For the third time this year, Formula 1 is set to host a race at a track that has never-before seen grand prix action, and this time it’s the Bahrain-outer circuit.
Although F1 cars have raced in the Bahraini desert on a multitude of occasions, this will be the first time that the cars have ventured off the beaten track and onto the lesser-known almost-oval configuration- which is just shy of 3.6km long.
The teams and drivers are already well-acclimatised to the desert. Last weekend, the Formula 1 circus made its annual trip to Sakhir and saw drama and action unfold in the first race of the Arabian triple-header. Notably, Haas F1 Team driver Romain Grosjean was involved in a horrifying near-death incident just three corners into the first lap- defying the odds to survive thanks to the speedy and effective work of marshals and medics.
Ciaron Pilbeam, Renault F1 Team’s Chief Race Engineer, believes that the second race of the triple-header will bring yet more thrills as the new track-layout is set to be a massive challenge for both teams and drivers due to it’s short and tight nature.
“Although the circuit is in the same location as the last race and we will use some of the same track, the differences make it a completely different prospect, and some aspects of it are unlike anything we have seen before,” said Pilbeam. “In particular it is a very short lap, at three and a half kilometres, and lap times in qualifying will be in the low fifties, so the circuit will be very crowded in qualifying and the race.“
“One of the biggest technical differences is that the cars will run lower downforce than they did last weekend, and this changes considerably the way we approach the circuit, even in the corners that are common to the circuit that we raced on last weekend. The layout will also be hard on brakes, as the cars will stop from high speed several times during the lap, so getting enough brake cooling is likely to be a challenge.
“Tyre compounds are the same as last weekend. The surface is quite abrasive here, and the braking and traction demands are high, so we will need to do our usual Friday work to establish how they behave on this layout.”
Qualifying will be ‘extra challenging’, says Ricciardo
Driver Daniel Ricciardo is another member of the Renault band that believes the outer layout will be a tricky lap to master, and the Australian wasted no time highlighting his queries about the track and its respective challenges.
Ricciardo’s main cause for concern is Qualifying, where the drivers aim to complete uninterrupted and flawless lap-times to extract the most out of the cars. He says that his team need to ‘capitalise’ as much as possible, because ‘one small mistake will make up for half a dozen places’.
“In terms of the track, it’s not the first time this year that we’re staying at the same facility for two weeks running, but I like that they’ve changed this one up a bit with the shorter ‘outer’ layout. The expected lap times of under a minute will be the shortest we’ve all ever done in Formula 1, so that’ll be interesting to see how everyone finds it.“
“What it does do is make qualifying extra challenging, because it’ll force the field to bunch up on the out lap. We see it happen every time we qualify at Monaco for instance. Ultimately, it will all be about putting together the perfect lap and one small mistake will make up for half a dozen places, so there will be no room for errors. We’ll try to capitalise on the shorter layout as best we can.”
Ocon: “We think we’ll do better at this outer layout”
After a positively mediocre race in Bahrain, Esteban Ocon is looking to make up for lost ground in the World Driver’s Championship and score some big points at the new track.
The Frenchman was quick to point out the enticing overtaking possibilities of the oval-like circuit, and also hinted that the team have high hopes for the weekend. Renault will be wishing for a bountiful points haul at this year’s penultimate race in order to have a chance at third in the constructors’, as their main rivals BWT Racing Point F1 Team and McLaren F1 Team have now cleared them by quite some margin.
“It’s going to be a whole new challenge on the outer Bahrain layout,” Ocon said.
“I think it’s going to be especially tricky in qualifying and it might be quite busy on track! If you put all the cars on track at the same time, there’s going to be very small gaps in between and it’s going to be important to find a gap, while still finding a slipstream. The long circuit is already one of the easier tracks to overtake and this one might even be better.“
“We had a good few days off to recharge a little before debriefing fully from last weekend’s race. Clearly, it wasn’t the best result after a very good qualifying. We think we’ll be better at this outer layout, so let’s see what we can do.”