The unknown factors F1 drivers will face in Bahrain GP

The unknown factors F1 drivers will face in Bahrain GP

by Jacelyn Bunny
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In addition, Saturday produced a mixed-up grid, with plenty of drivers keen to make a point or take advantage of unexpectedly good grid positions.

Six days of testing and two of practice and qualifying have provided some clues as to what to expect, but only on Sunday evening will fans really see how the new aero package performs in a race situation, and what kind of overtaking action is seen.

Drivers have done some following, but not necessarily in a train of cars with some using DRS, for lap after lap, and with parameters like brake and engine temperatures to manage, not to mention tyres.

In the past, following cars often created degradation, and at abrasive Sakhir it remains to be seen just how much punishment the tyres take.

It will also be the first proper start for the drivers with these cars, and the first time they’ve piled into the first corner with a full tank of fuel adding yet more weight to the heaviest F1 cars we’ve ever seen.

Locking up has been a regular feature of 2022 thus far even with routine test and practice running, in a race it is likely to be seen even more often, potentially leaving drivers with damaged tyres that compromise their strategies.

Just to add to the fun the race is set to be a two-stopper, unless anyone at the back of the field takes a gamble.

That opens up a variety of strategy options, and given that the rules no longer require those who made Q3 to start on the tyres they used in Q2, everyone has a clean sheet of paper.

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75, Passes The Alfa Romeo Pit Wall

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari F1-75, passes the Alfa Romeo pit wall

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

“Degradation on this track is there, it’s part of the show,” Pirelli’s Mario Isola told Motorsport.com after qualifying.

“That’s why I believe we will have a two-stop race. Then how much the new aero package is affecting the car in the back, we will discover tomorrow. Honestly, it’s difficult to say.

“This is something that is impossible for us to simulate in testing. So I’m interested to see what happens, and what is the final effect when they are in real traffic.”

The deltas between each tyre compound are a second or more, and it will be a no-brainer for those in the front half of the grid to start on the softs. They need the pace and the grip to get off the grid and to fight for position on the first lap.

“I believe that probably most of the cars are starting are soft, because of the performance advantage,” said Isola. “Here it’s quite easy to overtake. So, they have to pay attention to start on the medium or the hard, although it is possible for somebody in the back.

“Then the two possible strategies are soft/medium/medium, or soft/medium/soft. Also a strategy with all the three compounds is possible, it is close. That should be soft/hard/medium, it depends if you have two mediums or not.

“The medium is an option at the start for the people in the middle of the grid, to try something different. Maybe the hard is an option at the start for drivers that try a one-stop race, medium/hard.”

It will be fascinating to see what kind of role tyre management plays in the race.

“The tyre is going to be probably the biggest topic tomorrow, the degradation. So when you follow too closely, you damage the tyres,” said Fernando Alonso.

“So I don’t know if it’s clever to be that close. So let’s see, I think the first couple of laps, they will be interesting, because is the real first time that we will run closely all together with the heavy cars.

“We saw a lot of mistakes from lock-ups, things like that. So hopefully we have a clean race, and we all learn from tomorrow.”

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing Rb18

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB18

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Sergio Perez, always a master of tyre management, suggested that it will be wise to be cautious at the start.

“There could be some deg, following cars closely. But it will be interesting how everything turns around, if you are able to say in the DRS zone. I think none of us really knows what to expect for tomorrow’s race. So it will be an interesting one just to to get the experience on board.”

Intriguingly, third-place qualifier Carlos Sainz intimated that degradation in traffic as less of an issue, and he believes that drivers will be able to stay close to cars ahead for lap after lap.

“Because we are actually able to follow closer, we don’t need to open such big gaps to manage tyres, like we had to do in the past,” he said. “At least that’s my personal feeling. So it could be a bit more close racing.

“It doesn’t mean like it could be overtaking all over the place, but maybe the cars can run a bit closer between each other, in cases where the pace is similar.”

An unfamiliar fifth on the grid, Lewis Hamilton hinted that the tyre strategy options could create an opportunity for his Mercedes team.

“Realistically, we can’t really compete pace-wise to the guys that are ahead of us,” he says. “But we can fight the guys behind. However, we might have slightly different strategy in terms of the tyre situation, who knows whether that can come into play.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W13

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W13

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Bahrain will be particular tough for some drivers.

For Alfa Romeo rookie Guanyu Zhou the whole experience will be new, while both Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg will be making their first F1 starts since 2020, and inevitably there will be some rustiness.

Hulkenberg’s lack of testing means he’s had even less chance than his rivals to follow other cars, and he really doesn’t know what to expect.

“It’ll be a Houdini act,” he joked after qualifying.

McLaren has a very specific issue in terms of brake cooling, but team boss Andreas Seidl is confident that it has been fixed, and that his drivers won’t have issues.

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However, controlling temperatures when running consistently on the gearbox of the car ahead could become an issue up and down the pitlane.

This will also be the first big test for new race director Niels Wittich, who will really be in the spotlight.

He’s made it clear that rules are rules and that the white line is the edge of the track, and in Friday’s drivers’ briefing he gave his views on what is fair racing when cars are running side-by-side around a corner.

There’s always a possibility that it’s a quiet race, and that he doesn’t have to get too closely involved with policing during or indeed after the race. However, given all the circumstances a low-key evening would seem to be an unlikely outcome.

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