Circuit guide: Bahrain International Circuit (Sakhir)
Location: Sakhir, Bahrain
Known for: F1, Australian V8 Supercars, Endurance Racing, Speedcar, GP2
Type: Permanent Circuit
Sakhir became F1’s original Middle East venue in 2004 when it first hosted the Bahrain Grand Prix. Racing in the desert presents several challenges and they’re exactly what you might expect: it’s very hot and it’s very dusty. The dust on the circuit is particularly noticeable as grip evolves swiftly over the weekend as the cars clean the racing line and lay down plenty of rubber.
Also, having lots of dust in the atmosphere means teams pay even more attention than usual to issues like air filtration and monitoring engine wear. Cars are on full throttle for over 60 per cent of the lap, plus the two long straights keep them at high revs for much of that – but what really frightens engine techs is the possibility of ingesting sand. If sand should sneak through the air filter the effects of a few grains on pistons, piston rings or valves is potentially catastrophic and, given the limited number of engines teams have available for the season, has potentially far reaching consequences.
The circuit itself is very smooth and doesn’t have particularly high kerbs which means cars tend to have a low ride height and attack apexes very aggressively. It’s a heavy braking circuit and generally calls for unusually high levels of brake cooling. Managing that and providing the right level of traction on the evolving surface are the key technical issues.
While the grand prix has never been won by anyone from beyond the first two rows, it hasn’t been particularly favourable to the men on pole; only three times has the winner started from first on the grid.
It is a circuit that shows up a good car with six out of the seven races being won by a team that’s gone on to win the Constructors’ Championship. The one exception being 2010 when Sebastian Vettel’s faulty spark plug was pivotal in ending that particular statistical run.
Fernando Alonso has won the race three times, Felipe Massa twice and Jenson Button and Michael Schumacher have one win apiece.
There really isn’t much to say about Sakhir. The region, in the South-West quadrant of the island, boasts an air force base, a palace, a nature reserve and the main campus of the University of Bahrain – though walking the track all that’s visible is mile and miles and miles of empty, featureless desert. Most of the off-track action is therefore transplanted to the Bahraini capital Manama, 30kms to the north. The circuit itself, however, is excellent, with good facilities for the teams and a paddock that’s convivial for a good race weekend, unlike its massive, soulless contemporaries in Shanghai and Istanbul. Teams tend to have a productive week in Bahrain as they aren’t likely to lose running because of inclement weather, and there aren’t all that many sponsors or celebrity guests prepared to trek out into the middle of nowhere to get in the way.
Bahrain has six track configurations and two major pit complexes which means it runs many different series in various layouts. F1 ran on the 5.4km Grand Prix Circuit from 2004-2009 but swapped to the 6.3km Endurance Circuit for 2010. That proved unpopular so F1 is moving back for 2012. The Endurance Circuit is so named for the 24-Hours races it hosts, though it also hosts shorter GT races including a round of the 2005 FIA GT Championship, the Bahrain Supercar 500.
Australia’s V8s have visited four times for the ‘Desert 400’. The first three runnings (2006, 2007, 2008) were held on the 3.8km Paddock Circuit and were all wins for Ford. The final running, in 2010, was held on the Grand Prix Circuit and was won by Holden – however both 2008 and 2010 were wins for Jamie Whincup and Triple Eight.
Bahrain has also been a regular stop-off for GP2. In 2005 it hosted the final rounds of the inaugural GP2 championship as a standalone event. Nico Rosberg won both races and in doing so became GP2’s first champion – and also the first driver to win both the feature and sprint race on the same weekend. In 2008 GP2 Asia came to visit, Romain Grosjean won the first race and Kamui Kobayashi the second. Kobayashi won again the next year in the feature race, followed by his now Sauber team-mate Sergio Pérez in the sprint. This year Bahrain will host four rounds of new combined GP2 Championship over consecutive weekends, the first being alongside F1.
DID YOU KNOW?:
The surface of the track was imported from a quarry in Shropshire, England. The Graywacke aggregate is a highly-prized material for surfacing motor-racing tracks as it provides high levels of grip. Obviously in the desert this is countered by the drifting dust that covers the circuit. Bahrain’s solution has been to spray a layer of adhesive onto the surrounding landscape: basically they glue the sand down.
- Visit the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix event page and more content
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