Bahrain to light up for tenth anniversary of Formula 1 duel in the desert

Formula One Testing, Day Four, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday 2 March 2014

The spotlights, all 5,000 of them, will be on Mercedes team mates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton on Sunday when Bahrain adds another novel twist to an already changed Formula One landscape.

The pair are one-two in the new-look championship after a win each from the first two races of the quieter-sounding, fuel-saving and less reliable V6 turbo era that started in Melbourne last month.

Neither driver has won before at the Sakhir circuit but they are clear favourites to fight for the top step on the podium after their one-two finish for the Silver Arrows in Malaysia last weekend.

What would normally be a sweat in the afternoon heat, with temperatures soaring to 45 degrees Celsius, will be a cooler duel in the dark with the race switching to an evening format for the first time.

Preparations, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Wednesday 2 April 2014.

The Bahrain International Circuit, celebrating the 10th anniversary of a race that had to be cancelled in 2011 due to bloody civil unrest that continues to simmer in the background, has followed Abu Dhabi in becoming a day-to-night event.

Some 500 km of cabling has been installed to power the 5,000 lights needed for the Gulf kingdom’s showcase sporting event.

Rosberg, who will be starting his 150 th grand prix, leads the championship by 18 points but Hamilton, chasing his third pole in a row, can score an important psychological blow if he takes his second successive win.

“I’ve never managed to get the win [in Bahrain]. Until last week it was the same story for me with Malaysia, so fingers crossed that this can be the year of breaking those cycles,” said the 2008 champion.

“We know it’s going to be tough to maintain our current form, particularly at a circuit where every team has had so much running time over the winter, but I’ll be pushing hard to keep those results coming,” added the Briton.

Preparations, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Wednesday 2 April 2014.

Two of the three pre-season tests were held in Bahrain and Mercedes will be carrying out a Pirelli tyre test at Sakhir next week along with Williams and Caterham.

The teams have no shortage of data about the circuit but Bahrain, following on from Malaysia, is the first time this year that they have had to race on successive weekends.

That will be an extra challenge for reliability and teamwork as well as providing the first real insight into the endurance of engines and gearboxes.

The long straights should suit the Mercedes well, and the dry conditions will also play to their strengths.

“It’s a great track and I really enjoy driving it. I’ve never had much luck on race weekends here, but it’s definitely the one I’m best prepared for this year,” said Rosberg, who made his F1 debut at Bahrain, in 2006.

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Red Bull‘s quadruple champion Sebastian Vettel has won the last two Bahrain Grands Prix but he knows a third is a long shot this time with the Renault Power Unit still lagging the performance of the Mercedes PU.

“We still have a long way [to go], these guys are bloody quick, congratulations to them. They did a good job but we are trying to catch-up,” the German said after finishing third in Malaysia for his first points of the year.

That was also his full first race distance since Brazil last November.

Nobody has ever won Bahrain from further back than the second row, which realistically rules out Australian Daniel Ricciardo’s hopes in the other Red Bull after he collected a 10 place grid penalty in Malaysia for an unsafe pitstop release.

Formula One Testing, Day Four, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday 2 March 2014

Ferrari‘s Fernando Alonso, three-times a winner in Bahrain, will be seeking to improve on two successive fourths this season while McLaren‘s Jenson Button hopes to mark a big personal anniversary with something special.

“Sunday’s race will be my 250 th grand prix start. That’s crazy,” said the 2009 champion. “It feels like only yesterday that I was celebrating my 200 th, with a win for McLaren in Hungary back in 2011.

“It’ll be interesting to see what sort of race we have under the floodlights – racing at night always adds to the atmosphere and sense of occasion, and I think this weekend will be no different.”

Preparations, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Wednesday 2 April 2014.

Reuters Formula 1 Stats & Facts

  • Lap distance: 5.412 km. Total distance: 308.238 km (57 laps)
  • Race lap record: Pedro de la Rosa (Spain) McLaren one minute 31.447 seconds, 2005
  • Start time: 1500 GMT (18:00 local)
  • 2013 pole: Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes 1:32.330
  • 2013 winner: Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Red Bull
  • Tyres: Medium (White), Soft (Yellow)
  • Quadruple world champion Vettel has 39 career wins, Fernando Alonso 32, Lewis Hamilton 23, Kimi Raikkonen 20 and Jenson Button 15. Rosberg, winner in Melbourne, has four.
  • Vettel needs two more race victories to equal the late Ayrton Senna’s tally of 41. Only Alain Prost (51) and Michael Schumacher (91) have won more.
  • Ferrari have won 221 races, McLaren 182, Williams 114 and Red Bull 46.
  • Hamilton’s win in Malaysia put him ahead of 1996 champion Damon Hill in the all-time standings and level with Brazilian Nelson Piquet.
  • Vettel took nine poles last year and now has 45 for his F1 career. Mercedes and Red Bull were the only teams to start on pole in 2013.
  • Hamilton is the only driver to start on pole this year and is chasing his third in a row for Mercedes.
  • Hamilton now has 33 poles, equalling the late Jim Clark’s British record which has stood since 1968.
  • Ferrari have finished a record 69 successive races with at least one car in the points, a run that dates back to the 2010 German Grand Prix.
  • Caterham and Marussia have yet to score a point after four seasons in F1.
  • In Australia, Magnussen and Russian Daniil Kvyat became the 60th and 61st drivers to score points on their Formula One debuts. Both scored again in Malaysia.
  • Toro Rosso’s Kvyat is Formula One’s youngest points scorer – aged 19 years and 324 days.
  • This year’s race is the 10th edition and under floodlights as a day-to-night event for the first time. The grand prix was first held in 2004 and not held in 2011 due to civil unrest.
  • The Bahrain International Circuit has installed 495 lighting poles, ranging in height from 10-45 metres with more than 500 km of cabling.
  • The race will be the third staged under floodlights, after Singapore and Abu Dhabi.
  • Alonso has won three times in Bahrain, more than any other driver. He triumphed with Renault in 2005 and 2006 and Ferrari in 2010.
  • Brazilian Felipe Massa, now with Williams, and Vettel have both won twice. Vettel has won the last two races in Bahrain, winning from second on the grid last year.
  • Ferrari are the most successful constructor with four wins. McLaren, who are 50 percent owned by Bahrain’s Mumtalakat investment fund, have yet to win in the country.
  • The driver on pole in Bahrain has won four of nine races to date. It has never been won by anyone starting below the front two rows.
  • Eight out of nine winners have been from the team that ended up winning the constructors’s title.
  • Rosberg made his F1 debut in Bahrain in 2006.
  • Last weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix was Mercedes’ first one-two finish as a works team since the 1955 Italian Grand Prix, when Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio won and Italian Piero Taruffi was second.
  • McLaren’s Jenson Button, race winner in 2009, is marking his 250th grand prix.
  • It is also the 150 th race for Rosberg. (Reuters)

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