This weekend, the GP2 Series is set to race again at Sakhir International Circuit in Bahrain for the first time since 2007 - when Luca Filippi and Nicolas Lapierre emerged as race winners, and the field included the likes of Timo Glock, Mike Conway, Bruno Senna, Vitaly Petrov, Pastor Maldonado, Karun Chandhok and Ho-Pin Tung. Much has changed since then.
For one thing, GP2 spun off a GP2 Asia championship running over the winter months that took up the feeder series' residency in Bahrain from 2008 until 2010. But last year, the political unrest in the country that led to the postponement and ultimately the cancellation of the 2011 F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain also had a traumatic effect on GP2 Asia. The unavailability of Sakhir led to the wipeout of all but one GP2 Asia race weekend (a hastily arranged stand-in race at Imola was organised at the last minute) and probably hastened the plans to integrate the GP2 and GP2 Asia series into one robust championship for 2012.
Even so, the last few weeks would have had the organisers on the edge of their seats as the on-off status of the Bahrain F1 weekend gripped everyone's attention. And GP2 had more to lose than most if the event was called off again: not only is the series acting as a support event to this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix, it's staying on an extra week to have a second race weekend on April 27/28. To lose four races out of a season of 24 would have been a deeply frustrating state of affairs.
But instead, the GP2 teams are flying into Bahrain and unloading at Sakhir on schedule after all, and are now relying on those team members with long memories to help them get up to speed again quickly at what to many in the competition will be a brand new circuit. Even so, any data from the old days is largely moot as the series has since introduced a new Dallara chassis and switched to Pirelli tyres.
"Our GP2 team travelled out to Bahrain for the race that was scheduled last year, so although the race did not go ahead we still have some data on the track (using the information we gained from Formula One testing as well) that will be very useful," pointed out Pirelli's racing manager Mario Isola, who added that the tyres would "definitely have that their work cut out this weekend" and that the drivers would need to look after them to get the best performance.
The teams will be issued with three sets of Pirelli's P Zero hard and one of the medium compound tyres for the weekend, just as they were in Malaysia for the first event of the year.
"While Malaysia presented a unique challenge for the tyres, Bahrain is even more demanding due to the extremely high temperatures that are expected, in excess of 35 degrees centigrade," said Pirelli in a company press release ahead of the first of the back-to-back race weekends. "The other peculiarity specific to Bahrain is the sand that can blow onto the track from the desert, reducing the grip available and making the cars slide more, which in turn increases tyre degradation."
Alfonso de Orléans-Borbón, the president of Racing Engineering, felt that his team was as prepared as it could be heading into Bahrain.
"Lots of work by the engineers and drivers, work on the simulator and set up work for the cars," he said when asked what the team had been doing to get ready for the double weekend. "I am quite happy with the work of our technical team and what will be the solutions for most situations we will encounter in Bahrain.