First Bahrain F1 night race a resounding success

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For many years, Bahrain has been considered to be at the bottom of the list of “great grands prix” that currently have a place on the calendar. Following a great deal of political unrest in the kingdom in the wake of the Arab Spring, and the subsequent cancellation of the 2011 race, many expected the race to disappear from the sport altogether. Would it have been missed? Probably not. Mark Webber once said that racing at the Bahrain International Circuit was like driving around a car park. With dwindling attendances and a lack of atmosphere, it was hardly a race people relished.

So when the organizers confirmed that the 2014 race – the 10th Bahrain Grand Prix – would be a night race, many wrote it off as being another gimmick; a last roll of the dice to try and give the event some life. Singapore was at the time the only total night race in the sport, but it worked because of the location and the way that the race was promoted; the “Monaco of the east”, a glamorous event that attracted the rich and famous.

But Bahrain? That would not work as a night race, surely.

Instead, the doubters (including this writer) were proved very wrong last weekend. Not only did the on-track action give us a classic grand prix, but the off-track activity and atmosphere seemed to be a world away from what it used to be. Hundreds of floodlights were erected to illuminate the circuit, and this worked perfectly for the drivers who had no problems with visibility.

Around the circuit, the palm trees and run-off areas were draped in golden lights that came on as the sun went down, creating a quite beautiful overhead shot of the circuit.

It might seem quite odd, but the fact that we could not see the desert in the background went a long way to helping us to forget that this is essentially a grand prix in the middle of nowhere. The grandstands also appeared to be busier this year, with the main straight cheering and cooing at every bit of action before spilling out onto the circuit come the checkered flag.

Just as Qatar has proven to be a successful night race in Moto GP, Bahrain has pulled a similar trick in Formula 1. It was indeed the “celebration” that the organizers promised to mark the 10th anniversary of the first race, and it comes as little surprise that before the weekend had even finished, officials confirmed that they will be keeping the race as a night-time event from now on.

Formula 1’s foothold in Bahrain has never been stronger, and in 2015, we might actually earmark the race as being a highlight for the season ahead.

Merhi confirmed for WEC return with Manor at the Nürburgring

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CEFC Manor TRS Racing has confirmed that Roberto Merhi will return to the FIA World Endurance Championship for next month’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne.

Merhi previously raced for Manor in both Formula 1 and the WEC, making his most recent appearance with the British marque at last November’s 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Merhi’s last racing outing came in the Formula 2 double-header in Spain and has flirted with a move into Formula E, but was confirmed on Wednesday to be making his racing return at the Nürburgring on July 16.

Merhi will deputize for Vergne in the No. 24 Oreca 07 Gibson while the Frenchman is in New York for the city’s inaugural Formula E event.

FIA to re-examine Vettel/Hamilton Baku clash

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The FIA has confirmed that it will re-examine the clash between Formula 1 title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix to see if further action is warranted.

Vettel and Hamilton made contact twice behind the safety car in Baku, with the second incident deemed to be an act of dangerous driving on Vettel’s part.

The FIA stewards in Baku handed Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty for the clash – the harshest available penalty besides disqualification – but faced calls to issue a stricter punishment post race.

Hamilton said that the incident set a dangerous precedent for F1 and wider motorsport, but Vettel believed his rival deserved a penalty for allegedly brake testing him.

On Wednesday, the FIA confirmed that it would be re-examining the incident in a meeting on July 3, with a verdict set to be delivered ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

More to follow.

Wickens not interested in full-time IndyCar switch despite practice run

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Robert Wickens is not interested in making a full-time switch to the Verizon IndyCar Series in the near future despite his practice run-out at Road America last weekend for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Mercedes DTM driver Wickens was called up for Friday practice at the KOHLER Grand Prix in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda after Mikhail Aleshin was unable to make it in time due to immigration issues.

Aleshin was able to return to the United States in time for Saturday’s final practice and qualifying at Road America, with Wickens stepping back down.

The Canadian got his first taste of an Indy car in a car swap with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe in March, paving the way for his practice appearance at Road America.

However, Wickens is not looking to make a full-time move over to IndyCar anytime soon despite enjoying his run-out, with his focus lying with DTM.

“Not really, to be honest,” Wickens said when asked if IndyCar was something he would like to move into in Mercedes’ ‘Tales from the Paddock’ press newsletter.

“I just want to race cars. That’s the main thing. I have no urge to leave the DTM at the moment.

“Everything is going well, and I’m really happy with Mercedes.”

Wickens also went into detail about how rapidly things moved with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, having only been told the day before practice that he was required for the running.

“I planned on having a relaxing weekend at home, but on Thursday afternoon I got a call from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which is the team that we did the ride swap with involving James Hinchcliffe back in April,” Wickens said.

“They asked if I could go to Road America and fill in for Mikhail Aleshin who had immigration issues. Fortunately, Toto [Wolff] was happy for me to do it and I was able to jump on a plane and get to Wisconsin.

“We didn’t get to the hotel until about 10pm on Thursday, and Free Practice 1 was on Friday morning very early. It took some getting used to.

“The practice itself was fun. The track was really good. It would be amazing to have a DTM race there one day.

“I definitely wanted to do the full weekend, but the full-time driver got his immigration stuff sorted and he made it to the race track by Friday night. My duties were finished, but it was still a really fun Friday.”

Force India’s Celis gets FP1 appearances in Austria, Hungary

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Force India youngster Alfonso Celis Jr. will make his first Formula 1 race weekend appearances of the season next month, taking part in first practice for the grands prix in Austria and Hungary.

Celis, 20, joined Force India as a development driver ahead of the 2016 season, enjoying six FP1 run-outs across the course of the year.

The Mexican driver returned for 2017, taking part in pre-season testing and the running following the Bahrain Grand Prix in April.

Force India confirmed on Wednesday that Celis will return for FP1 in Austria next week, before also featuring in practice in Hungary at the end of July.