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Bahrain preview - Red Bull eager to bounce back 18 Apr 2013

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB8.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix Practice, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Friday, 20 April 2012 The start of the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday, 22 April 2012 Pirelli tyre engineers.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday, 22 April 2012 Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F2012.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday, 22 April 2012 The grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday, 22 April 2012 (L to R): Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus F1, Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing and Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus F1 celebrate on the podium.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday, 22 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari F2012.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix Qualifying, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Saturday, 21 April 2012 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus F1 and Romain Grosjean (FRA) Lotus F1 celebrate in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday, 22 April 2012 R-L: Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Lotus E20, attempts to overtake race leader Sebastian Vettel (GER) Red Bull Racing RB8.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday, 22 April 2012 R-L: Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 and Andy Shovlin (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 Engineer on the grid.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Chinese Grand Prix, Race Day, Shanghai, China, Sunday, 14 April 2013 Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W03.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix Practice, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Friday, 20 April 2012 Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W03.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix Practice, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Friday, 20 April 2012 Nico Rosberg (GER) Mercedes AMG F1 W03.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix Practice, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Friday, 20 April 2012 Grid girls.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday, 22 April 2012 Aerial view of the circuit.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Sunday, 22 April 2012 Jenson Button (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4-27.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, Bahrain Grand Prix Practice, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Friday, 20 April 2012 Heikki Kovalainen (FIN).
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Qualifying, Sepang, Malaysia, Saturday, 23 March 2013 Rodolfo Gonzalez (VEN) Marussia F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 22 March 2013

This weekend’s 2013 Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix will see Red Bull attempt to repeat their 2012 triumph in Sakhir, with the world champions determined to prove their disappointing China showing was more a blip than a trend.

However, with Pirelli bringing their hardest compounds to the desert venue, it may not only be Red Bull and fellow 2013 winners Lotus and Ferrari who get a handle on the tyre situation this time out. Tyre wear will again be critical on a track that always puts a premium on tyre performance and preservation, as it is frequently gritty due to the sandy environment.

The Bahrain International Circuit features four long straights but slow corners, demanding strong brake performance as drivers slow from 315 km/h to 65 km/h in just three seconds and 130 metres to negotiate Turn One. That’s around 4.5g deceleration. It’s also one of the most demanding tracks of the year in terms of longitudinal energy going into the tyres, especially under braking in Turns One and 14, and traction in Turn 10.

The smooth surface is also quite abrasive because of all the sand either side of the track, and the myriad first, second and third-gear corners give the rear tyres in particular a very hard time. The combination of all the sand and the high ambient and track temperatures also has a significant effect on tyre life.

Pirelli will be bringing their orange-marked hard and white-marked medium tyres. Motorsport director Paul Hembery explains: “Bahrain was one of the very few circuits that was entirely new to us in competition last year, although we know it well from testing. It’s one of the most demanding tracks of the year for the tyres, mostly because of the high ambient and track temperatures. We expect about three stops per car, although we’ll have to wait to get some running in on Friday before we can look at the data and make a more accurate prediction.

“One of the main challenges of racing in Bahrain is that the track evolution is very hard to predict, depending on how much sand is blown on to the circuit. From what we saw last year though, there will be plenty of scope for different race strategies, which can even allow drivers who have not qualified as well as they hoped to recover during the Grand Prix.”

Sebastian Vettel scored a full house here last year - pole, victory and fastest lap - while Red Bull team mate Mark Webber could manage only fourth. This year the Australian celebrates his 200th race start, but has the handicap of a three-place grid penalty for his clash in China with Toro Rosso stablemate Jean-Eric Vergne. Incidentally, further back, Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez has a five-place penalty for his collision with Adrian Sutil.

Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, won his first race for Ferrari here in 2010 and comes to Bahrain fresh from a resounding victory in China.

“I expect a tough race again,” the Spaniard says. “I think we will see different conditions and who knows how competitive anyone can be. But definitely, from the races that we finished this year the car seems to be able to be on the podium, so we hope to be up there again here.”

Kimi Raikkonen’s second place in China marked his 20th consecutive Formula One finish, and he believes that another podium is a strong possibility for Lotus.

