McLaren preview Bahrain Grand Prix

Fernando Alonso on track.

McLaren preview the Bahrain Grand Prix, Round 4 of the 2015 Formula 1 world championship, at Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir.

Bahrain International Circuit Snapshot

  • Fernando Alonso: “Bahrain has been a good circuit for me in the past – I’ve won three times there – and although we won’t be fighting for victory this weekend, it’s important we get maximum mileage on as many different types of circuit as possible.”
  • Jenson Button: “Bahrain is always a great spectacle under the floodlights. There’s a good mix of corners at this circuit and it’s really fun to drive, although the high-speed sections mean we won’t be expecting huge gains in performance there.”

Circuit lowdown

  • The Bahrain International Circuit was the first racetrack in the Middle East to host a Grand Prix. It was built in 2003 on Bahrain’s main island, 19 miles/30km south west of the capital city Manama, and the Grand Prix first appeared on the Formula 1 calendar in ’04.
  • The track was designed by Hermann Tilke and it features four long straights and a series of slow corners. Car set-up is a tricky compromise between achieving high top speeds, while maintaining good mechanical grip through the multitude of second-gear bends.
  • The abrasive track surface, which is made from asphalt imported from the UK, requires teams to manage their tyres carefully. Degradation of the rubber reduced significantly last year when the event became a night race for the first time, but Pirelli’s Medium (Prime) and Soft (Option) tyres still need careful management.
  • Fuel consumption is another factor for the teams to consider carefully. The amount of low-speed acceleration makes this one of the most marginal races of the year for fuel and the drivers may have to put into effect their ‘lift-and-coast’ techniques if there is no Safety Car period.
  • Overtaking is possible at the Bahrain International Circuit, a point proven by the fact that fewer than half of the races have been won from pole position.

Bahrain International Circuit facts & stats

It’s all about: the race

  • Start time 1800 (local) / 1600 (BST)
  • Race distance 57 laps (full world championship points awarded after 75% distance/43 laps)
  • 2014 winner Lewis Hamilton
  • 2014 pole position Nico Rosberg 1m33.185s 209.080km/h
  • 2014 fastest lap Nico Rosberg 1m37.020s 200.816km/h
  • Chances of a Safety Car Low, due to the vast expanse of run-off. Having said that, there was a late-race Safety Car in 2014 after Esteban Gutierrez flipped his Sauber.
  • Don’t put the kettle on… Between laps 13-18 and 35-41. Last year’s race was won using a two-stop strategy, but there were different ideas about when to use the Soft and the
  • Medium compounds. The same could well be true this year.
  • Weather forecast After the relative cool of Shanghai, Bahrain will feel hot. Ambient and track temperatures have been much reduced since the race was given a 6pm start time last year, but the teams can still expect some of the highest ambient temperatures of the year.

It’s all about: the track

  • First race 2004
  • Circuit length 5.412km/3.639 miles
  • Run to Turn One 265 metres
  • Longest straight 1.09km, on the approach to Turn One
  • Top speed 330km/h on the approach to Turn One
  • DRS zones Two – the first on the approach to Turn One, the second on the approach to Turn 11
  • Key corner Turn 10. This is a tricky downhill left-hander. It’s off-camber, so it’s very easy to lock the left-front tyre – and it’s vital to make a clean exit because the second DRS zone is located along the ensuing straight
  • Pitlane length 480 metres
  • Major changes for 2015 None

It’s all about: the car

  • Fuel consumption 1.8kg per lap, making it one of the most fuel-critical races of the season
  • Full throttle 64 per cent
  • Brake wear High. There are eight braking events around the lap and all are from high speeds
  • Gear changes 52 per lap/2964 per race

Did you know? A loop was added to the layout of the Bahrain International Circuit in 2010. It extended the length of the track by 0.848km, but was considered too bumpy and the original design was subsequently reinstated.

Technical words of wisdom from Jonathan Neale, chief operating officer and acting CEO: “Having already been to a couple of hot races this year, we wouldn’t expect to have any cooling issues in Bahrain. The 6pm start time, first introduced last year, has helped to reduce the ambient temperature, but it’s still pretty warm and everyone will need to keep an eye on temperatures. The circuit isn’t used much and when you combine that fact with its desert location, grip levels can be very low early in the weekend. On Friday morning the asphalt is very dusty and slippery, and lap times improve dramatically once the cars start to run. As a result, the drivers and engineers are constantly chasing grip levels and waiting for the asphalt to become representative. That’s one of the biggest technical challenges of the weekend.”

