The first flyaway leg of the 2015 Formula 1 season comes to a close this weekend with the Bahrain Grand Prix, as the teams begin to prepare their first major upgrade packages for introduction at the start of the European season in three weeks’ time.
Last year’s race at the Bahrain International Circuit went down in folklore as Mercedes teammates and championship rivals Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg enjoyed a spectacular fight for the race win in the final 10 laps.
That day, it was Hamilton who took the spoils, but it set the tone for an intra-team scrap that would eventually boil over in Hungary and Belgium – the repercussions of which are still being felt today.
Following his ninth defeat in the last ten races to Hamilton in China, Rosberg accused his teammate of deliberately compromising both his race and that of the team in pursuit of his own victory. The frosty atmosphere of the post-race press conference shows that the tension between the two sides of the Mercedes garage only lingers in 2015.
We now head to Bahrain with a fascinating battle on the cards. The last time Rosberg was so riled up after a race, he reacted by making contact with Hamilton at Spa-Francorchamps, thus becoming the villain. All eyes will be on the two Mercedes drivers in case of a repeat in Bahrain.
However, with Ferrari proving in China that its Malaysia pace was not a one-off, Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen could also be candidates for the race win.
2015 Bahrain Grand Prix – Talking Points
Desert Duel v3?
The championship showdown between Hamilton and Rosberg in Abu Dhabi last year was billed as the “desert duel” – in truth, it was the second one following their clash in Bahrain. So does that make this year’s Bahrain Grand Prix the third instalment? If it has even half of the action that last year’s race in Sakhir did, then we are in for a treat.
Rosberg must bounce back this weekend – nine defeats in the last ten races to Hamilton, plus a 0-3 record in 2015 – or he’ll be facing an even bigger task to get back into this title fight. Most importantly though, he must do his talking on track. Beating Lewis this weekend would be an enormous psychological victory – another defeat could be equally as emphatic, though.
Ferrari’s next big opportunity
Sebastian Vettel’s shock victory in Malaysia proved that Ferrari can cut it with Mercedes at the front, particularly at races where temperatures are high. Bahrain is set to be another sizzler on Sunday, even when being run at night, which could bring Ferrari back into contention. It will be interesting to see just how closely Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen can fight with the Silver Arrows, particularly given the internal issues the German marque is facing.
The chasing pack continues to shape up
Lotus finally came good on its pre-season pace in China (well, Romain Grosjean did) whilst Red Bull continued to struggle and McLaren made some good progress to get both of its cars to the line. So who exactly leads the way in the midfield battle? Williams was in a rather lonely class of its own in China, easing to P5 and P6, and should expect to do the same this weekend. Just behind, the margins between Lotus, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Sauber are small, whilst a power upgrade for McLaren could yet bring it into contention again. If the battle at the front is a let down, the one in the midfield certainly won’t be.
McLaren’s rapid rise
It may be just one of two teams without a single point to its name in 2015, but McLaren has made some rapid progress over the first three races of the season. Honda has promised an engine boost for this weekend’s race in Bahrain before a bigger one at the start of the European season at the Spanish grand Prix, suggesting that everything is moving in the right direction. Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso are both former winners here, and could be outside bets for points should a race of attrition set in.
The rhythm of the night
Night races in Formula 1 are always special. The Singapore Grand Prix was the first, with Abu Dhabi holding a ‘twilight’ race that started at dusk. Bahrain followed suit with its first night race in 2014, which was an unmitigated success both on and off track. For drivers, it gives the event some extra spice and panache, whilst the spectacle is undoubtedly improved by running in the dark under floodlights.
Bahrain Grand Prix – Facts and Figures
Track: Bahrain International Circuit
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher 1:30.252 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Soft (Option); Medium (Prime)
2014 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2014 Pole Position: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:33.185
2014 Fastest Lap: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:37.020
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T15 to T1); T10 to T11
Bahrain Grand Prix – TV Times
Free Practice 1: NBC Sports Live Extra 7a ET 4/17
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 11a ET 4/17
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports Live Extra 8a ET 4/18
Qualifying: CNBC 11a ET 4/18
Race: NBCSN 10:30a ET 4/19
Also, be sure to watch the premiere of Off The Grid: Melbourne following F1 Extra on NBCSN on Sunday as Will Buxton and Jason Swales show you all of the behind the scenes at the Australian Grand Prix. For a sneak preview of the show, click here.