2013 Bahrain Grand Prix preview

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Off the back of the Chinese Grand Prix, the teams have had little chance to catch their breath ahead of this weekend’s race in Bahrain. With Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes and Lotus all impressing in China, will the four teams be vying for victory once again this weekend?

Bahrain Grand Prix Talking Points

Are Ferrari and Alonso pulling ahead?

Fernando Alonso perfected his strategy and pace in China to take a stunning victory, so Ferrari will be keen on continuing this form in Bahrain. Although rain is forecast across the weekend, a characteristically hot race could play into the Italian’s marque’s hands. After all, Alonso dominated in the heat in China after two damp races, so the F138 appears to be strong in the dry.

Red Bull look to bounce back

China was a difficult weekend for Red Bull, even with Sebastian Vettel finishing 4th after starting down in 9th. The world champion struggled for outright pace on the harder tire, getting stuck behind Nico Hulkenberg early on, whilst Mark Webber endured a nightmare weekend. Quite whether his fortune will change in Bahrain is impossible to predict, but starting three places back from his qualifying position is certainly a bad omen.

Can Mercedes finally win?

There appears to be four teams in the hunt for the 2013 constructors’ championship, and Mercedes is the only member of this group yet to win. Lewis Hamilton struggled from pole in China, whilst Nico Rosberg went backwards before finally retiring, making it a disappointing weekend for the German team after such a strong qualifying performance. Bahrain is where the team really has to prove its worth.

Further progress on McLaren’s agenda

McLaren was strong in China, with Jenson Button perfecting his strategy to finish in a best-case-scenario of 5th. However, Perez’s failure to score shows that the MP4-28 is still incapable of a podium finish, although the team has certainly come a long way since the opening race of the season.

Advantage Toro Rosso in the midfield battle?

China threw up some interesting midfield battles, with Daniel Ricciardo coming out on top in P6, and Toro Rosso appear to be in good shape for the rest of the season. For outright pace, the Faenza-based team was very strong, but Force India and Sauber also impressed (after they both lost one driver in the same incident), leaving us with a highly exciting battle for the small points in Bahrain.

Track: Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir (5.412km)
Laps: 57
Corners: 15
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher 1:30.252s (2004)
Tire Compounds: Soft (Option); Medium (Hard)
2012 Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
2012 Pole Position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) – 1:32.422s
2012 Fastest Lap: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) – 1:36.379s
DRS Zones: Main straight (T15 to T1); T10 to T11

Friday – Free Practice 1: 10:00am local/03:00am ET
Friday – Free Practice 2: 14:00pm local/07:00am ET
Saturday – Free Practice 3: 11:00am local/04:00pm ET
Saturday – Qualifying: 14:00pm local/07:00am ET
Sunday – Race: 15:00pm local/08:00am ET

You can watch FP2, qualifying and the race on NBC this weekend via http://stream.nbcsports.com/liveextra/, or on their phone or tablet by downloading the app http://nbcsports.msnbc.com/id/25481063/.

F1 2017 driver review: Esteban Ocon

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Esteban Ocon

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 31
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P5 (Spain, Mexico)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 87
Championship Position: 8th

A shining star in Mercedes’ junior programme, Esteban Ocon vaulted fellow youngster Pascal Wehrlein in the pecking order to secure a seat at Force India for 2017 – and boy, did he live up to the hype.

Ocon arrived at Force India with half a season of racing under his belt after his outings with Manor late in 2016, but wasted little time in settling in, scoring points on debut in Australia after winning a thrilling three-way fight with Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso.

The Frenchman spent much of the year close to teammate Sergio Perez – even if things did get a little too close in Canada, Baku and, finally, Spa, prompting the team to introduce team orders – and impressed the entire paddock with his displays.

While no podium was forthcoming, Ocon was often leading the midfield fight, enjoying three straight finishes ahead of Perez from Japan to Mexico. Given how well Perez is rated on-track in the paddock, to have convincingly beaten him in such fashion did a lot for Ocon’s reputation.

The term ‘Oconsistency’ also came into F1’s dictionary as he set a new record for consecutive finishes from his first race, with his retirement in Brazil ending the streak at 27 grands prix. It was also his first retirement in a single-seater race since the 2014 Macau Grand Prix.

The highlight moment arguably came at Monza, though, when Ocon stuck his Force India third on the grid through torrential rain in qualifying. While he would drop to P6 at the checkered flag, the display nevertheless cemented his place as one of F1’s rising stars.

Mercedes rates Ocon very highly, and with Valtteri Bottas’ future beyond 2018 already being questioned by the paddock, a good season could see the youngster move on up to the top table of F1 for 2019. His progression in the next 12 months will be fascinating to keep track of.

Season High: Lining up P3 on the grid at Monza after a rainy qualifying.

Season Low: Clashing with Perez in Baku, costing Force India a possible podium.