Bahrain marks ten years on the Formula One calendar this weekend and the Sakhir International Circuit intends to mark the occasion in style with its first ever night race. The lights will give the race a slightly different look to normal but the front of the field should remain decidedly silver. The latest TCF Form Guide analyses the prospects of the two Mercedes drivers, as well the chances of someone emerging from the chasing pack.
|6. NICO ROSBERG – MERCEDES (43 PTS)|
|Last 5 Races: 3rd, 9th, 5th, 1st, 2nd||Best In Bahrain: 5th (2010, 2012)|
Two races in and Nico Rosberg is the clear pacesetter in terms of the drivers’ championship, pulling out an eighteen point lead in the title chase. It will have been a slight concern to have been beaten so easily by his teammate but Rosberg has the points on the board and now arrives at one of his stronger circuits with Formula One’s fastest package. Nico exploded onto the scene here eight years ago, setting the fastest lap on his debut, and given his form around here the German has every chance of leaving Sakhir in an even stronger position than he arrived.
|44. LEWIS HAMILTON – MERCEDES (25 PTS)|
|Last 5 Races: 7th, 4th, 9th, DNF, 1st||Best In Bahrain: 2nd (2007)|
His teammate may lead the championship but the dominant performer in the opening two races has unquestionably been Lewis Hamilton. The Mercedes seems even stronger in the wet than it is in the dry, as Lewis proved on his way to pole position in Malaysia, and the Briton was untouchable from the moment the red lights went out on race day. Before last weekend, Sepang was one of the remaining circuits Lewis hadn’t won at. Sakhir is another and with the combination of long straights and slow corners certain to suit the W05, Hamilton may be able to tick another venue off the list on Sunday night.
|14. FERNANDO ALONSO – FERRARI (24 PTS)|
|Last 5 Races: 5th, 5th, 3rd, 4th, 4th||Best In Bahrain: Winner (2005, 2006, 2010)|
If you had offered Fernando Alonso a scenario where he was a single point behind Lewis Hamilton and nine clear of Sebastian Vettel after two races, he’d probably have taken it but the reality is he has a slower car than both of his chief rivals. Ferrari had no answer for the pace of Mercedes in Malaysia and Red Bull had the legs on them too but the Scuderia expect the long straights of Sakhir to suit their car much more, potentially bringing Alonso into podium contention. The Spaniard will certainly hope so as not even he can sustain a championship challenge by finishing fourth every weekend.
|22. JENSON BUTTON – McLAREN MERCEDES (23 PTS)|
|Last 5 Races: 12th, 10th, 4th, 3rd, 6th||Best In Bahrain: Winner (2009)|
The upgrades brought to Sepang were supposed to move McLaren half a second closer to the leaders but the combination of high temperatures and fast corners saw them slide backwards. Jenson Button maximised the equipment at his disposal to finish sixth but McLaren will have much higher expectations for Bahrain with the cooler temperatures at night likely to favour them. Whatever the outcome, Jenson has plenty to be proud of as he reaches 250 Grand Prix starts, only the fifth driver ever to do so.
|20. KEVIN MAGNUSSEN – McLAREN MERCEDES (20 PTS)|
|Outqualified teammate Button in first two races||Best In Bahrain: Debut|
Malaysia was a reminder to us, and indeed to Kevin Magnussen, that the Danish sensation is still a rookie. While the youngster is supremely talented and will often leave us mesmerised as we were after Melbourne, we’ll also see untidy displays such as Malaysia where contact with Kimi Raikkonen ultimately ruined his race thanks to a front wing change and stop/go penalty. Inexperience was perhaps his downfall but Kevin will need no time getting to grips with Sakhir having tested here during pre-season.
|27. NICO HULKENBERG – FORCE INDIA MERCEDES (18 PTS)|
|Last 5 Races: 14th, 6th, 8th, 6th, 5th||Best In Bahrain: 12th (2012, 2013)|
Another Grand Prix goes by and yet again Nico Hulkenberg tells us what the world already knows, that he’s seriously special. Force India’s two-stop strategy worked to perfection allowing the German to rise as high as fourth before being overhauled in the closing stages by Fernando Alonso (right). In recent years, Sakhir has been a happy hunting ground for Force India and with Mercedes-power set to be a sizeable advantage, Nico is capable of taking the VJM07 to the podium.
| 1. SEBASTIAN VETTEL – RED BULL RACING RENAULT (15 PTS)
|Last 5 Races: 1st, 1st, 1st, DNF, 3rd||Best In Bahrain: Winner (2012, 2013)|
Any naysayers that say Sebastian Vettel’s success has all been down to a dominant car should watch the Malaysia Grand Prix weekend. Getting within half a tenth of pole position was a phenomenal effort and the reigning champion kept Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes in sight throughout the race, something none of us would’ve predicted the last time Red Bull were in Bahrain. On their return to Sakhir, the Milton Keynes squad can aim a little higher than they perhaps thought but a victory challenge still looks slightly beyond them.
