2021 Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix preview: New season starts in the desert

After the long winter break, which was made longer than usual due to Covid-19 disruptions, a new season of the Formula One World Championship is finally upon us. This time the season is starting with the Bahrain Grand Prix instead of the usual Australian Grand Prix which this year will take place in November.

Although the cars are largely the same as last year, there’s the new entry of Aston Martin that all eyes will be on. The team is essentially a rebranding of Racing Point, though there’s new staff including four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. He will be driving alongside Lance Stroll.

There’s also Alpine which is a rebranding of the former Renault team, and it has two-time world champion Fernando Alonso coming out of retirement to drive with the squad. He will be partnered with Esteben Ocon.

Other key changes include Sergio Perez at Red Bull Racing, Daniel Ricciardo at McLaren, Carlos Sainz at Ferrari, newcomer Yuki Tsunoda at AlphaTauri, and of course Mick Schumacher at Haas. Yes, there’s a lot to look forward to this season which is set to host a record 23 rounds.

The first race runs this Sunday at the Bahrain International Circuit, located on a former camel farm in the desert area of Sakhir. Due to the intense heat of the day the race is run at night, when things are cooler.

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Bahrain International Circuit, home of the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix

Bahrain International Circuit, home of the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix

The Bahrain International Circuit was used for the pre-season tests earlier this month so teams will already be used to the current track conditions. The 3.36-mile track has an abrasive surface and consists of a mix of high-speed straights and hairpins with heavy braking. Engine performance, traction out of the corners, and stability under braking make up the technical challenge here.

Turn 10 is one of the trickiest corners because it has a long, combined corner entry that gets tighter toward the apex, in this case a blind over a crest. Drivers begin to apply the brakes while also negotiating the wide corner arc of Turn 9 and the track drops away at the apex. All of these factors cause the front-left tire to go light and increase the risk of a lock-up.

Pirelli has nominated its mid-range C2, C3 and C4 compounds for the race. The tires this season have been designed to improve strength and durability, allowing them to run at lower pressures, while the actual compounds are the same as last year.

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Weather conditions this year look to be mild, with the peak temperature on Sunday expected to hover around 75 degrees F. However, the thermometer will hit about 95 degrees on Saturday when qualifying is held.

After the first practice session on Friday, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was the quickest, followed by Mercedes-Benz AMG’s Valtteri Bottas and McLaren’s Lando Norris. Last year’s winner in Bahrain was Lewis Hamilton driving for Mercedes. The reigning world champion will be chasing a record eighth title this season.

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