One of the main talking points of the first weekend of the 2014 GP2 Series season at the Bahrain International Circuit was just how far drivers could push their tyres and when. Get it right; you’ll be heading towards the points. Get it wrong; you could be disappearing into oblivion.
The change in the regulations to mandate the use of both compounds of tyre in the feature race had implications for many drivers in Bahrain. Starting with heavy fuel on the soft tyre compared to the hard tyre was the choice the drivers had to make.
Some drivers struggled all weekend with tyre management. Poor old Alexander Rossi finished both races well outside the points having arrived in Sakhir as one of the championship favourites. In fact both EQ8 Caterham Racing drivers struggled, Rio Haryanto also falling well down the order in both the feature and sprint races.
Feature race winner Stoffel Vandoorne looked after his tyres perfectly, judging the soft tyres in the first stint and the hard tyres in the second. Another series debutant in the form of Arthur Pic also managed that race well, conserving his hard tyres early in the second stint and charging through the field to fifth in the closing laps. A third rookie – Takuya Izawa – likewise charged through to P6 after being amongst the midfield runners at the midpoint of the race.
Some drivers learnt their lesson during the feature race and put the knowledge they learnt on Saturday to good use on Sunday. Jolyon Palmer for example finished P3 in the feature race but was struggling for grip at the end of the race, losing P2 to Julian Leal and just about holding off Stefano Coletti for the final podium place. In the sprint race however he conserved his tyres enough to hold off both Simon Trummer and Leal comfortably. Leal was one of the more impressive runners in Bahrain, using his tyres well to grab a pair of podiums.
Mitch Evans fell down the field in the feature race, but was another to do far better in the sprint race. He might have taken some information from his Russian Time team-mate Artem Markelov who impressed with his tyre conservation in both races and was one of the fastest cars on track at times during each race. Likewise Stephane Richelmi struggled in the feature only to come through from a lowly start to finish in the top five.
Adrian Quaife-Hobbs went the other way in the sprint race. After coming through from near the back of the field on the Saturday, towards the end of the sprint race he was struggling with his tyres, and lost out to Felipe Nasr and Richelmi to finish sixth.
So what will drivers take from Bahrain? While the Sakhir is renowned for being hard on its tyres in general, it is good practice for the drivers to learn about how the 2014 tyres will work on the GP2 cars. Some teams have more work to do, and some drivers will have to learn when to push and how hard. Drivers will have to accept that they will struggle in the closing laps.
But didn’t the uncertainty of the tyres make for good racing? I’m certainly looking forward to round two in Spain in the second week of May.