McLaren at the Bahrain Grand Prix

  • Wins 0
  • Poles 0
  • Fastest laps 2 (2005, ’08)

Our most memorable Bahrain Grand Prix in 2007: Lewis Hamilton makes history in only the third Grand Prix of his career. He qualifies second, 0.2s behind Felipe Massa, and runs the Brazilian close throughout the 57-lap race. After making a decent getaway from the dirty side of the grid, Lewis’s chances of taking an early lead are scuppered by the deployment of the Safety Car at the end of lap one. Thereafter he bides his time, waiting for his opportunity, and after the second round of pitstops he finds himself 7.0s behind the Brazilian. Some scorching laps late in the race see Lewis reel in the Ferrari every lap, but he runs out of time to mount a serious challenge and he finishes 2.3s behind Massa. Still, the result sees him become the first driver in history to finish on the podium in his opening three Formula 1 races. He leaves Bahrain leading the world championship.

Fernando Alonso: “For me, China was a significant step forward for us and particularly for me as it’s the longest race distance I have done so far! Every lap we complete provides us with extremely valuable data, so to finish the race was a great improvement and proves the gains we have made in the reliability of our package. I had a lot of fun out there and our performance in the final stint was very positive. Now, we go to Bahrain, and our aim is to keep building on this momentum with reliability, and of course to keep pushing for gains in performance, as we have been doing every weekend. In Australia, Malaysia and China we have seen big improvements each weekend, and although these two races are back-to-back, we will arrive in Bahrain and begin working on set-up straight away to maximise our potential at this circuit. This will be a challenging track for our car, for sure, but our first aim is to finish the race and take away as much data as possible to prepare ourselves for Barcelona onwards. We are certainly seeing progress all the time and the car feels great to drive, so we have a good base to keep developing. I’m looking forward to seeing what this race brings and getting the most from the weekend in every session.”

Jenson Button: “China was a tricky race for us although we did see a lot of positives. There’s been a definite step forward at each race so far, although sadly this didn’t translate into the gains on track that we’d hoped for during the race, so we’re busy working out the reasons for that and will channel that into set up preparation for this weekend. The incident with Maldonado towards the end of the race in China was unfortunate and a simple misjudgement on my part as we braked into the corner. Nevertheless, until that point our battle was a lot of fun and it was very encouraging that we were able to take the fight to the Lotus in the corners, even though on the straights it was much more challenging. Bahrain is always a really great event for the fans and it’s a fun track to race on – I won there in 2009 and I enjoy driving there. Although our car isn’t suited so well to this track layout, we’ll still be pushing to continue our development as we look forward to the start of the European season and hopefully more gains in performance.”

Eric Boullier, racing director, McLaren-Honda: “China actually showed some positives for us on many fronts, not least because we successfully got both cars to the end of the race for the first time this season. This has provided us with invaluable data and insight which we will carry through into the rest of the season and use to facilitate further performance improvements. Everyone at McLaren-Honda, in both companies, has been working tirelessly, and this was a significant achievement that we should all feel immensely proud of. Our focus now is maintaining our reliability and steadily progressing in terms of outright performance. Bahrain is a spectacular facility and a circuit that we love going to; it’s a special event for the team. As the race takes place under floodlights it’s fantastic for the fans and there’s always a very unique atmosphere. The circuit itself is very interesting and produces great racing on its fast corners, so we will be looking to race as hard as we can with our nearest competitors this weekend. It won’t be an easy track for our car given its high-speed nature, and since it takes place just one week after China, it proves tricky to bring any major developments to the car. Nevertheless, we have seen definite progress over each race weekend so far, and we expect it to be no different in Bahrain. The whole team is pushing very hard to build on our car’s performance and although this weekend will be challenging – finding the optimum set-up and balance in the car is crucial – we are looking forward to further developments once we finish this cycle of flyaways. We will give it our all in Bahrain, as always, and try to enjoy everything this impressive circuit has to offer.”

Yasuhisa Arai, chief officer of motorsport, Honda R&D Co Ltd: “It was positive that both cars finished in China and it shows our improvements in reliability, so we are focusing on maintaining this in Bahrain. As we know, the Bahrain Grand Prix is very hard on fuel and, with its many straights, it’s a very demanding circuit for the power units. Despite our short experience on track, we will combine the data gathered in the last three races to gain better positions in the race this weekend.”