Thursday’s Hot Topic: Drivers intrigued by Bahrain’s super-fast Outer Track ahead of Sakhir GP

F1 Correspondent & Presenter

Lawrence Barretto

Less than a minute. That’s how long it is likely to take a Formula 1 driver to complete a lap of Bahrain’s outer loop layout, which is being used for this weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix. Such a short, fast lap is an intriguing prospect, and one which creates the conditions for an exciting race.

F1 stays in Bahrain for a second successive weekend, but will move to a new 3.543km high-speed circuit, rather than the usual 5.412km layout traditionally used, to mix things up for the drivers, teams and fans.

WATCH: 87 laps? 54s lap times? Why it’s time to get excited about the Sakhir GP track

There are 11 corners, but according to AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, in reality it’s so quick, there are only really four turns. “[Horsepower] is obviously going to be key to the performance,” said the Frenchman. “It's a very short lap, only four corners really and most of the time will be made in the straight line.

“So I expect really close gaps and if on other racetracks you make two or three-tenths in the main straight but you have 10 corners where you can recover that, or if you have this in the pocket, it's a bit easier than if you have this only in four corners.

“To be fair, I don't know who's going to be the fastest in the straight, I think it depends really on the downforce level and how much we're going to be able to push the engines. But objectively, it’s going to be a really key factor to the performance in qualifying and the end result on Sunday.”

ONBOARD: Ride with the safety car around the Sakhir circuit's outer track

Power and low downforce key

Gasly reckons there are going to be trains of cars, such is the high-speed nature of the track, meaning drafting or towing could be a tactic in qualifying.

With horsepower key, Red Bull – who had both drivers on the podium last weekend in Bahrain – are being cautious about their chances. “It will only help the cars which have a lot of power,” said Max Verstappen. “I expect it to be a little bit more difficult for us.” He also made the point that the outer layout isn’t used very much, so he expects it to be “quite sandy” initially.

READ MORE: Verstappen plays down Sakhir chances, despite Hamilton absence

Renault looked strong in qualifying last time out in Bahrain but fell away in the race, as their main rivals for P3 McLaren came past them. Downforce levels will be lower with the new layout, which should play into the French manufacturer’s favour.

“We have performed better on lower downforce settings, and that track should suit us,” said Renault’s Esteban Ocon. “It will be interesting. We have some stuff to try, a new direction to take for this weekend. And hopefully give them a big fight.”

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - NOVEMBER 29: Carlos Sainz of Spain driving the (55) McLaren F1 Team MCL35

Ocon was hoping the new layout would suit Renault better than McLaren

Traffic will be a problem

With there being so few corners, Nicholas Latifi pointed out that it was good for rookies because it gives you more laps and more time to learn a new layout, while adding that its unusual nature offers an opportunity for Williams, who are still searching for their first point of the year, as they hold out an outside hope of beating Haas (on three points) to ninth in the constructors’ championship.

The overwhelming feeling among all the drivers is that traffic will be a problem, Ocon and Lando Norris saying they expect it to be messy – so expect the radio transmissions to be moany as they battle to find enough clear to set a quick lap time.

READ MORE: Russell says he's setting no targets ahead of Mercedes super-sub appearance

The lap is so short, that if all the cars are evenly spaced out around the track, there would only be two seconds between them. And with margins set to be small, the field will be much closer, and errors will be more heavily punished.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - DECEMBER 03: Carlos Sainz of McLaren and Spain during previews ahead of the F1

The drivers have been finding different ways to explore the track

Generally, though, there is plenty of excitement up and down the paddock. And though most have done a track walk, run, cycle – or in some cases all three, they just want to get out there in their racing machines.

READ MORE: Russell ‘can achieve pole and win’ on Mercedes debut says Norris, as Leclerc predicts ‘a podium at least’

"I've been watching the Safety Cars go around the track, trying to have a look," said Ricciardo. "We’ve done some simulator work, but seeing it kind of live now, there are long straights so it looks like it’ll be easy to overtake, but then the new section looks very ‘one line’, it’s quite narrow. By ‘one line’, I mean there is not much variety to overtake or create much of a difference.

"The group will stay in one area of the track, so that section is more setting up another car for the next attack. I think that one will be just keeping it clean and not much else there. I’m still excited that it is a new layout."

The stage is set, the track is ready, and on Friday the drivers will get their first taste...


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