The fifteenth edition of the Bahrain Grand Prix plays host to the second round of the 2019 Formula One season and the 999th in the sport’s history, with Ferrari seeking a response to Mercedes’ masterclass in Australia.
Having fallen off the calendar in 2011 amid civil uprising, the event has been one of the liveliest since its return the following year, which was enhanced by its transition to a night affair from 2014.
Sebastian Vettel has claimed the previous two races at the venue, having expertly managed his tyres to hold off Valtteri Bottas twelve months ago. The German is the circuit’s most successful driver with four victories since 2012.
The weekend will provide more definitive answers than those gleaned from Melbourne, and should the former languish once again, the Maranello outfit’s notorious finger pointing will be inevitable.
The permanent nature of the Bahrain circuit could work to Ferrari’s advantage, and its greatest opportunity may lie in the final sector’s sweeping right handers leading onto the long pit straight.
The circuit is more comparable to Barcelona, which held both pre-season tests and filled the Scuderia with much of the faith that was shattered as the weekend developed at Melbourne, though the smoother surface should mean not as much time needs to be devoted to pursuing a competitive set up.
Mercedes will meanwhile take confidence from the low speed corners, notably turns one and two followed by the long run into turn three which carries decent exit speed.
Alongside the first portion of the second sector – which comprises hairpin like turns, in contrast to Albert Park’s flowing nature, this could negate any inroads that Ferrari make in the final section.
Their differing front wing aero philosophies lend themselves to extreme opposite track characteristics. Yet the onus is squarely on Ferrari to bridge the single lap deficit apparent at Melbourne – where Vettel lined up third, seven tenths adrift of pole sitter Lewis Hamilton, and became even more pronounced during the race.
It’ll be intriguing to see whether Ferrari instructs Charles Leclerc to again hold station, as it did at Melbourne despite the Monegasque appearing racier than the struggling Vettel in the latter stages.
Should this come to pass, conclusions will immediately be drawn that either the German can’t tame the chassis, and/or he can’t manage it in combination with the tyres, having stopped early in Australia which ultimately led to his fadeout.
This could either offer Leclerc his chance so soon into his Ferrari tenure, or carry the graver implication that the SF 90 is fundamentally flawed and must return to the drawing board.
Having edged Ferrari a fortnight ago, Red Bull is again an unknown quantity, but its tyre management –as evidenced by Max Verstappen’s run to third, particularly around the high speed right handers could prove an asset to its chances of being Mercedes’ direct rival on Sunday.
The other big question is whether Bottas can sustain the rage which powered his peerless drive in Australia, and if the Finn does replicate this, how it informs and potentially redefines the erstwhile harmonious intra-team dynamic for the World Champions.
If Ferrari responds in kind this weekend, its Melbourne misfire will be forgotten, though another listless performance has the ability to trigger a crisis where heads will roll in Italian fashion.