All eyes are on the outer Sakhir layout this weekend as Daniel Ricciardo aims for a stronger result from the last race at the same venue.
What are your thoughts on the track?
Daniel Ricciardo: Firstly, it's such a relief to know Romain is okay after that terrible accident on lap one last weekend. It's a testament to the advancement in safety in the sport and all the brilliant work done by all those who were involved.
In terms of the track, it's not the first time this year that we're staying at the same facility for two weeks running, but I like that they've changed this one up a bit with the shorter 'outer' layout. The expected lap times of under a minute will be the shortest we've all ever done in Formula 1, so that'll be interesting to see how everyone finds it.
Where do you see the main challenges for the weekend?
DR: What it does do is make qualifying extra challenging, because it'll force the field to bunch up on the out lap. We see it happen every time we qualify at Monaco for instance. Ultimately, it will all be about putting together the perfect lap and one small mistake will make up for half a dozen places, so there will be no room for errors. We'll try to capitalise on the shorter layout as best we can.
What is the aim for the team?
DR: Our aim is for another double points finish but we need to improve upon how we did last weekend here where we finished seventh and ninth. We couldn't find consistent pace on Sunday, but let's see if the lower downforce on this layout will make a difference. Only two races to go and I'm looking forward to it!
It was a return to the points for Esteban Ocon in Bahrain after his ninth-place finish. But the Frenchman was hoping for much more after a strong Saturday showing, as he looks ahead to tackling the fast, outer Bahrain circuit.
What will be the main challenges of the outer Bahrain circuit?
Esteban Ocon: It's going to be a whole new challenge on the outer Bahrain layout. I think it's going to be especially tricky in qualifying and it might be quite busy on track! If you put all the cars on track at the same time, there's going to be very small gaps in between and it's going to be important to find a gap, while still finding a slipstream. The long circuit is already one of the easier tracks to overtake and this one might even be better.
Have you driven or even seen the new layout?
EO: I've had a go on the track on the simulator and it does look challenging even if it's short. It's different to the rest of the track with high kerbs and it's very bumpy and probably lower grip on that new part linking Turn 4 to where Turn 13 is on the normal circuit. I'll do a track walk this week as I haven't seen it in real yet. It's a different downforce level and set-up, so that'll be the interesting thing to see how quickly we can adapt. I'm sure we'll find our way around.
What are your targets this weekend?
EO: We had a good few days off to recharge a little before debriefing fully from last weekend's race. Clearly, it wasn't the best result after a very good qualifying. We think we'll be better at this outer layout, so let's see what we can do. I send my best wishes to Romain in his recovery and I'm pleased to hear he is alright.
With back to back races in Bahrain, Chief Race Engineer Ciaron Pilbeam assesses the unique challenges posed by the alternate layout at this weekend's Sakhir Grand Prix.
What are your thoughts heading into a back to back here in Bahrain?
Ciaron Pilbeam: Although the circuit is in the same location as the last race and we will use some of the same track, the differences make it a completely different prospect, and some aspects of it are unlike anything we have seen before. In particular it is a very short lap, at three and a half kilometres, and lap times in qualifying will be in the low fifties, so the circuit will be very crowded in qualifying and the race.
What specific challenges does the outer circuit layout provide teams and drivers?
CP: One of the biggest technical differences is that the cars will run lower downforce than they did last weekend, and this changes considerably the way we approach the circuit, even in the corners that are common to the circuit that we raced on last weekend. The layout will also be hard on brakes, as the cars will stop from high speed several times during the lap, so getting enough brake cooling is likely to be a challenge. Tyre compounds are the same as last weekend. The surface is quite abrasive here, and the braking and traction demands are high, so we will need to do our usual Friday work to establish how they behave on this layout.
What are your overall assessments on last weekend's race?
CP: We did not have a great Sunday at the last race, although of course the most important aspect was that Romain emerged from his accident without serious injury. From our point of view we had a good Friday and Saturday and had qualified well, but lost out a lot with the red flag and did not have enough pace in the race to beat McLaren, and were fortunate with some retirements in the race. However, the end result was that we gained points on some of our closest rivals in the Constructors' Championship, and Daniel retook fourth place in the Drivers' Championship. The midfield battle is still tight and we need to do everything that we can to finish the season as high up as possible.