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Featured Image by Tobias Sattler on Flickr

The Bahrain Grand Prix, held a weekend ago, saw Lewis Hamilton & Mercedes emerge victorious, with Max Verstappen in 2nd for Red Bull, alongside 3rd for his teammate Alex Albon. This weekend sees changes everywhere, in both Formula One & Formula 2, with a new circuit, and several driver changes.

This weekend will also see the finale of the 2020 FIA Formula 2 Championship. The Sakhir GP weekend marks the final weekend where Formula 2 will run a Feature & Sprint race. The Championship had announced that it would switch to running a 3 race weekend from 2021, as part of cost-cutting measures, which would see 8 race weekends instead of 12 race weekends.

Last weekend, Felipe Drugovich scored victory on Saturday’s Feature Race, while Sunday saw Robert Shwartzman win the shortened Sprint Race.

This weekend, we find ourselves at the Bahrain International Circuit, located in Sakhir, Bahrain. Ahead of any on-track action in Formula 1 & 2, we have compiled a list of things to look out for, as the weekend unfolds ahead, and on-track action begins!

The Circuit – Bahrain International Circuit

Serkan Demirbaş / CC BY-SA 3.0

This weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix will be held on the Outer Circuit of the Bahrain International Circuit. It is a permanent race track in the Sakhir desert, located in outskirts of the Bahraini capital, Manama. Construction began in 2002, with the track being fully complete in 2004. The facility was also used for last week’s Bahrain Grand Prix, with the race being held on the Grand Prix Circuit.

The track features 6 configurations, alongside a Drag Strip (Dark Grey) . The layouts are as follows:

Grand Prix Circuit (5.411km)
Endurance Circuit (6.299km)
Paddock Circuit (3.705km)
Outer Circuit (3.644km)
Inner Circuit (2.550km)
Flat Oval (2.5 km)

Track maps by Serkan Demirbaş / CC BY-SA 3.0

Aside from the Test Oval & Drag Strip, all configurations meet the FIA Grade 1 standard. The Test Oval & Drag Strip are unrated. As of time of writing, Formula One has used mostly used the Grand Prix Circuit for the Bahrain Grand Prix, bar the 2010 edition, which used the longer Endurance Circuit.

The 3.644km long Outer Circuit comprises of 3 long straights, alongside a twisty middle sector featuring high-speed turns. From Turns 1 to 4, drivers will feel a sense of familiarity, with this section being used as Sector 1 of the Grand Prix Circuit. At Turn 4, drivers will turn left onto the Outer Circuit, featuring a fast right-handed swoop and a chicane, before returning to the Grand Prix Circuit for the flat-out final sector.

No lap record exists for the Outer Circuit, which has never been used in International Competition. Based on simulations however, Lap times are expected to fall below 1 minute.

Formula One:

Driver Changes:

pietro fittipaldi – haas

Following Romain Grosjean’s turn 1 incident at last week’s Bahrain Grand Prix, resulting in burns on his hands, he would sit out the Sakhir Grand Prix. On Monday, Haas announced that it’s reserve driver, Pietro Fittipaldi would stand in for Grosjean.

For many unfamiliar with motorsport outside Formula 1, you may wonder, who is Pietro Fittipaldi, and what does he bring, or how good is he? Pietro Fittipaldi is the Grandson of 2 time Formula One World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi, and the older brother of Ferrari Driver Academy member Enzo Fittipaldi.

Fittpaldi started his career driving short track cars in the United States, before moving to the United Kingdom compete in single-seaters. He achieved moderate success, winning the 2014 Protyre Formula Renault Championship, the 2015-16 MRF Challenge, and the 2017 World Series Formula V8 3.5. In 2018, Fittipaldi was slated to have a busy year in 3 series, with a full-time campaign in Super Formula, alongside part-time drives in Indycar and the FIA World Endurance Championship. A crash in qualifying during the 2018 FIA WEC 6 Hours of Spa resulted in him breaking his legs, forcing him out of racing for several months. As a result, he only competed in 5 Indycar races after the incident, achieving a top 10 finish at the Grand Prix of Portland.

For 2019, he competed in the DTM with Audi privateer squad WRT, alongside 2 races with Audi Sport Team Rosberg. For 2020, he was set to race in Super Formula with Motopark, before he was dropped for “clashing sponsors”, effectively leaving him without a drive.

Fittipaldi joined Haas in 2019 as test driver, having had his first Formula One test in Abu Dhabi in 2018 with the team. The Sakhir Grand Prix will be the first time since 2018 that the 24 year Brazilian-American driver will race an open-wheel car.

However, this question remains: Just how good is he? If one was to carefully look through his racing record, one can perhaps conclude that Fittipaldi certainly isn’t among the top 20 drivers in the world in terms of speed…

Fittipaldi’s junior career has been littered with many ups and downs, and it has been truly hard to really rate his performances… As Valentin Khorounzhiy and Scott Mitchell of The Race put it: “good results against limited opposition. And when it came to more credible series, Fittipaldi’s record is mixed.”

The fact of the matter is that Fittipaldi won those titles mentioned earlier, in the twilight years of each of the championships, with limited opposition. Take his 2017 Formula V8 3.5 title for example. For most of the year, car counts were low, with most events seeing just 10 cars taking to the grid, with none of the drivers being recognisable names for the average F1 fan. When it came to BRDC F4, now BRDC F3, his season was miserable. The same applies to the 2016 European Formula 3 Championship with Fortec.

