Lewis Hamilton is evidently looking forward to returning to Bahrain for the third race in the 2008 world championship – he describes it as “a really cool circuit” and says his 2004 F3 race there was one of the most emotional he has been involved in.
He and McLaren team-mate Heikki Kovalainen will be looking to steal a march on world championship rivals Ferrari after losing points to them in Malaysia – as well as defending their position against up-and-coming teams including BMW Sauber and Toyota.
In his team’s race preview, Hamilton gives an insight into what makes the circuit unique to drive: “It is quite different to any other because you are literally driving round the desert. There are no trees or buildings as you are driving round, just desert.”
OK… but what about the racing?
“I really like the track, there are a lot of opportunities to overtake. With all the straights you can do a lot of slipstreaming and then make sure you get good exits. So in terms of racing it is a very good track.
“The layout is a great design, starting off with a very long straight, then down to a very tight first gear corner and then you accelerate through a slight kink before going up another long straight. It is a curvy circuit with lots of kinks and gradient changes that are quite large in some areas.
“Also the wind plays a big part bringing sand onto the track that means any part that is off line is very slippery.”
McLaren CEO Martin Whitmarsh said he did not believe the team would be disadvantaged by missing out winter testing at the circuit: “We have good data from running at the Bahrain track in previous years so we are confident it will not prove too much of a disadvantage.”
He added that McLaren’s focus this weekend would be on reliability and aerodynamics: “As always behind the scenes there are lots of things you need to attend to – in particular the pitstops and the problem we experienced in Malaysia with Lewis’ right front wheel.
“We have good pace in the car and need to maintain our momentum so obviously we have continued to develop the car in the wind tunnel. However we are still evaluating whether we will take some of the aerodynamic developments with us to Bahrain.”
One disadvantage McLaren will be facing is relegation to the far end of the pit lane.
In Australia and Malaysia the team was protected to a degree from the consequences of its 2007 dismissal from the constructors championship, acquiring the fifth pit lane slot.
But this weekend, according to Motorsport.com, the facilities will be a little bit less than they are used to. Apparently “an edict from Formula One Management directed Bahrain circuit personnel to change the team’s garage. McLaren will take quarters next to Force India.”
The track management has apologised to fans for the decision.
Another snapshot of the challenges facing teams and drivers comes from the Honda team preview: “There are six long straights at the Bahrain International Circuit and to achieve the maximum possible straightline speeds, the cars run with less wing than at either Melbourne or Sepang.
“The resultant reduction in aerodynamic grip creates balance problems through the twistier sections of the lap, where the overriding handling characteristic is oversteer.
“The layout of the 5.412-km (3.363-mile) track shares some similarities with Sepang, the location of the last race on the F1 calendar, but the asphalt in Bahrain is smoother and provides less grip. As a result, Bridgestone bring softer rubber compounds to this race.
“As the circuit is located in the desert, the ambient temperature can be in the high 30s. It’s a dry heat, similar to that experienced in Melbourne, and shouldn’t pose any reliability problems for the teams. However, sand from the surrounding desert poses a genuine threat to reliability.”
Team Principal Ross Brawn said he was pleased to see the team making steady improvements on its pre-season form.
“I was particularly pleased to see both cars finish the race reliably and was encouraged by the performance of the car and our drivers in achieving the maximum possible from the weekend.
“The race gave us a very accurate reflection of the RA108’s position relative to its competitors and provided valuable data with which to continue the development of the car ahead of the European season.”
He said that the first two races of 2008 had shown the Honda car was capable of competing strongly in the midfield pack and was close to breaking into the top ten runners.
“To score points however, we need to over-achieve on our current level of performance. Whilst we will aim for this in Bahrain, the European season when our next developments arrive, is a more realistic target.”
Jenson Button added that he was looking forward to returning to Bahrain: “I’m a big fan [the] country and I also really enjoy the circuit as there are some great fast-flowing sections where you can really push the car.
“Confidence under braking is the key to a quick lap. You have to believe in the car’s performance and have full confidence that you can stop effectively.
“There are several overtaking opportunities, particularly at turn after the long straight, where you can make up crucial ground as people tend to brake surprisingly early.
“The most challenging sector is probably turn 14 which has a very quick approach where you brake as you turn into the corner, so you have to be careful not to lock the inside front wheel. The sand blowing onto the tarmac can be a challenge as you never know how the grip levels will change.”