The more things change, the more they stay the same. After the opening two rounds of the season we've seen Red Bull and Mercedes at the front (albeit with Mercedes as the dominant force), Sebastian Vettel's Australian team-mate suffering poor luck, a team orders row in Malaysia and Nico Hulkenberg putting his car among the big boys and getting involved in scraps with Fernando Alonso; who again is taking his Ferrari perhaps beyond where it really should be. It all seems a bit familiar… But at least there will definitely be something about this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix, with the race taking place under floodlights to mark its 10th anniversary. The teams are familiar with the track after finishing two four-day tests here just a month ago, but will the script be a similar one to Sepang?
Oddly, the last two races held in Bahrain have seen the exact same podium line-up. Nico Rosberg stuck his Mercedes on pole but suffered major tyre degradation issues and slipped back rapidly, allowing Vettel to run away at the front. Alonso threatened to challenge Vettel but his hopes evaporated with a DRS issue as his rear wing became stuck open and, after a lengthy pit stop, the same issue occurred on the following lap. Kimi Raikkonen made the most of his Lotus being kind to its tyres by easing in to second on a two-stop strategy, while Romain Grosjean was more attacking on a three-stopper and avoided the squabbling McLaren pair – who even made contact – to come through and take third place from Paul di Resta late on.
Most successful drivers at Sakhir:
Fernando Alonso (3 wins)
Most successful team at Sakhir:
Ferrari (4 wins)
2014 session times (All times local)
FP1: 1400 – 1530
FP2: 1800 – 1930
FP3: 1500 – 1600
The Bahrain circuit is a real challenge: particularly for the tyres in terms of overheating. Quite often you get sand blowing onto the track, which is one of the unique features of this circuit and throws another challenge into the mix. A dusty track will have less grip than a clean one, so you have to prepare for that to change even between qualifying sessions.
The layout has a great combination of fast, slow and medium corners which make it tough for the drivers and the car. The lap starts with a long, DRS-enabled straight heading into the first corner. This is very tight right-hander, changing down to first or second gear before immediately shifting up again as you head immediately into Turns Two and Three.
After the second of four straights, Turn Four requires quite heavy braking and can catch you out on the exit. As you clip the apex the track starts to drop away from you and it can be quite tricky to stop the car from sliding wide. After the downhill section of Turns Five, Six, Seven and Eight, you rise up again briefly before a tricky slope down through Turns Nine and 10. These are off camber and it's easy to lock the inside wheel as the curve gets tighter and tighter.
The third straight comes next, with a second DRS zone making the following corner at Turn 11 one of the best overtaking opportunities around the track. This is a flowing curve which switches back into the right-hander at Turn 12. You try to take this flat out before braking into Turn Thirteen. You need a late apex through this corner and it's essential to get that right, as it leads into the fourth and final straight of the lap. The same applies for the Turn 14 and 15 combination, which bring you back onto the home straight.
The weather looks like being kind to the teams this weekend as far as temperatures are concerned. While all three days of track action are likely to see sunshine and a 0% chance of rain, temperatures will remain fairly cool in the low to mid-20s – which will help with tyre degradation – and then when the sun goes down the overnight low is still forecast to be in the low 20s, reducing the challenge which the teams would face if there was a major change in temperature.
Two from two so far for this prediction page, but it's going to be harder to call this weekend's race between the two Mercedes drivers. Red Bull has shown that it will soon be a threat for victories but back-to-back races makes this weekend too soon. While Williams is also likely to be strong here – especially given a dry qualifying – it still looks set to be a fight between Hamilton and Rosberg. Part of the gap in Malaysia was attributed to Rosberg struggling slightly with the tyres, and even though Pirelli will supply the medium and the soft in Bahrain – as it did in Melbourne where Rosberg won – we're going to back Hamilton to ride the momentum of last weekend to make it two wins in a row.