2013 saw yet another winner in Fernando Alonso when the smog of Shanghai played host to the Chinese Grand Prix. It was a Grand Prix that provided it all, including a championship fight and plenty of rumours. The drama seen in Malaysia refused to fade as Mark Webber suffered another fraught weekend. The controversy will most likely continue in Bahrain where Red Bull return as last season’s victors.
2012 was also a good year for Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean who completed the podium for Lotus. The Enstone based outfit will hope that they can repeat this kind of form as they build on the success of Raikkonen’s Australian win and the consistent performances of his French team mate. The taste of champagne could well ensure that Grosjean’s birthday celebrations continue well into the weekend.
Speaking of his chances for the race weekend, a typically blunt Kimi Raikkonen’s put it simply, “I’ve never won in Bahrain before, so maybe this year I’ll change that”. He will face tough competition from the Red Bulls as they attempt to put the ‘Multi 21’ fiasco behind them. With rumours surrounding Mark Webber’s future continuing to escalate by the second, he may not just be fighting for race victory but for a potential 2014 race seat – should he want one of course. Bahrain will mark his 200th Grand Prix start.
Speaking of which, there are numerous drivers hoping to vacate seats at the top teams one day. One such driver is Alexander Rossi. He is often referred to as America’s only hope for Formula 1 success of his generation and he has the full force of Caterham behind him. Following a successful FP1 stint in Barcelona last year, Rossi will once again take on reserve driver duties in Bahrain replacing rookie driver Giedo Van der Garde. Whilst a solid performance may not secure him a 2014 seat, he is all too aware of how important this is, “it gives me a chance to make an impression”.
The Bahrain International Circuit will certainly provide a challenge though it has been criticised on occasion for being too tame. The run-off areas fail to punish drivers for their mistakes; this compromise had to be made as the sand from the surrounding desert could affect the cars.
Relatively high levels of down force are required when negotiating 57 laps, these levels are comparable to Australia and Malaysia. Soft tyres will not be used this weekend, the track generally provides good grip but may lead to high tyre degradation – something Pirelli have recently been criticised for. Jenson Button and Sergio Perez must rely on their tyre efficiency if they are to improve this year.
Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa are the only multiple winners on this circuit, three of these victories have been whilst at the helm of a Ferrari. This year it will most likely be the reliable cars that will succeed as the sand particles cause significant wear to the interior. It is for this reason that we could see a surprise winner, continuing the unpredictable pattern of 2012.
Paul Di Resta has a personal best finish of sixth in Bahrain whilst Nico Rosberg will hope to put the disappointment of China behind him to improve on his fifth place finish last year. Turn one provides the best overtaking position on the circuit which should ensure an exciting start –this may well work in the favour of Fernando Alonso and against Mark Webber who often struggles to gain positions from lights out.
FIA President, Jean Todt, believes that F1 will provide “a healing effect” for a country currently stuck in turmoil. In 2011, Mark Webber and Damon Hill protested against the sport’s presence at a time of conflicting issues over human rights issues. Now ready to compete for a second consecutive year, the drivers and teams remain confident that the uncertain surroundings will not hamper their performance. Lotus boss Eric Boullier has insisted that the team “must maintain momentum” and his rivals agree; Force India simply stated that “lightning doesn’t strike twice” whilst Ferrari concede that the decision is in the hands of the sport’s governing body. With that in mind, Jean Todt will not be in attendance.
British MPs have called for the race to be called off, criticising the stance that the FIA are taking at a time of violence in the country. Whether you think the Grand Prix should take place or not is frankly irrelevant at this time. Formula 1 is hoping to expand further outside Europe in order to appeal to a wider audience – it cannot be a World Championship otherwise.
For one weekend, the troubles in Bahrain will be put to one side as some of the very best drivers in the world contest another Grand Prix. On paper it looks like it could be a straight fight between Lotus and Ferrari but as is the way with Formula 1, this is a tentative prediction at best.