Formula One enters uncharted territory next week when the teams descend upon the desert town of Sakhir, south of Bahrain's capital, Manama, for the first Grand Prix to ever be held on Middle Eastern soil. The inaugural Bahrain Grand Prix will be...
Formula One enters uncharted territory next week when the teams descend upon the desert town of Sakhir, south of Bahrain's capital, Manama, for the first Grand Prix to ever be held on Middle Eastern soil.
The inaugural Bahrain Grand Prix will be staged on the site's International Circuit within a 170-hectare development. The 5.417 kilometre track comprises 15 corners and an impressive 1.090 kilometre start and finish straight. Combined with the region's high temperatures, Bahrain's debut Formula One event is expected to be a challenging race for the drivers and the teams as they get to grips with the unknown.
For the BMW WilliamsF1 Team, returning to the Middle East holds particular significance. With the sponsorship opportunities sourced in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s, Frank Williams was able to build the foundations of WilliamsF1 that has since seen the company secure nine Drivers' and seven Constructors' World Championships.
Next weekend's Grand Prix will also mark the end of the first of the long haul races of the season before Formula One returns to the traditional European destinations. The idiosyncrasies typical of Melbourne, the heat and humidity of Malaysia and the unknown quantities of Bahrain may produce a lottery of results not always indicative of the grid's true competitiveness. Returning to Europe will provide a true indication of the field's relative performances.
Juan Pablo Montoya:
Personally, I believe that Formula One going to the Middle East, and to Bahrain in particular, is really important. Racing at a completely new venue is going to be a real challenge for all the teams but also very exciting.
The facilities look amazing and the track itself looks state of the art, with several overtaking opportunities. As it was designed by the same guy who worked on the Sepang circuit, I'm sure it will be great, so I am really looking forward to getting there to see what it's like in reality. After my podium finish in Malaysia, I believe all the team are more confident and keen to improve on that performance in Bahrain.
I am convinced that the Bahrain Grand Prix will be a lot of fun, for the drivers and for the public. I'm already excited to see how the place has changed since my short visit in December last year. The race is opening new frontiers for Formula One but going to a new track inevitably throws up various questions, for example will it suit our car and how comfortable will I feel on the new track? The role the dry heat will play and whether sand will be a problem are also going to be issues we will have to face.
Juan Pablo's second place in Malaysia has shown that we are not that far away from Ferrari as we feared, but there's still a long way to go to before we can beat them. Testing at Le Castellet this week has shown that we are working in the right direction so I hope that we will be able to make up more ground in Bahrain.
Sam Michael (Chief Operations Engineer, WilliamsF1):
The inaugural Bahrain Grand Prix will pose plenty of challenges that we have not faced before. In particular, the area is surrounded by fine, coral sand that can cause many operational and on-board mechanical problems. Hopefully there won't be any sand storms, not least because the paint work on the cars will definitely take a battering in these conditions.
From the circuit layout, the track seems to be quite twisty with predominantly slow speed corners but there are three straight sections that may offer overtaking opportunities. Judging by the shape of the first corner, the start of the race could be interesting.
We have made some minor improvements to the car since the Malaysian Grand Prix where we were competitive during the race, although not competitive enough to win. Michelin will bring two known tyre choices as they did for the last race, being a new circuit the compound choice will be interesting.
Strategy may prove different to the trend of three short stint pitstops we've seen in recent races because we have no information on the amount of time we'll lose in the pitlane, tyre degradation or what the fuel penalty will be.
Mario Theissen (BMW Motorsport Director):
With the first two races of the season completed, a picture is now beginning to develop showing the balance of power in this year's World Championship. In Melbourne, Ferrari dominated and we were more than a second a lap slower. In Malaysia, however, we were able to keep up even in extremely high temperatures. As was the case last year, we are already engaged in intensive development of the FW26 with a view to gradually narrowing the gap to Ferrari and ultimately catching them up.
We are anticipating another hot race in Bahrain where temperatures could easily reach 30°C, though with much lower humidity. The engine damage to Ralf Schumacher's car in Malaysia had nothing to do with the high temperatures in Malaysia but was due to a faulty component, which we have now identified.
We are anticipating drifting sand, both on and off the track, in Bahrain. This will not only limit the level of grip on the track but, in terms of the engine, the air filter will play a more crucial role as it will have to prevent sand from getting into the engine through the air inlets and causing damage.
On the one hand, we are looking forward to the Grand Prix in Bahrain because it presents an interesting and novel challenge with plenty of unknown quantities. On the other hand, the Middle East is an important marketplace for BMW, having a race in the region gives us the opportunity to demonstrate our technological competence in another of our key regions.