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The Bahrain circuit - an engineer's view 31 Mar 2004

Christian Klien (AUT) Jaguar R5 makes a pitstop.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Race Day, Rd 2, Sepang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 21 March 2004 Mike Gascoyne (GBR) Toyota Technical Director talks with a Jordan mechanic.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd 2, Sepang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 20 March 2004 A BAR Honda 006 steering wheel.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd 2, Sepang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 18 March 2004 A Williams engineer checks tyre pressures.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd 2, Sepang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 20 March 2004

Sun, sand and a slight element of the unknown...

Formula One racing’s top technicians do their best to speculate on what may be in store for them at the all-new Grand Prix track.

James Robinson, Head of Race and Test Engineering, Jordan:
"We have seen plans for the track and some TV coverage - it looks quite remarkable. It seems the circuit will be medium to heavy on brake wear with its long high speed straights and very tight corners although not having been there ourselves, it's difficult to give accurate impressions. The track looks sandy and dirty, which will introduce new problems for the car and its systems, but as this circuit is brand new, everybody should be trying to learn at the same rate.

"In preparing for a race at a new circuit, we do as much simulation work as possible, although access issues have prevented us from running our usual track surveys here. Once we have an accurate model of the track we can design a driver model to work out a racing line and run simulation tools to determine car set-up, lap times and downforce data to find the optimum aerodynamic set-up for that track. From that we project fuel consumption, brake wear, set-up criteria and so on. At present we don't know the surface characteristics as we have only a 2D drawing so in many ways it's really a case of waiting until we get there."

Norbert Haug, Vice President, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, McLaren:
“Presumably there will be hot temperatures, and we have to expect changing grip conditions, which might also be caused by the fine desert sand. Our simulations indicate that more than two thirds of each lap is run under full throttle. At the fastest part of the circuit the cars will reach a speed of about 320 km/h, at the slowest approximately 65 km/h.”

Mike Gascoyne, Technical Director Chassis, Toyota:
"Bahrain is completely unknown territory for everyone, so it promises to be an exciting new race on the F1 calendar. It is the first completely new track in Formula 1 since the debut race in Malaysia back in 1999, so the race results will be dictated as much by how quickly teams and drivers can learn the circuit, as it will be determined by competitiveness. On paper, the Bahrain track looks as technically challenging as Malaysia, so we are aiming to maintain our momentum and get both cars to the finish line for the third race in a row. We were just a few seconds from a championship point in Sepang, so there is no reason that we should not expect a point or two if we can bring both cars home on Sunday."

Willy Rampf, Technical Director, Sauber:
"Obviously Bahrain is a new circuit, so all we really know about it is from the lap simulation we have done with our advanced simulation programme. This simulation has given us a good base for our initial set-up so we should be well prepared. We have a basic value for things such as downforce, brake set-up, and gear ratios for example. As we are expecting ambient temperatures of 30 degrees C and more, together with the same sort of 50 degree track temperatures that we saw recently in Sepang, maximum engine cooling will be required.

"Bahrain has a wide variety of corners. There is a tight right turn at the end of the pit straight; some esses on the infield; and a high-speed corner in the final sector. The biggest unknown factor will be the track surface. Nobody knows what to expect, so it is hard at this stage to predict grip and tyre wear levels. These may also be influenced further by the sand, especially if there are local sandstorms. The effect would be a slippery and abrasive track surface. The sand could also affect the engine and other components, such as wheel bearings, seals and composite suspension components.

"I anticipate that the circuit will place similar demands on the drivers to Sepang. For this race we will have the first fruits of our development programme in the new wind tunnel in Hinwil ready to try on the Sauber Petronas C23."

Dr Mark Gillan, Head of Vehicle Performance, Jaguar Racing:
"As this is a new track for everyone the FIA have supplied us with some data that we are completing simulations from. It's very difficult to know how accurate our data will be but of course we are in the same situation as the majority of teams so it should be a level playing field from the start in terms of circuit and tyre information. From the simulations we have been working on our set-up on the car and of course our aerodynamics package. Braking and fuel levels are additional factors that we need to consider and although we are doing what we can in simulation we really need to get out on track on Friday and test as much as we can. Having the third car at the new races really pays dividends for us. We will be using Bjorn (Wirdheim) to work on tyres on the Friday, as this will help us in making our decision in time for Saturday. Our cooling system worked very well in Sepang and again this is vital especially in the extreme heat of Bahrain.”

David Pitchforth, Managing Director, Jaguar Racing:
"The third race is probably going to be one of the most interesting yet. It is going to be one of the few times that just about all of the teams have no real track data to work from. We have been working hard on the data that we were supplied with by the FIA but this is never as good as your own records from previous years. I understand that the track is going to be quite dusty and it will be interesting to see how it cleans up over the weekend and how this affects the tyres. The surface is the biggest unknown but we like a challenge! The characteristics of the track sound intriguing and I know that all three of the drivers are excited about getting out there and giving it a shot."

Sam Michael, Chief Operations Engineer, Williams:
“The inaugural Bahrain Grand Prix will pose plenty of challenges that we have not faced before. In particular, the area is surrounded by fine, coral sand that can cause many operational and on-board mechanical problems. Hopefully there won't be any sand storms, not least because the paint work on the cars will definitely take a battering in these conditions.

“From the circuit layout, the track seems to be quite twisty with predominantly slow speed corners but there are three straight sections that may offer overtaking opportunities. Judging by the shape of the first corner, the start of the race could be interesting.

“We have made some minor improvements to the car since the Malaysian Grand Prix where we were competitive during the race, although not competitive enough to win. Michelin will bring two known tyre choices as they did for the last race, being a new circuit the compound choice will be interesting. Strategy may prove different to the trend of three short stint pitstops we've seen in recent races because we have no information on the amount of time we'll lose in the pitlane, tyre degradation or what the fuel penalty will be.”

Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director, BAR:
“Bahrain might be an unknown quantity, but we have such good predictive tools nowadays that we can generate a very clear picture of a lap of the track long before we get there. We have access to all the co-ordinates, corner geometries and elevations, so we are able to establish a pretty good baseline. There are one or two questions still to be answered, however: we don’t know how rough the kerbs are, for instance, or whether there are any ripples in the surface that might require us to raise the ride height a little. That’s the kind of detail we’ll assess when we have a chance to look at the circuit properly on the Thursday immediately before the race.”