin with a big braking zone, and the most obvious overtaking spot on the circuit.
Turn 2 is a tight left which follows immediately, and Turn 3 is a right-hand kink just after the exit of 2.
Even if an overtaking move fails in these corners, it's very easy for the leading car to get out of shape defending, and this severely compromises the driver's line onto the straight which follows.
In that respect, it's one of the best-designed slow corner sequences Tilke has produced.
After a straight of reasonable length comes Turn 4, a tight right-hander. This is a popular overtaking spot because of how easy it is for a driver to get the first three corners wrong.
We'll definitely see some action here, especially on the first lap.
Turns 5, 6, 7 and 8
Turns 5, 6 and 7 are a quickfire, downhill left-right-left series of medium-speed corners.
They lead onto a tiny straight before a hairpin right at Turn 8. Overtaking could occur here if the leading car is really struggling on its tyres, but it needs a lot of bravery (and faith in the other driver) to even try.
Turns 9 and 10
After another short straight comes Turn 9, a quick downhill left-hander which leads immediately into the braking zone for the tighter left of Turn 10.
These two corners could be important in the race, especially if someone is struggling on their tyres, because it leads onto a straight of reasonable length and is home to one of the two DRS zones.
Turns 11, 12 and 13
Turn 11 comes at the end of the straight, a tight left-hander which opens out on the exit and leads into Turn 12, a relatively quick right which is the longest corner on the circuit.
There's a nice big run-off area here, and it's not uncommon to see a driver put a wheel (or his whole car) wide.
Turn 13 is a tighter right-hander, and it leads onto a long, downhill straight.
Turns 14 and 15
At the end of the straight is Turn 14, a tricky, low-to-medium-speed right-hander. In the race, a good line through here will be crucial, as it leads onto the long pit straight.
If you pay attention, you'll see a tiny right-hand kink at the exit of Turn 14—this is Turn 15, which didn't really need a number, but they gave it one anyway.
The pit lane entry is on the right side of the pit straight not long after Turn 15, and the exit is before Turn 1.
Tyres and DRS
The track surface in Bahrain was constructed from 60,000 tonnes of Greywacke aggregate imported from the United Kingdom. It provides a high level of grip (when not covered in sand) and has medium to high levels of abrasion.
Pirelli were originally going to bring the soft compound tyre here, but this has been changed. The white-marked medium has replaced its less-durable brother, and it will be used along with the orange-marked hard.
This should mean there won't be a tyre that everyone avoids like the plague on race day, and with only a single step between the compounds, getting through the early rounds of qualifying might be slightly easier for the top teams.
Pirelli expect three stops, but we'll probably see at least a few teams go for two.
The trend for having two DRS zones will continue in Bahrain, but unlike in the first three races, they won't be one immediately after the other. This should lessen their effectiveness, which isn't a bad thing after the drive-by nature of passing moves in China.
The first detection point will be at Turn 9, with an activation point at the exit of Turn 10. This zone will end under braking for Turn 11.
The second is slightly longer. It will have a detection point before Turn 14, with the activation point just before the start-finish line on the pit straight. It will end with braking for Turn 1.
Bahrain is comprised of 33 islands in the Persian Gulf, next door to Saudi Arabia. Despite being surrounded by water, it has a hot desert climate, with fewer than 10 rainy days per year.
So it's something of a surprise that BBC Weather thinks it might rain on Friday.
That aside it's set to be dry and very hot, with highs of between 30 and 34 degrees Celcius (86 to 92 Fahrenheit). With clear skies and strong sunshine, track temperature will be higher.
BBC Weather, Accuweather and the Bahrain Meteorological Directorate will have the latest.
As always, the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend will consist of three free practice sessions, qualifying and the race.
The session times are:
All are given in Bahrain local time. Formula1.com has a handy one-click tool to convert them to your own timezone.
Enjoy the weekend!