Vilardo: Bahrain Grand Prix and 2023 F1 Season Preview

The first race is always important in validating developments made in the offseason

Posted on March 5, 2023

  By Stephen Vilardo, SWS | Dane Miller, Series Editor

The first race of the championship is always important to validate the developments made in the offseason. There are several storylines heading into the new year.

Is the gap from Red Bull to the rest of the field going to be as wide as it has been, or will it be tight?

Can Ferrari finally get out of their own way and regain their glory?

Mercedes showed progress towards the end of 2022, will it carry over? And who will be the true No. 1 driver for the Silver Arrows?

Is the pace shown by Aston Martin in testing legitimate or a case of a red herring?

Closer to home, Haas is starting to invest more money and has new sponsorship deals to add to the war chest. Will it pay off or just lead to more headaches for the American team?

All these questions and more will begin to be answered with the season opener this weekend. I preview the Bahrain Grand Prix here and give my picks on our “That America F1 Show” podcast.

Television Schedule

Free Practice 3: Saturday, 3:30 am PT, ESPN2
Qualifying: Saturday, 7:00 am PT, ESPN2
Race: Sunday, 7:00 am PT, ESPN

Bahrain Grand Prix Quick Facts

Location: Sakhir, Bahrain
Track: Bahrain International Circuit
Track Type: Permanent Circuit
Turns: 15
Lap Length: 3.363 mi
Race Length: 57 laps
Fastest Lap: Michael Schumacher 1:30.252 in a Ferrari, 2004 
Qualifying Record: Lewis Hamilton 1:27.264 in a Mercedes, 2020
Most Wins by Constructor: 7 – Mercedes
Most Wins by a Driver: 5 – Lewis Hamilton

The Bahrain Grand Prix is the epitome of modern Formula One.

A new age, twisty, and free-flowing permanent circuit constructed in 2004, the track in the Middle East represents the evolution of F1.

The Bahrain International Circuit is among the most abrasive tracks on the calendar, scoring five out of five in Pirelli’s abrasiveness classification.

The high amount of abrasiveness is due to the large percentage of granite within the asphalt, which leads to high levels of wear and degradation.

Although asphalt abrasion is high, that’s not the only concern for the teams. Sand blows in from the surrounding desert and can cause a lot of sliding which adversely affects grip.

The track conditions at the Bahrain Grand Prix can be perilous. | Getty Images

Combined with the asphalt, the weather variances are why this track scores three out of five in Pirelli’s overall grip classification.

Track Evolution rates at 4 out of 5 on the Pirelli scale, too, meaning the track conditions and speed vary as the weekend progresses.

Look for slightly different conditions for the tires on Sunday compared to what the teams will see on Friday.

The result should be a high number of on-track passes, varying pit strategies, and tire degradation becoming a primary storyline in the final laps of the race.

In 2014, the Bahrain Grand Prix made the switch from a daytime race to a 6:00 pm start.  The sunset start time multiplies the challenges of the track.

Tire wear management could be the key element in the race. |

The teams will see very warm daytime temperatures, but as the sun sets in the desert, the temperatures will fall drastically, and speeds should rise.

Turning Bahrain into a night race has improved the spectacle for fans by increasing the dynamics for both teams and drivers.

The rapidly cooling track affects the balance of the car in ways that are inconsistent with a standard, mid-afternoon event.

Look for close battles throughout the field and pit-stop strategies that make the difference for several positions.

In a race that could come down to tire wear, whichever drivers are able to manage their degradation best could end up in the points.

Speed Points

• 2023 will be the fifth time that Bahrain International Circuit has opened the season.

• Logan Sargeant will make his F1 debut for Williams Racing. The last American Formula One driver was Alexander Rossi who made five starts in 2015.

• Last season the Bahrain GP saw 78 overtakes, the third most of any track on the calendar.

• The safety car has been deployed just six times in the history of the event, which is equivalent to 33.3 percent of the races.

• No driver has won at Bahrain starting worse than fourth place.

• 44.4 percent of the Bahrain winners have started on the pole.

Recent Race Winners of the Bahrain Grand Prix

2022Charles LeclercFerrari
2021Lewis HamiltonMercedes
2020Lewis HamiltonMercedes
2019Lewis HamiltonMercedes
2018Sebastian VettelFerrari

—More from Stephen Vilardo—