|77. VALTTERI BOTTAS – WILLIAMS MERCEDES (14 PTS)|
|Last 5 Races: 15th, 8th, DNF, 5th, 8th||Best In Bahrain: 14th (2013)|
Two races in and we’re still not completely sure how competitive Williams are. Their terrible wet-weather performance gave them a mountain to climb once again come race day and Bottas produced another fine recovery drive to score some points. The team orders controversy that emerged late in the Malaysia GP looks to have been settled but it will be fascinating to see what transpires the next time the pair race wheel-to-wheel with supremacy within Williams still up for grabs.
|7. KIMI RAIKKONEN – FERRARI (6 PTS)|
|Last 5 Races: DNF, n/a, n/a, 7th, 12th||Best In Bahrain: 2nd (2008, 2012, 2013)|
The result in Malaysia may have been no better than Australia but there was plenty to be encouraged about for Kimi Raikkonen. The Finn was much more competitive through free practice and didn’t get a chance to show what he was capable of in the race after an early puncture courtesy of Kevin Magnussen. In 2012, Kimi’s F1 comeback truly came to life as he pushed Sebastian Vettel all the way for victory and with weather unlikely to interfere, we will get a clear indication as to whether he has indeed made a breakthrough with the F14 T.
|19. FELIPE MASSA – WILLIAMS MERCEDES (6 PTS)|
|Last 5 Races: 8th, 12th, 7th, DNF, 7th||Best In Bahrain: Winner (2007, 2008)|
The words “Valtteri is faster than you” will have gone down like a lead balloon on Felipe Massa’s radio late in the Malaysia Grand Prix and it’s probably understandable that the message was ignored given the Brazilian’s history. Whatever the issues off track, Williams have a fast car on it and it was here in testing at Sakhir that the world began to take the FW36 seriously as a genuine contender. With a dry qualifying session guaranteed, Felipe will finally have a chance to put the car in a representative grid slot and a podium is not out of the question.
|25. JEAN-ERIC VERGNE – STR RENAULT (4 PTS)|
|Last 5 Races: 17th, 16th, 15th, 8th, DNF||Best In Bahrain: 14th (2012)|
Jean-Eric Vergne’s Malaysia Grand Prix went south pretty quickly when his Toro Rosso lost power leaving the start line. A first lap collision hardly improved matters and the problems which slowed his STR9 at the start eventually curtailed his race. The Frenchman was pleased with the pace of his car on the hard tyres though and as his teammate proved, the Toro Rosso is a top ten contender when it’s reliable. One thing Vergne won’t be able to count on here though is rain to bring the pack towards him.
|26. DANIIL KVYAT – STR RENAULT (3 PTS)|
|Points scorer in each of the first two races||Best In Bahrain: Debut|
After becoming the youngest driver ever to score a point, Daniil Kvyat proved Melbourne wasn’t just a fluke by finishing tenth in Malaysia. The Russian teenager narrowly missed out on Q3 for the second successive race but his dry pace was impressive to go with the undoubted speed in the wet. Toro Rosso have come a long way from the testing troubles in Sakhir and Kvyat can realistically aim for three points finishes out of three, something he would never have predicted a month ago.
|11. SERGIO PEREZ – FORCE INDIA MERCEDES (1 PT)|
|Last 5 Races: 9th, 7th, 6th, 10th, DNS||Best In Bahrain: 6th (2013)|
While Nico Hulkenberg has hit the ground running on his return to Force India, Sergio Perez hasn’t enjoyed the best of starts to his career with the team. The Mexican was by far the least comfortable of the two in wet conditions but we never got to see how quick he was in the dry, his car not even making it to the start line. Perez can take encouragement from the fact the VJM07 is undoubtedly quick, as well as the start to 2013 where he struggled before bursting to life in Bahrain, upsetting his then teammate with his exploits.
|8. ROMAIN GROSJEAN – LOTUS RENAULT (0 PTS)|
|Last 5 Races: 4th, 2nd, DNF, DNF, 11th||Best In Bahrain: 3rd (2012, 2013)|
Romain Grosjean has been a picture of frustration all year so far with Lotus having the worst possible start to 2014 but that didn’t stop the Frenchman showing his class in Malaysia. His qualifying performance (almost reaching Q3) was as good any in the field and not only did Romain reach the chequered flag, he held off the late charge of Kimi Raikkonen while he was at it to finish eleventh. Given their problems so far this year, Lotus shouldn’t aim to run before they can walk but a first point of the season may not be too far away for Grosjean.
