The Formula One bandwagon swiftly moves to round three and the spectacle of the night desert at the Sakhir circuit for the Bahrain Grand Prix. The Sakhir circuit races into the night, and is a vivid floodlit display, scattered with palm trees. The circuit is one of the dustiest tracks on the calendar, with the surrounding sand literally ‘glued down’. The desert heat makes for a very hot and dry race, bereft of any real moisture. The track has high brake wear, high fuel consumption and long straights. Car set-up will be very tricky.
In Shanghai last week, the full safety car thwarted the anticipated close battle between Hamilton and Vettel. The timing of the safety car wrecked the strategy of Ferrari, pitting Vettel early, so we were denied the level-pegging tussle of the two champions fighting for the win. Once Vettel had finally despatched both his team-mate and the Red Bulls, his pace was rapid, but too late to close down the victorious Hamilton.
Nevertheless, Hamilton dominated proceedings in both qualifying and the race, and his victory in China has tied both drivers at the top of the championship standings, both with 43 points. Both Vettel and Hamilton are clearly relishing the prospect of a close rivalry and going wheel-to-wheel on track from lights out to the chequered flag all season.
In China, the driver of the race was Verstappen; his first lap going from sixteenth up to seventh and by lap eight claiming third, where he eventually finished, in a car clearly not on the pace of Mercedes and Ferrari, was nothing short of remarkable. Move of the race had to be Vettel forcing his way past his former team-mate Ricciardo. The disappointing drivers had to be Räikkönen and Bottas. The Ferrari driver was openly criticised by the Ferrari President and the Italian media alike, while Bottas has so far not been up to the challenge of the three-time champion Hamilton.
Bahrain will see Sauber driver, Pascal Wehrlein, return after missing the opening two races, and it remains to be seen whether his fitness levels are up to the standard required to cope with temperatures in the region of 40 degrees. Deposed Formula One ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone also returns to the paddock this weekend, under his new title of ‘Chairman Emeritus’. He is sure to ruffle a few feathers!
Mercedes have dominated here in recent years, and the straights of the circuit play to their power strengths. Hamilton has won here twice in the last three years and will be eager for more of the same. Ferrari will be confident of their strong record at Sakhir, with Raikkonen finishing an excellent second behind Rosberg last year (and in front of Hamilton). The hot weather conditions should suit Ferrari and their management of the rear tyres.
The prediction for this weekend is a close dual between the Silver Arrows and the Prancing Horse. Hamilton should win but don’t rule out Vettel and Ferrari.
The only thing for certain with the desert heat, is that it will be a dry race!