F1 GP: everything you need to know about Bahrain

WHAT’S BAHRAIN LIKE TO WATCH?

The Bahrain International Circuit was opened in 2004 when it hosted the country’s first Formula 1 race. Since then, it has been the stage for some very exciting races, and a pair of especially thrilling duels stand out in particular. The 2014 tussle for victory between Mercedes team-mates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg was particularly memorable as they were unleashed to race wheel-to-wheel at the beginning of F1’s turbo hybrid era. Then there was 2021’s grandstand finish between Hamilton and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, which set up their season-long rivalry for the world championship title.

In 2022, Bahrain once again hosts the opening race of the season, providing the first chance for fans to watch the new generation of cars. A week earlier, the circuit is the venue for official pre-season testing. 

Since 2014, the Bahrain Grand Prix has been held as a night race under floodlights, adding some extra sparkle to this modern venue. The layout is one that encourages lots of overtaking, with three long straights punctuated by a slow opening sequence of corners. That provides plenty of opportunity for drivers to pass and be repassed, and the width of the track ensures a variety of different lines are possible. 

It’s a spectator-friendly circuit that goes out of its way to make spectators feel welcome. The Turn 1 grandstand in particular is guaranteed to catch some exciting overtaking moves.

WHAT’S BAHRAIN LIKE TO DRIVE?

For the drivers, the real challenge of the Bahrain circuit is in the twisty middle sector. From the exit of Turn 4 after the second of the long straights, the cars are fed at speed into a series of sweeping bends. Then comes a pair of tricky downhill hairpins: the second, the Turn 10 left-hander, is particularly notorious because of how easy it is to lock a wheel under braking. The relatively short back straight is followed by some more sweeping curves before the long straight that leads into the final corner.

In 2020 when Bahrain circuit hosted two back-to-back race weekends, the latter Sakhir Grand Prix was run on the venue’s Outer Circuit that bypassed the usual middle sector altogether. The alternative route was bumpy and fast and kept the drivers on their toes. It certainly proved more popular than the longer Endurance layout trialled in 2010.

The circuit’s desert location also provides the drivers with plenty of its own challenges, like the strong winds that can affect handling and blow sand onto the track surface, which is known for being highly abrasive compared to most other circuits, thanks to the granite on the track surface.

WHAT’S BAHRAIN LIKE TO VISIT?

The name ‘Bahrain’ literally means ‘two seas’ and this will give you a very good idea of what to expect. The weather is warm all year round and there is no shortage of beachfront hotels to cater for downtime, as well as many nearby islands to visit, such as Al Dar. While Bahrain is well-established in terms of international tourism and transport links are excellent, it still maintains a strong Arabic identity: visit the Bab el-Bahrain souk if you can for a real flavour of how the place used to be and check out the Royal Camel Farm in Manama too. Those looking for more a party can head to Bushido: an upscale fusion sushi restaurant that many of the drivers like to hang out in. There’s also Trader Vics in the Ritz Carlton hotel, another place that’s frequented by much of the Formula 1 crowd. There’s nothing much around the Bahrain International Circuit itself: it was built in the middle of the desert from scratch and is located about half an hour’s drive from the city via a highway that often feels like a warm-up for the grand prix itself…

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