Overall, don’t expect to see any miracles from Fittipaldi. He is unlikely to be faster than Magnussen. But given the circumstances, and the amount of familiarity he has with the team, he is probably the best option for Haas at the moment. Deletraz may well be faster, but he doesn’t have the same level of familiarity with the team.

george russell – mercedes

After Lewis Hamilton was diagnosed with COVID-19, Mercedes opted against deploying it’s reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne, instead bringing in its junior and Williams driver George Russell. While this was perhaps surprising, it is indeed a logical decision for Mercedes.

Russell has performed solidly in his 2 seasons at Williams, having dragged the FW43 into Q2 twice, while maintaining a solid qualifying record that has seen him unbeaten by any of his teammates thus far. Against Bottas, could this change? That may certainly be possible, although it should be said that Bottas holds an edge with more experience under his belt in the W11.

For Russell, it appears that comparisons between Bottas and himself are inevitable. This weekend, much attention will be placed on him. While there will be many eyes on him, the pressure is unlikely to be high on his shoulders. Given his lack of experience, he is not expected to beat Bottas, and a podium finish or a top 5 finish will be respectable.

It should be said that his Mercedes drive at Sakhir could also open up doors for Russell to make a permanent leap from the back of the grid to the front in the very near future. If Russell is able to beat Bottas, there is a very real possibility he could be snatching the Finn’s seat in 2022.

Jack aitken – williams

Hot on the heels of the announcement that Russell would be moving from Williams to Mercedes, came the announcement that Williams had selected Jack Aitken, a member of it’s junior programme to step up to fill the seat.

For Williams, having Aitken step up was almost certainly a logical decision. Unlike Vandoorne, Aitken is familiar with both the team and the car, having driven the FW43 in FP1 at the Styrian Grand Prix, while being part of the junior setup since this year. Aitken’s racing record also shows he is a fast driver, having finished 5th in the 2020 Formula 2 Championship with Campos, an F2 midfielder.

For Aitken, this could potentially be a chance to find himself a permanent berth in the Formula One paddock. This is especially so if he is able to outperform Latifi consistently over the weekend…

The Battle for 3rd in the Constructors

Ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix, a close fight for 3rd in the Constructors Championship is emerging. Currently, 4 teams are vying for 3rd in the Constructors Championship. Racing Point, McLaren, Renault & Ferrari. McLaren currently sits 3rd, with 171 points, followed by Racing Point with 154 points (Following a 15 points deduction). Further behind the 2 are Renault with 144 points, and Ferrari with 131 points.

A total of 40 points separate the 4 teams, meaning that if one team is to score a good result at Bahrain with both cars in the top 6, the trailing teams (Racing Point, Renault & Ferrari) could realistically leapfrog up the standings.

Alex Albon: Can he keep up his form?

Ahead of the Turkish Grand Prix, Alex Albon had been on a streak of poor performances following his Tuscany Grand Prix podium. During the Eifel Grand Prix, Albon started the race in 5th, before the race began to unfound around him. A lockup on Lap 1 left him with a flat-spotted tyre, compromising his race strategy, and leaving him plummeting down the order. Later on, a clumsy overtake on Daniil Kvyat saw him rip the Russian’s front wing, resulting in a 5 second time penalty for the Anglo-Thai Driver. Albon would wind up retiring from a punctured radiator.

Portugal was no different. Starting from 6th, he plummeted down the order to 12th. Neither was the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. Starting from 6th, outqualfied by the Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly, he spun on his own accord while in 5th, finishing far down the order in 15th.

Turkey was perhaps a turning point for Albon. From the outset, Albon was on the pace, finishing in the top 6 for each FP session, including 2nd in FP1, and 3rd in FP3. He then qualified in 4th, before going onto finish 7th in the tricky conditions, just behind teammate Verstappen.

Albon followed up his Turkey performance with an excellent drive in the Bahrain Grand Prix, to finish 3rd, profiting from Sergio Perez’s late retirement in the race. This came after a relatively solid performance in most of the sessions across the weekend, bar FP2, where he had a hard crash.

It appears that Turkey has been the turning point for Albon, and the events of that weekend have certainly boosted his confidence. Can Albon carry this momentum forward? We certainly hope so.

Formula 2:

It all ends here. Following 10 rounds of racing, we reach the finale of the 2020 FIA Formula 2 Championship. Ahead of the weekend, the battle for both titles is still on. 5 drivers have a chance at the Drivers’ title, while 2 teams have a shot at the Teams’ title.

F2 Drivers’ Championship Battle – Mick Schumacher vs Callum Ilott

Ahead of the final Formula 2 round of the season, 5 drivers remain in title contention. However, ahead of the Bahrain Weekend, only 2 drivers seem set to have chances at title glory.

Mick Schumacher & Callum Ilott.

Entering the Sakhir weekend, Schumacher finds himself as the points leader, with a 14 point gap separating Ilott and himself. At the Feature Race, Ilott managed to close up the gap to 12 points, but at the Sprint Race, Ilott lost ground to Schumacher, resulting in the gap widening to 14 points.

For Callum Ilott to realistically win and clinch the title, he needs to work on his starts, which have been a weak point for him. A poor start off the line saw him having to defend into Turn 1 against Drugovich, only for him to fail to keep the position before the lap ended. Ilott’s weakness is also Schumacher’s strength, which was what prevented Ilott from closing up the gap further; starting from P10, he was already up to the top 5 by the end of Lap 1…

This will prove especially vital in the reverse grid Sprint Race, where pitstops are not required.

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