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.
For today’s Sakhir Grand Prix, Valtteri Bottas will start from pole position, with George alongside him on the front row of the grid. Ahead of the race, we have compiled a list of things to look out for…
The Circuit – Bahrain International Circuit
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:
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.
Until this weekend, no lap record existed for the Outer Circuit, which was previously not used in International Competition. Based on simulations, however, lap times were expected to fall below 1 minute. Based on the pole time, of 53.377 seconds, it can be said that these simulations were most certainly accurate.
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. A good finish for him will fall between P14-18.
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. Much attention will be placed on him this weekend. While there will be many eyes on him, the pressure is unlikely to be high on his shoulders. Given his lack of experience, he wasn’t expected to beat Bottas, and a podium finish or a top 5 finish would have been a respectable result.
However, if anything, Russell appears to have surpassed everyone’s expectations, seemingly applying a great deal of pressure on the Finn. On Friday, Russell topped both FP sessions, which led to a great deal of buzz. But there was more to come from the young Brit. In Qualifying, Russell missed out on pole on his Mercedes debut by just 0.026s. Given the strong performance shown by him thus far across the weekend, a top 3 placing is certainly plausible.
Earlier on, I said that Russell’s Mercedes drive at Sakhir could open up doors for him to make a permanent leap from the back of the grid to the front in the very near future. I even suggested that if Russell was able to beat Bottas, there remains very real possibility he could be snatching the Finn’s seat in 2022. Russell has already shown that he has the capability to perform even when thrown into the deep end at the sharp end of Formula 1. A convincing drive today will certainly do much to help sway Mercedes to promote him to the team for a full-time drive…
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. While thus far he has been slower than Latifi, Aitken has seemingly acclimatised to the FW43 very quickly…
A points finish may not be on the cards, given the performance of the FW43, but there is a real chance for him to outshine Latifi in the race today. A good finishing position would fall between 14-16th position.
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. With all teams having at least one car in the top 10, it could certainly be exciting.
Alex Albon: Can he pull off a comeback drive?
It’s a Disaster. After Q2 yesterday, these were the only words that could be used to describe Alex Albon’s session. Albon’s disastrous qualifying came after showing pace in the Free Practice sessions, and 2 consecutive weekends where he showed consistency and pace throughout the weekend. Prior that, Albon was on a disastrous run of races, stretching all the way from the Russian Grand Prix all the way to the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
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.
Albon’s reason for struggling in Q2 was stated to be due to a lack of running on the Soft compound in FP3. Overtaking is expected to be easy on the outer layout, which could potentially help Albon gain places in the race. However, a clean start will certainly be necessary.
Albon knows that much is at stake here for his Formula One future, and he will most certainly be giving his best today.