|99. ADRIAN SUTIL – SAUBER FERRARI (0 PTS)|
|Last 5 Races: 10th, DNF, 13th, 11th, DNF||Best In Bahrain: 12th (2010)|
Sauber’s underwhelming start to 2014 continued in Malaysia with the team’s first double retirement since the 2011 Italian Grand Prix. Adrian Sutil’s race was cut short by a loss of electric power supply which switched his car off but the German wasn’t about to deny that the C33’s race pace was slow. Speaking after the race, Adrian wasn’t overly optimistic that a quick fix would be found and unless problems strike the cars ahead, his record of failing to score on every visit to Bahrain will continue.
|21. ESTEBAN GUTIERREZ – SAUBER FERRARI (0 PTS)|
|Last 5 Races: 13th, 13th, 12th, 12th, DNF||Best In Bahrain: 18th (2013)|
Reliability problems also ruled Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber out of the Malaysian Grand Prix midway through with the Mexican unable to engage first gear after his second pit stop. Gutierrez had surely his worst weekend of 2013 in Bahrain last season, getting involved in a practice accident and missing the cut in Q1 but unlike Sutil, he took positives from Malaysia. Outqualifying his teammate was one of them and if he can shade Sutil again this weekend, his reputation will be on the rise, a transformation from his first Formula One appearance here.
|10. KAMUI KOBAYASHI – CATERHAM RENAULT (0 PTS)|
|Last 5 Races: n/a, n/a, n/a, DNF, 13th||Best In Bahrain: 13th (2012)|
Kamui Kobayashi showed flashes of pace in Australia with a remarkable performance to reach Q2 but we never got to see him over 58 laps in the race. In Malaysia, we saw how quick the Caterham could be in his hands as he took the CT05 to thirteenth place, lifting the team above Marussia to tenth in the constructors championship. Impressively, Kamui was keeping the Saubers relatively honest in the Malaysia Grand Prix too and will be hoping to keep them in sight again here, hoping to pick up any pieces that may fall ahead.
|9. MARCUS ERICSSON – CATERHAM RENAULT (0 PTS)|
|3rd Grand Prix (Best Finish: 14th)
||Best In Bahrain: Debut|
Qualifying at Sepang brought the first tough moment of Marcus Ericsson’s fledgling Formula One career, the Swede losing control in the wet and slamming into the wall at turn three. The race ran much smoother for Marcus though until he started to lose power with an ERS issue late on. Ericsson held off Max Chilton by a tenth of a second to finish fourteenth, a result that may prove crucial in the final reckoning, and with opportunities more likely to come earlier in the year, he will be expected to stay out of trouble in Bahrain.
|4. MAX CHILTON – MARUSSIA FERRARI (0 PTS)|
|Last 5 Races: 21st, 21st, 19th, 13th, 15th||Best In Bahrain: 20th (2013)|
Max Chilton had the better of Marussia teammate Jules Bianchi in Australia so was understandably disappointed to be outqualified by 1.6 seconds in Malaysia, even if there were mitigating circumstances for the Briton. Although his 100% finishing record remains intact, Chilton was narrowly beaten by Marcus Ericsson after a race-long battle and will be keen to fight back in Bahrain with Marussia now playing catch-up in the battle for tenth place in the constructors championship.
|17. JULES BIANCHI – MARUSSIA FERRARI (0 PTS)|
|Last 5 Races: 20th, 18th, 17th, DNF, DNF||Best In Bahrain: 19th (2013)|
In fairness, Jules Bianchi’s 2014 season still hasn’t got going with both races destroyed before they had even started. Unreliability was his downfall in Australia but in Malaysia, Jules was tagged by compatriot Jean-Eric Vergne and the subsequent damage eventually forced him to retire. In their championship battle with Caterham, Marussia will see Bianchi as their trump card, even if Chilton is a regular finisher, and the team will be desperate for the Frenchman’s luck to turn in Bahrain.
|13. PASTOR MALDONADO – LOTUS RENAULT (0 PTS)|
|Last 5 Races: 11th, 17th, 16th, DNF, DNF||Best In Bahrain: 11th (2013)|
Pastor Maldonado is still yet to see a chequered flag in 2014 although he will have been encouraged to see his teammate hand Lotus their first finish of the season in Malaysia. In race trim, the E22 does appear to have some decent pace too and Pastor’s first aim will be to qualify a little higher, ensuring he is less likely to be caught up in the kind of collision which ruined his Malaysian weekend. Getting a lap in on Friday would be handy too, something he was unable to do a week ago.
|3. DANIEL RICCIARDO – RED BULL RACING RENAULT (0 PTS)|
|Last 5 Races: 16th, 11th, 10th, DSQ, DNF||Best In Bahrain: 15th (2012)|
He may have no points to show for it but Daniel Ricciardo has had an outstanding start to his Red Bull Racing career. The Australian produced a sensational piece of opportunism to overtake his teammate at the start in Malaysia and run ahead of him early on (right). Although Sebastian Vettel would find a way past, Ricciardo was keeping him in sight before the chain of events in the pits which ruined his race. The unsafe release has also put him on his back foot for Bahrain too with Ricciardo guaranteed to drop ten places from wherever he qualifies.