Duelling in the desert - how to master Bahrain 02 Apr 2008
The Bahrain International Circuit offers an interesting technical challenge for the teams. It may not have too many high-speed corners, but with its long straights, big braking zones and several low-speed sections, it is a circuit that requires good mechanical grip and a precise and responsive car.
In this regard it is quite similar to Melbourne's Albert Park as the emphasis is on hard acceleration and stability under braking. A strong engine, good mechanical grip and sound brake balance are therefore the keys to a good lap in Bahrain, as Renault - winners of two of the four Bahrain Grands Prix to date - explain
The team will run a similar aero package to Melbourne and Sepang, although the lack of high-speed corners in Bahrain means that the downforce settings will be a level lower than in the first two races. The three long straights also require a slippery car in order to get good straight-line speed in the race, although this can make the car nervous under braking.
A set-up compromise must be sought to ensure a stable balance in the quick corners and supple enough suspension in the lower sections to give good mechanical grip. Hitting this balance will also minimise oversteer on the exit of the slower corners, allowing the drivers to carry good speed onto the straights. Good braking stability is also important, especially in Turn 10 where the drivers must begin turning into the corner while still braking.
The Bahrain International Circuit is one of the more demanding circuits on the brakes, being similar to Montreal as one of the most severe tests of the year. With three big stops from over 320km/h into first- or second-gear corners, the car needs good stability to avoid locking tyres during the race. The frequency of braking is also significant, especially between Turns 4 and 13, where the brakes are constantly running at high temperatures without the chance to cool down. Braking is further complicated this year by the absence of engine braking systems, and a mistake into the slow corners of 10, 13 or 14 could prove costly with the drivers having to be defensive down the following straights.
Tyre energy is relatively low in Bahrain owing to the lack of high-speed corners and so the team will use the medium and soft option Bridgestone tyres, as was the case in Melbourne. Tyre wear is not a particular concern, although tyre temperatures tend to be high because of the hot tarmac surface and the high brake temperatures that feed through to the tyres. The presence of sand on the track surface also means that grip levels on the circuit are always relatively low and any sand will embed in the tyres and reduce grip for several corners. Drivers must therefore stick to the racing line as much as possible to keep the tyres clean.
The Bahrain Grand Prix gives a good test of the engine with around 63 percent of the lap spent on full throttle, but the latest generation engines are easily capable of running at peak revs in high temperatures. The only concern arises when high temperatures combine with especially dry air which can impact on engine cooling, or following the possible ingestion of sand which can impact severely on engine performance.
The fuel effect is slightly lower than in Malaysia because there are fewer quick corners that are critical to lap time. Carrying a heavy fuel load therefore has less impact in Bahrain, but a two-stop race is still the optimum strategy. We can expect the top ten cars on the grid to make their first stop anywhere between laps 17 and 21, with the second stops around laps 35 to 40. The bottom 12 cars will probably make their first stop between laps 20 and 25, and their second stop between laps 40 to 45.