Formula 1 drivers are expecting Bahrain’s shorter Outer Loop circuit to result in a qualifying “mess” and traffic “carnage” at the Sakhir Grand Prix.

A number of drivers highlighted concerns ahead of qualifying after taking on Bahrain’s Outer Loop track for the first time on Friday. The shortest circuit on the 2020 F1 calendar saw sub-one minute lap times produced at an average speed of 233km/h.

Traffic is expected to be a problem, with its short nature causing issues throughout Friday’s two practice sessions, especially in the tight and twisty middle sector that Red Bull’s Max Verstappen labelled as “dangerous”.

Friday pacesetter George Russell, who topped both 60-minute sessions in his first appearance for Mercedes as he acts as stand-in for the missing Lewis Hamilton, is anticipating the layout will create headaches in qualifying.

“Different, tricky, not an easy track to say the least,” Russell said, reflecting on his first taste of driving the new layout of the Bahrain International Circuit.

“It’s going to be very tight in quali and the race is going to be carnage, so the next two days are going to be important.”

Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas damaged his floor in opening practice after running wide over the Turn 8 kerbs - one of a number of off-track excursions on an unusually scruffy Friday - and stressed that getting clear laps in will be key to a good qualifying result.

“I think it’s going to be really important to get clear laps,” the Finn explained. “I think F2 was a great example of how messy it can be at the end of the qualifying, so, yeah, we need to prioritise the gaps.”

In Formula 2 qualifying, championship leader Mick Schumacher dramatically collided with Roy Nissany under braking at the final corner as drivers frantically squabbled for track position after regular ‘bottlenecks’ in sector two.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was another who highlighted safety concerns following the incident. The four-time world champion believes that the traditional ‘slow-down’ laps that occur in qualifying and big speed deltas will likely result in cars tripping over each other.

“It’s not just the middle section; the whole track is short obviously and it will be the same amount of cars so I guess Q1 will be very tight,” Vettel said. “The other thing that doesn’t help is we have to go very slow in the cool[down] laps to bring the tyres down so that’s probably the worst factor.

“One thing is looking for traffic, the other thing is having such big speed deltas so it will be a mess. I hope that nothing happens and we all go through – we can’t all go through! – without being impeded and having trouble with traffic and so on."

Carlos Sainz, who endured a frustrating day for McLaren, said the layout is “on the limit” and indicated that the qualifying concerns would be a topic of discussion in the drivers’ briefing on Friday evening.

“It’s tricky. We’re all trying to be as sensible, as safe as we can, but this track is offering some challenges in terms of traffic management,” he added.

“I think that there’s some ideas and things as drivers that we put out there to the FIA to make it easier around the chicane in the middle sector but yeah we need to find a solution because I think it’s on the limit of getting a bit dangerous.”

AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat suggested the idea of splitting qualifying into groups in a bid to prevent a “lottery” due to the difficulty of completing a lap free of traffic.

“The traffic might become a bit of a lottery so we need to speak tonight at the drivers’ briefing, what to do, because it might be a bit strange,” Kvyat said. “I hope maybe we can split into groups in quali; we will see – it’s too tight, narrow, for us.”

Pirelli’s head of motorsport Mario Isola reckons that the likelihood of traffic problems and close times in practice will prompt teams to run on the Soft tyre in Q2 with a frantic battle expected to reach Q3.

“I can imagine that we have a similar situation to last weekend with some teams trying to qualify on the medium tyre,” Isola said.

“Some of them are probably obliged to qualify on the soft. That is not too bad, I believe, because the soft is working better, with this layout.

“There are less traction and braking demands because of the long straights that are covering most of the lap and so the soft probably could be a good option for the race.”

 

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