Formula One arrives in Bahrain and, given the country’s unrest, more eyes will be tuned in than usual. For the teams, it’s all about the race and the 25 points the winner takes home. Everyone hopes the drama stays confined to the track.
The Bahrain International Circuit features some remarkable architecture, most notably a 10-storey VIP tower overlooking the paddock. This year’s race reverts to the track layout pre-2010, for the last two year’s races on a longer layout failed to provide the overtaking of old.
Sakhir offers four straights leading into tight corners – like Sepang and Shanghai before it, these are circuit architect Hermann Tilke’s trademarks. This makes brake preservation of paramount importance. The design encourages overtaking at Turns 1 and 14. Traction is key. The other benefit to Sakhir are the large run-off areas which make this track one of the safest in the world, though it has come under criticism for not punishing drivers who stray from the track.
To keep sand off the track, the dunes have been coated in adhesive, but this only limits the problem. Teams are forced to run heavy-duty air filters to keep damaging particles from their engines. Because alcohol is illegal in many Islamic states, the Bahrain podium is sans champagne. Instead, the drivers spray themselves with fragrant, non-alcoholic rose water. Kimi won’t be impressed by that.
However, he’s due a podium. The Lotus E20 has proved in the first three races that it has the pace to take on anyone – but, so far, they’ve got little to show for it.
“A podium should be possible,” confirms Kimi. “I think it has been at all the races we’ve been at so far. We don’t know exactly how good the car will be until we get there, but we don’t expect any problems”. Make no mistake, a problem-free weekend could see Lotus F1 earn a big points haul. Team principal Eric Boullier is keeping everything crossed. “Our potential is plain to see. I don’t like being in sixth position in the Constructors’ Championship, but we should not remain there for too long.”
Technical director James Allison thinks the conditions in Bahrain will suit the team well. “We go to Bahrain knowing we’re going to have more consistent temperatures with the tyres. That will allow us to assess the upgrade package with a more level set of conditions.”
Local start time: 15h00
Number of laps: 57
Circuit length: 5.412km
Race distance: 308.238
Lap record: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari, 2004), 1:30.252
Bahrain’s main market, the Bab al-Bahrain Souk is stuffed to the gills with crafts, fruit, spices, clothes and kitsch souvenirs. Here you will find very attentive staff: “Hello sir, nice gentleman, come into my shop, marry my daughter, etc…” Beyond the tat, you’ll discover some very high quality gold and pearls. Haggling is encouraged – go with Bernie.
In Bahrain you’re no one unless you have a vicious bird of prey on your arm. The noble art of falconry goes back as far as 7th century BC and the sport is still much loved. The birds imprint on their master, seeing him as a source of protection and food. In this respect, the relationship is like that of driver and manager.
The Adilya area of Manama has some good Asian restaurants. Monsoon was a popular haunt with the Japanese teams. But where are they now, eh? That means more sake for you. The theme is that of a Buddhist temple – ideal if you need a quick karma recalibration after a hard day at the track.
Those in search of local flavour should head to Layali Zaman, a ramshackle shisha bar on the East Corniche overlooking the sea. Puff on apple or grape tobacco, sip mint tea and talk about camels and your many wives.