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Another high speed game of chess on the cards for Bahrain GP night race

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Another high speed game of chess on the cards for Bahrain GP night race
Mar 29, 2016, 1:23 PM

This weekend the F1 caravan rolls into Bahrain and despite the focus being on the controversial decision to stick with the unloved 'elimination' qu...

This weekend the F1 caravan rolls into Bahrain and despite the focus being on the controversial decision to stick with the unloved 'elimination' qualifying, the tactical game in the race should once again prove the main attraction.

The opening race in Melbourne showed that the new rule permitting the drivers a choice of three tyre compounds in the race is the most interesting and exciting of the changes to the 2016 regulations, far more than the team radio or qualifying changes. It opens up several viable strategy options and this leads to cars racing each other with performance offsets, enough to promote close battles and more overtaking.

Pirelli F1

As we reported in the UBS Race Strategy Report the race in Melbourne pivoted on Ferrari's mistake in not having enough soft tyres at its disposal for the race. This pinned them into a corner during the race and Mercedes was able to check-mate them.

Having learned from that, Ferrari will be anxious to avoid a repeat this weekend in Bahrain, a track on which they gave Mercedes a run for their money last year and where they will feel they can challenge again. Both Ferraris were competitive in this twilight race last year, with a strong performance from Kimi Raikkonen backing up Sebastian Vettel's challenge.

However once again they have gone a different way on tyre choice ahead of the weekend, taking more medium tyres than Mercedes and fewer softs. Ferrari has gone with three sets of mediums and four sets of softs, while Mercedes has opted for one set of mediums (which they will have to carry through to the race) and six sets of softs.

Sebastian Vettel Lewis Hamilton

A glance at last year's race shows that the soft was the preferred race tyre; the shift to a twilight race means that the track temperature comes down in comparison to the 2pm start we used to have there and that greatly reduces the thermal degradation on the tyres. The temperature is forecast to be around 25 degrees for qualifying and race. "Since it’s been a night race it’s become a lot more exciting. The tyres last a bit longer and you can push a bit harder throughout the race," says Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo.

As the supersoft will once again be the preferred qualifying tyre and therefore the starting race tyre, the key to this race will be whether the teams can cover the 57 lap race with two stints on softs after the initial pit stop to get off the supersofts. It will be touch and go and you cannot rely on a safety car as these are pretty rare in Bahrain due to the wide open nature of the track. The alternative is to go supersoft, soft, medium, with a longer stint on mediums. Mercedes will not fear this, as they did not in Melbourne, as they can make the mediums work better than the Ferraris can.

Last year the longest stint for the soft was 21 laps, while the medium was good for 32 laps on Massa's Williams, so it is tough and go for soft tyres.

Felipe Massa

So we will see a real mixture of tyre choices during the race and this contributed significantly to the excitement of the race in Melbourne. On a track like Bahrain, which has more overtaking opportunities per lap, this could turn into a really exciting Grand Prix up and down the field.

"We know already that there is a marked difference between the allocations selected by competing teams for this race, so we could see a few surprises," says Mercedes technical chief Paddy Lowe. "A big positive from Melbourne was seeing how well the new tyre rules delivered in terms of strategy variation - and we expect to see more of the same here."

Selected tyre choices- Bahrain - Click to enlarge

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 10.13.02

Bahrain Grand Prix: pre-race stats

Mercedes’ 1-2 finish last time out in Australia was its 24th since the beginning of 2014. Every team that has previously secured a 1-2 in Melbourne has gone on to win both championships and the victorious driver has also won the drivers’ championship on those six occasions, which will be a boost for Nico Rosberg.

The German driver also enters the Bahrain Grand Prix within touching distance of a long-standing F1 record.

Nico Rosberg

Rosberg is currently one win short of Sir Stirling Moss’s record of 16 wins, which is the most by any driver who did not win an F1 world title.

However, both Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill surpassed Moss’s win total before they eventually went on to claim the crown.

Speaking ahead of the race in Bahrain, Rosberg said: “I've had some great battles [in Bahrain] in the last two years with Lewis and also the Ferraris, so I'm expecting more of the same this time and very much looking forward to that.

“It was great to win the first race - but the aim is to come out on top at every step of the way this season, starting this weekend. There's a long way to go.”

Lewis Hamilton

In other notable statistics ahead of the twelfth running of the Bahrain Grand Prix, the Melbourne result means Lewis Hamilton does not hold the championship lead for the first time in 25 races. He had previously done so continuously since the 2014 Singapore race.

Kimi Raikkonen heads into the Bahrain event hoping to go one better than he did last year and win the race. The 2007 world champion has finished on the podium seven times in Bahrain without climbing onto the top step.

Romain Grosjean

Haas F1’s dream debut performance in Australia equalled the previous best for a completely new F1 team. Mika Salo finished sixth for Toyota back in the 2002 Melbourne event to earn the Japanese manufacturer its first points.

However, due to modern testing restrictions it should be noted that Haas only completed 1,371 miles (2,206km) of preseason running before its debut compared to Toyota’s 16,584 miles (26,689km).

Haas also did all of its work on one circuit (Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya) this year, while Toyota used 11 different circuits for testing in both 2001 and 2002 before it officially joined the F1 grid.

Bahrain Grand Prix

What are you expecting to happen in Bahrain? Will F1 be in for another thriller in the desert? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.
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