After the long winter break, the Formula One World Championship returns this weekend with the Bahrain Grand Prix, which as usual will be run at the Bahrain International Circuit.
The 2023 season doesn’t bring much in the way of new car designs, after last season’s complete redesign, but there’s a new race in Las Vegas to look forward to (one of three U.S. races this season), bringing this year’s calendar to 23 rounds. There are also three new drivers, as well as a returning veteran.
The new drivers include Oscar Piastri at McLaren, Nyck de Vries at AlphaTauri, and U.S. driver Logan Sargeant at Williams. Nico Hulenberg also returns to F1 as a driver for Haas, and also worth watching should be Fernando Alonso, who is driving for Aston Martin for the first time. Alonso is driving alongside Lance Stroll, who missed the recent test session due to a wrist injury but is confirmed to race in Bahrain. Ferrari and Williams also have new team bosses in the form of Fred Vasseur and James Vowles, respectively.
All eyes will be on reigning world champion Max Verstappen, who once again is driving for Red Bull Racing and now chasing his third title. Mercedes-Benz AMG’s Lewis Hamilton also returns for an attempt on a record eighth title.
The Bahrain Grand Prix has taken over the Australian Grand Prix as the traditional season opener, and its Bahrain International Circuit, located on a former camel farm in the desert area of Sakhir, is where this year’s pre-season testing took place, so the drivers will be familiar with the latest track conditions.
Bahrain International Circuit, home of the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix
The 3.36-mile track is one of the most abrasive on the calendar, and consists of a mix of high-speed straights and hairpins with heavy braking. Turn 10 is one of the trickiest corners because it has a long, combined corner entry that gets tighter toward the apex, in this case a blind over a crest. Drivers begin to apply the brakes while also negotiating the wide corner arc of Turn 9 and the track drops away at the apex. All of these factors cause the front-left tire to go light and increase the risk of a lock-up.
Engine performance, traction out of the corners, and stability under braking make up the technical challenge here. And owing to the abrasiveness of the track, tire degradation also plays a crucial role.
Pirelli has nominated its hardest compounds for the race: C1 as the White hard, C2 as the Yellow medium, and C3 as the Red soft. The C1 is a new compound this season. According to Pirelli, it is based on last year’s C2 compound to help reduce the performance gap between the harder compounds in the range.
Weather conditions look to be mild for both Saturday’s qualifying session and Sunday’s race, with the peak temperature on Sunday expected to hover around 83 degrees F. Changing wind can also blow sand in from the surrounding desert and this can affect grip levels, though a sticky adhesive substance has been sprayed on the surrounding sand to help minimize this.
Teams also have to take note of rapidly changing track temperatures. The race starts at 6 p.m. local time, with the track temperature being the warmest at the start and cooling as the race progresses. Last year’s winner in Bahrain was Charles Leclerc, driving for Ferrari.