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Six key questions ahead of the Bahrain race

03 Apr 2016

Qualifying showed that things are very close between Mercedes and Ferrari in Bahrain, even if the Silver Arrows had the edge. So can the Prancing Horse rise to the challenge in the race? We take a glance at that and five other intriguing questions ahead of Sunday's Grand Prix...
Will Mercedes get off the line better than they did in Australia?

Are Mercedes confident that they won’t have a recurrence of their starting problems from Albert Park? “No,” was team boss Toto Wolff’s candid response. So what’s the problem? It’s associated with clutch hardware and the narrowness of its operating window. It’s too easy at present for the driver either to overcook the clutch or for it to be too cold, and that is thought to be a function of the friction material used. If the clutch is within that narrow window, everything is okay, if not… It’s not a straightforward problem to cure and the best guess is that it could take up to a month to get it sorted. In the meantime, Mercedes are hoping both drivers get it right.

If he does get it right, can Hamilton build on his record-breaking pole lap to stop Rosberg’s four-race winning run and triumph for the first time since Texas last October?

If he gets a decent start, yes, of course, because it’s very tough to pass on this track as he demonstrated to Rosberg back in 2014. And assuming that Mercedes choose the optimal strategy and their simulations have been bang on track, there’s no reason why he can’t bring home that elusive win number 44. 

Ferrari often go better in the race than in qualifying, and were very quick here last year. So can the reds put one over on the Silver Arrows even starting from the second row?

Sebastian Vettel is certainly going into the race with the intention of winning, and believes that it’s possible. It may need either Mercedes’ starts to be poor again, or for other aspects to fall into exactly the right places in order for that to happen. He admitted that Mercedes’ pace in qualifying was a surprise, after Ferrari had been nearly half a second ahead in FP3 – which was when Mercedes were surprised. But he also said he goes into the race “high on confidence,” and if you look at the pace Ferrari summoned here with an inferior car last year, you’d be unwise to rule out the possibility of a Prancing Horse victory altogether.

There are sure to be a fair number of differing strategies today, but how strongly is the supersoft Pirelli tyre likely to feature?

The indications are that the red-sided tyre isn’t going to be too great in the race. Thus the soft and the mediums are much likely to feature unless somebody gambles on using the supersofts right at the end when they need to pick up the pace. Rosberg said he expected several different strategies and some surprises and predicts that it could get “messy”.

Can Haas maintain their point-scoring start?

As a new team they admit that they are still finding their way working together, and that slick 2.5s pit stops may not yet be achievable. But on the other side they have Romain Grosjean’s renowned tyre-preserving talents, free tyre choice for the start as the Frenchman got bumped from Q3, and a car that was reliable enough to go the distance in Australia. So don’t bet against it.

Can rookie Stoffel Vandoorne beat Jenson Button in the race, after out-qualifying the McLaren veteran on his debut?

The Belgian came hotfoot to Bahrain when he got the call-up as Fernando Alonso’s rib problems ruled him out of participating. Despite that he was on the pace very quickly and beat Button by a crucial 0.64s. He won the GP2 feature race here in 2014, and last year won both the feature and sprint races. And his then team boss Frederic Vasseur reckons he’s the best driver he’s ever had. So yes, he has a good chance of doing that if he manages his tyres as well as his team mate, who is a past master of the art.