Having had two pre-season tests at the Bahrain International Circuit, the eleven Formula 1 teams should know the track well by now. But with the altered time of the race – 6pm local – the unknown quantity of night racing at Sakhir means it is uncertain how the tyres will react on the F1 cars.
Ambient and track temperatures are likely to drop quite considerably as the race will begin in sunshine and end in darkness. A drop of up to 15 degrees has been mentioned, which for tyres could mean they react in very different ways.
With the track already renowned for being one of the most severe on tyres due to the roughness of the tarmac, tyre suppliers Pirelli have announced they will be bringing the white-banded P Zero Medium tyres and the yellow-banded P Zero Soft tyres to the third round of the 2014 Formula 1 World Championship.
“Bahrain is a circuit where we’ve done two recent tests, so we go there with a lot of knowledge of the track, which we certainly benefit from,” said Pirelli Motorsport Director Paul Hembery. “We know that there’s a big traction demand and that’s why we’re bringing the medium and soft tyres. Temperatures at the start of the race should still be reasonably high.
“We’ve noted a very big drop in temperature though as soon as the sun goes down: a variation that can be as big as 15 degrees. Managing that very wide range of temperatures to get the best out of the tyres is going to be one of the biggest challenges for the teams throughout the weekend. This should make it quite tactical in terms of strategy, so it should be a very interesting race from that point of view.”
Former Formula 1 driver and current Pirelli consultant driver Jean Alesi has raced in the Speedcar series at the track and knows the way it has to be driven.
“You need a smooth and clean rhythm to get the most out of the tyres, especially in the traction areas, so that you don’t put too much stress through them,” said Alesi, who won the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix for Ferrari. “The circuit is quite abrasive but it has a nice flow to it, although competing at night will be a new challenge. The most important thing is to try and control the degradation, but again, that might be very different after dark. It’s going to be interesting to watch and managing the tyres is definitely going to be important.”
From past years and from pre-season testing, Bahrain has historically been demanding on tyres. With teams tending to use medium downforce due to the four 300kph straights, it can tend to compromise corner entry and braking stability, that could cause drivers to lock up and damage their tyres. Even in the traction areas, the tyres see a surface tread temperature that peaks around 130 degrees centigrade.
Following the race weekend in Bahrain, the first two-day in-season test will take place at the circuit (April 08th-09th). Caterham on day one, and Mercedes and Williams on day two, will carry out tyre testing duties. Throughout the in-season tests this season, each team will have to use one day just for the testing of tyres under the control of Pirelli.