Formula 1 starts this week: preview Bahrain GP

Formula 1 Verstappen Leclerc (Photo: ANP)

After the winter break, it’s time again this weekend for the Formula 1 season opener at the Bahrain International Circuit in, yes, the oil state of Bahrain. It’s up or down for the teams, because now it will become clear who has the aerodynamics in order. AutoWeek looks ahead to the first race weekend of this year.

Formula 1 has been racing almost continuously in Bahrain since 2004. Only in 2011 was the race called off due to protests against the regime there. Racing in a country where human rights is under threat is still widely criticized, but Bahrain is by no means the only country on the calendar where that is the case. The first winner on the track was Michael Schumacher in 2004. However, Lewis Hamilton is the driver who has won there the most: in 2014, 2015 and over the last three seasons. Another strong driver in Bahrain is Sebastian Vettel, who won for Red Bull in 2012 and 2013 and took the win with Ferrari in 2017 and 2018. Max Verstappen has never triumphed in the oil state.

Formula 1 Red Bull Racing Max Verstappen (Photo: ANP)

Verstappen rolls out of the pit lane in Bahrain. (Photo: ANP)

Lewis Hamilton seems to be the favorite in Bahrain based on the past, but with the all-new cars it’s difficult at the moment to judge where the teams stack up when it comes to speed. Mercedes-AMG surprised friend and foe in Bahrain with a thoroughly modified W13 that suddenly had hardly any left over side pods, the air intakes on the side of the car. They were still there during the test days in Barcelona. In terms of lap times, the team in Bahrain was not very successful. This can be part of a strategy that is also called ‘sandbagging’ in sports: pretending to be worse than you actually are in order not to shake up the competition too much.

The question is also how George Russell will perform at Mercedes-AMG. Last year he was allowed to fill in for Bahrain for a while when Lewis Hamilton was felled by the corona virus. Then the young Briton managed to impress, only by a blunder of the team at the pit stop he saw a podium place pass him by.

Red Bull made some updates to the RB18 between the tests in Spain and Bahrain, but the design remained broadly the same as in the winter test in Barcelona. Verstappen clocked in the fastest lap time during the last day of testing. He was about seven tenths faster than Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc. Ferrari seemed to be in good shape with the tests. Last year, the team chose to abandon further developments on the 2021 car and to focus fully on 2022. That now seems to be paying off. Based on the test days, Red Bull seems to be the team to beat for the time being, followed by Ferrari and Mercedes-AMG. This weekend we will really see how the cards are shuffled.

Ferrari Carlos Sainz ANP

Ferrari seems to be in good shape this season. (Photo: ANP)

The Bahrain Grand Prix timetable is as follows:

Day Session Time (Dutch time)
Friday First free practice 13:00-14:00
Friday Second free practice 16:00-17:00
Saturday Third free practice 13:00-14:00
Saturday Qualification 16:00-17:00
Sunday Race 16:00-18:00

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