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Why Bahrain's F1 'oval' plan could really happen

Jun 12, 2020, 1:37 PM

When Formula 1 chief Ross Brawn revealed that Bahrain might hold a second race later this year on an 'almost oval', it was all too easy to think that this was was just an extreme fantasy.

After all, a quick internet search for the layout that he was talking about quickly showed the Sakhir track's 'Outer' circuit configuration would be something pretty crazy for F1.

Forget tight hairpins or extra switchbacks that are a common feature of modern F1 tracks. This 11-turn layout is effectively a short tri-oval with an upper section of sweepers.

At just 3.543 kilometres long, it would be the second-shortest circuit of the year after Monaco, and the race distance would be 87 laps, to get across the 305km requirement laid out in F1's sporting regulations.

Unlike Monaco, though, the track would be fast. Very fast. The three long straights would force teams to cut back the downforce levels. There could be some slipstreaming and DRS fun, and it could prove to be something totally unique to really make Bahrain's second race stand out.

F1's senior figures have long been clear about the need to try to mix things up at the second of double header races this year if fans aren't going to find reason to not tune in.

As Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said recently about holding identical back-to-back events: "I don't see quite the appeal being as large to tune in to a rerun of effectively the same event one week later."

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It was that concern which prompted recent talks about trying out some reverse grid qualifying sprints at the second events, but that plan fell flat thanks to Mercedes objections.

Instead, all that we know for sure so far is that at the second Silverstone race, the tyre compound choices are going to be different. The impact of that on the racing will likely be minimal though.

A few weeks ago there had been talk about perhaps trying some different track layouts at venues where that was possible – or even using circuits in reverse.

That was something which, while very hard to do because of safety concerns, would have been thrilling to have seen.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc was quick to support the plan: "That will be very, very cool. And that will be good.

"I think we'll all rediscover the track and it will probably be very different car wise, so yeah, this could be an interesting idea."

That idea fell through because of real life issues. For safety reasons, Formula 1 races can only be held on circuits that have been granted Grade 1 licences by the FIA.

A quick scan of the circuits that are currently on that list as having such a rating shows that both of the current planned double headers – at the Red Bull Ring and Silverstone – only have their current configuration up to standard. So no alternative layout can be used right now.

However, the one venue on the F1 calendar that does offer up some alternatives is Bahrain: and its Outer Circuit has indeed already got a Grade 1 licence. That means it is really to roll for F1.

At a time when the sport's bosses are clear that F1 needs to try new things to keep fans tuned in, electing to try to the Bahrain 'oval' circuit rather than the 6.299km 'Endurance' layout that proved so boring back in 2010, is something to get excited about.

With a Grade 1 licence in place; and a unique opportunity to try it out once because it is unlikely ever again that F1 tracks will hold double headers, there is every reason to think it could actually happen.

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About this article

Series Formula 1
Author Jonathan Noble