Sand and deliver: the Bahrain Grand Prix

A look back at five duels in the desert that have defined the Bahrain Grand Prix.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

This weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix is the 12th to be held at the Sakhir circuit just outside of Manama, and more than a decade of Formula One racing in the small island country in the Middle East has thrown up every sort of Grand Prix. Hot ones, night ones, ones that made history, even ones that never happened. And races that are rarely short of intrigue.

Ahead of the second round of the 2016 F1 season, here’s a look back at five Bahrain races that stick in the memory.

2005: The heat is on
He may have been two years away from driving for Red Bull Racing, but Mark Webber was as forthright in a Williams as he was to be later at Milton Keynes after the second Bahrain Grand Prix. “It’s bloody hot, mate,” he surmised after 57 laps in temperatures that broke 41 degrees Celsius; for those who don’t speak fluent Australian, Fernando Alonso’s assessment (“it was the hottest race I ever raced”) might make more sense. Not that it bothered the Spaniard too much; Alonso and Renault raced to victory, his second win in succession and Renault’s third straight to start the year, while reigning world champion Michael Schumacher was an early retirement for Ferrari with hydraulics failure. Alonso finished 13 seconds ahead of Toyota’s Jarno Trulli, and added to Ferrari’s misery by lapping Schumacher’s teammate Rubens Barrichello in the latter stages. For the record, Webber – who resorted to pouring a bottle of cold water inside his helmet at one pit stop – finished sixth, while for a start-up team called Red Bull Racing, David Coulthard made it three straight points finishes to start their F1 journey with eighth.

2006: The opening salvo
With Melbourne hosting the Commonwealth Games, Bahrain stepped into the breach to hold the first race of 2006, and it was a portent of things to come. Reigning world champion Alonso muscled past Schumacher after the final pit stops for the pair and held off the Ferrari driver by 1.2 seconds to take the first of seven wins for the year; their battle would last until the final race of the season in Brazil, where the Renault pilot secured his second world title and Schumacher retired from the sport for the first time. McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the podium after a storming drive from last on the grid after a suspension failure caused a qualifying crash, while further back, a new name announced himself as one to watch. Nico Rosberg spun his Williams at the first corner, pitted at the end of lap one and then ripped through the field to finish seventh, scoring points on debut while setting the fastest lap of the race. Away from the headlines, Scuderia Toro Rosso made its F1 debut, Tonio Liuzzi finishing 11th as the final car on the lead lap, and Scott Speed 13th.

2010: Enduring the endurance
The second time Bahrain has hosted the season-opener – and, mercifully, the first and only time the race has been run on Sakhir’s ‘endurance layout’. The extra 900 metres of track extended the number of corners from 15 to 24, added nearly 20 seconds to the overall lap time, and unofficially saw the drivers’ dentists the main beneficiaries of a bumpy layout that bounced cars and teeth around in equal measure. While the longer circuit was never used again, Alonso’s memories of Bahrain 2010 are more positive – the Spaniard won on his Ferrari debut, becoming just the sixth man to win his maiden race for the Prancing Horse, and teammate Felipe Massa made it a magic day at Maranello when he finished second, 16 seconds adrift. The hard luck story belonged to Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, who took pole and led until exhaust problems cropped up less than 20 laps from home, the German hobbling home to fourth.

2012: Seb’s overdue success
Making amends for 2010 had to wait for Vettel, as the 2011 Bahrain race was cancelled because of political unrest in the region. As the reigning and two-time world champion, there weren’t too many Grands Prix the Red Bull ace hadn’t won by April 2012 when F1 returned to Sakhir, and Vettel’s victory made it four different race winners in as many Grands Prix to start that season – seven different drivers would win the opening seven races of what became a gripping campaign. A win from pole while setting the fastest lap and leading the majority of the race indicates that, on paper at least, Vettel was untroubled; reality painted a different picture, with the Lotus of Raikkonen making life very uncomfortable for Vettel in the latter half of the race before finishing three seconds adrift. Further down the grid, first-year Toro Rosso pilot Daniel Ricciardo showed signs of things to come by qualifying a stunning sixth on Saturday – and then displayed how much he still had to learn by being elbowed all the way down to 16th on lap one on Sunday and finishing a despondent 15th. Team principal Franz Tost summed it up best. “You cannot think for a young driver in that situation for the first time that they will do everything right, because the film is running too fast,” he said.

2014: The best yet
Bahrain switched to a night Grand Prix in 2014, and the race produced a spectacular floodlit battle between Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Rosberg that set the tone for the two seasons to follow. A late-race safety car turned the Grand Prix into a frantic 10-lap sprint to the flag, and the Mercedes pit wall could barely watch as their drivers raced as close as they dared. Hamilton held off Rosberg, who had the benefit of softer tyres for the final stint, by one second after some mesmerising wheel-to-wheel action. Third-placed Sergio Perez (Force India) was 24 seconds adrift at the end as the Mercedes drivers were on another planet to the rest. Hamilton felt the battle was “on a knife-edge”, and while relations with Rosberg were cordial that night, the tension only rose as the season progressed, Hamilton securing his second world title in the double-points season finale in Abu Dhabi. But it was in Bahrain that the rivalry that has defined the V6 turbo hybrid era took off, and Mercedes executive director Paddy Lowe echoed the thoughts of the paddock afterwards. “A more exciting race I cannot remember in the last decade, in terms of wheel-to-wheel racing,” he said.

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