“Obviously, it was a good race for us as a team last year. It was my first podium for Enstone, and we had a good fight all the way. We took a gamble during qualifying, and it didn’t work out well for us. This meant we missed out on the top 10, but we managed to use our tyres pretty well in the race and we ended up fighting for the top step of the podium, which is always a good thing.”

He made one attempt to pass eventual winner Vettel, in Turn One on the 35th lap, but settled for second place. With the benefit of hindsight, could he have pulled off the move?

“I could have tried to overtake him on the other side! I only had one shot and I picked the wrong side. After that I was unable to fight back and second was still a pretty good result, but it’s always better to finish on the top step of the podium.

“I like the track. I’ve had some nice races there and picked up some good points although I’ve never won. It’s a little bit different from others we visit and it’s quite nice to be out there in the sand! Wherever you look around the track you can just see sand in the distance and you notice it in the paddock too. It’s a circuit where I’ve never won before, so maybe this year I’ll change that. But just because we had a good result there last year, it doesn’t mean Bahrain will be good for us again this year. We have to try and do the best we can in every race and try to score some points to keep us in the fight. If everything goes our way, it will be a good result again. However, it’s useless to promise anything beforehand. This is motor racing and whatever can happen, will happen.”

At Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg are quietly optimistic, though the German is desperate for better reliability from his F1 W04. Team principal Ross Brawn believes that Bahrain should give the team a good understanding of the car that they have to work with for the rest of the season.

“The weekend in China was really positive for both me and the team,” says Hamilton, who has taken a fourth and two thirds in the season’s opening three rounds. “With each race, I am becoming more settled in the team and more comfortable in my car, and we were very happy with the pole and podium finish.

“There are some areas where we need to improve to close that gap to the fastest cars and we're working hard to identify and develop those. There's a limit to what we can do before Bahrain, but I'll be talking to my engineers before we arrive at the circuit and seeing where we can improve in the short term.

“The circuit is a real challenge, particularly for the tyres with overheating and also the sand on the track, but this helps to make it unique. The layout has a great combination of fast, slow and medium corners which make it tough for the drivers and the car, so it will be a true test for us."

Rosberg says he’ll be happy to get back in the car after his tough weekend in Shanghai. “The first three races haven't quite worked out as we had hoped on my side but the positive is that we have a car that we can really work with. So I'm looking forward to getting on with this weekend and the circuit is one that I like very much. It's going to be very tough on the rear tyres and our biggest challenge will be to make the most out of the situation. We're better prepared than we were last year and we have shown that the car is much stronger, so I really hope that we can achieve a great result in Bahrain.”

McLaren are also optimistic, as the smooth track will again enable them to optimise their ride height in the final race before a major upgrade comes for Barcelona.

“The Sakhir circuit requires a good overall car balance,” says Jenson Button, who led a few laps in China in the MP4-28. “There are some tricky and technical low-speed changes of direction; you need to place the car really precisely at the corner entry in order to maximise traction at the exit. And there are also some high-speed sweeps - Turns Six and Seven, for example - and some fast corners, such as the uphill left-hander at Turn 11. You need a good front-end, but also good traction, to get the best from those corners.

“It’s a place where the grip levels can be quite hard to anticipate, and where the wind direction can play quite an important part in determining the car’s balance. The wind can affect top speed and cornering performance, so practice will be more important than ever in enabling us to take the best overall package into qualifying and the race.”

Elsewhere, Heikki Kovalainen will return to F1 action at Caterham, where he will run for the team in a technical development role on Friday morning. And at Marussia, Venezuelan reserve Rodolfo Gonzalez will make this first of several scheduled FP1 appearances this season, on this occasion taking over Jules Bianchi's car.

The 5.412-kilometre circuit is unchanged from last year, bar the replacement of uneven kerbstones on the exit of Turn 12 with a more uniform kerb, though there are now two DRS zones rather than one. One is on the pit straight, with the detection point prior to Turn 14, the other on the straight between Turns 10 and 11, with detection just after Turn 9.

Consistent weather conditions are the forecast for the weekend, with sun, partial cloud and ambient temperatures of up to around 35 degrees Celsius. Sunday’s race will run over 57 laps or 308.238 kilometres (191.533 miles) and starts at 1500 hours local time, which is three hours ahead of GMT.

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