Originally, the Bahrain Grand Prix at the Sakhir circuit should have been the second race of the season, taking place on 22 March, following on from the season curtain raiser in Australia. It seems an eternity ago that the Covid-19 pandemic led to Melbourne being cancelled and put a stop to all forms of motorsport up until July, when, having put the necessary safety measures in place, Formula 1 was one of the first global sports to resume and the engines were fired up for two Austrian races in a row at the Spielberg circuit. Since then, there have been 14 Grands Prix, with three sets of triple-headers. This weekend marks the start of the fourth and final trio of races to end this very unusual 71st Formula 1 season.
The Sakhir track is 5.412 kilometres long and Sunday's race requires drivers to complete 57 laps. Well known for its long straights and very heavy braking zones, the two most difficult points are at turns 1 and 14. There are two DRS zones where the rear wing can be opened: on the start-finish straight and the other between turns 10 and 11. The race starts at 17.10 local (15.10 CET) while qualifying takes place on Saturday at 17 (15 CET). It is run as a night race, but a powerful floodlight system means it is as bright as day throughout, although the temperature drops as night draws in.
Scuderia Ferrari has won six times in Bahrain: the first victory was in the inaugural event in 2004 courtesy of Michael Schumacher, while in 2007 and 2008, Felipe Massa took the wins. The only time the "endurance" layout of the track was used was in 2010, when Fernando Alonso won on his debut with Ferrari, joining an exclusive club of first time winners, Juan Manuel Fangio, Giancarlo Baghetti, Mario Andretti, Nigel Mansell and Kimi Raikkonen. In 2017 and 2018, Ferrari won with Sebastian Vettel and last year saw Charles Leclerc signal his future intentions when, having started from pole and led most of the race, he had to settle for third and his first ever Formula 1 podium, because of a reliabilty problem.
Sebastian Vettel: "The Sakhir circuit has always been very demanding for the drivers and the cars. From inside the car, the ambient temperature is a feature, because in this desert location, at some parts of the day the heat can be very high.
"The characteristics of the track put a premium on traction and also provide a stern test for the brakes, which come under a lot of stress over the course of a lap. It's what we drivers call a stop-go track because you are continually having to brake heavily and then accelerate hard. We never raced in Bahrain this late in the year, but it won't change very much in terms of the temperatures.
"We've seen that the car has improved over the past few races and I'm keen to see how competitive we can be at this track."
Charles Leclerc: "The Bahrain Grand Prix is quite unusual in that, because of various factors, the situation changes continuously over the course of the weekend. In the first sessions, the track is very dirty from all the sand that blows across its desert location. Bit by bit as the track cleans up, its abrasive nature gives the tyres a hard time.
"The light and temperature also change all the time, starting at dusk on a very hot track and the sun low in the sky, but as the race goes on, the track temperature drops and you have to adapt your driving style.
"I've got good memories of last year, even if it didn't end as well as it could have done. I hope we can continue the trend of the last few races in which we have been more and more competitive."