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Unpredictable Conditions at Bahrain Grand Prix Challenge Top Four Teams



Unpredictable Conditions at Bahrain Grand Prix Challenge Top Four Teams

Bahrain Grand Prix: A challenging weekend for the top four teams, with shifting track conditions and new tire compounds. Who will come out on top?

A great deal of activity occurred beneath the surface of the fluctuating competitive hierarchy among the top four cars during the Bahrain Grand Prix, from FP1 to qualifying. In an unusual twist, even the leading teams were unable to completely regulate their surroundings, which were constantly shifting.

The most abrasive track surface of the entire season is the Welsh stone at Bahrain’s Sakhir circuit. Since its construction in 2004, the track has not undergone any resurfacing, and as it wears down over time, it has become increasingly delicate.

The track’s volatility is exacerbated by the significant fluctuations in temperature and wind that occur over the course of a typical day. Furthermore, the track’s increased sensitivity to its surface must now be taken into account.

However, an even more significant factor is the new Pirelli front tire, which is significantly stronger and provides more grip than previous iterations, resulting in a more oversteering car or, at the very least, a reduction in understeer.

At Sakhir, it is necessary to introduce some degree of understeer to preserve the rear tires, which experience significant strain at this circuit. However, in attempting to incorporate understeer into the car’s design, teams are deviating further from the vehicle’s natural equilibrium than they did in previous years. This makes it even more challenging to strike the correct balance between qualifying and race pace.

Compared to last year, the car now tends to lean more towards a qualifying setup, which typically favors an oversteer balance, while moving away from a race setup, which benefits from an understeer balance and leads to better tire durability over multiple stints.


As a result, the teams are facing two major challenges. Firstly, the track conditions have changed significantly in the span of just one week, rendering much of the fine-tuning performed during testing less applicable than anticipated. Secondly, because the balance between qualifying and race setups has shifted this year, determining the ideal balance for the car is no longer a straightforward task. This creates a complex puzzle for the teams to solve.

The top four teams – Red Bull, Ferrari, Aston Martin, and Mercedes – have grappled with these challenges in a constantly evolving environment, characterized by natural variations in track grip levels between FP1 and FP3 runs at temperatures of 42C, and the cooler 23C conditions of FP2 and qualifying under floodlights. The direction of the wind, which is influenced by the tides of the nearby sea, adds another layer of complexity.

Furthermore, the new tire compound has increased the car’s sensitivity to changes in track grip, which is itself more volatile than in previous years. As a result, the relative performance of these four cars has been extremely unpredictable over the weekend so far.

Red Bull, which appeared to be the fastest team during testing, encountered handling issues on Friday morning but gradually improved during FP2. As track grip improved in the cooler evening conditions, the balance shifted from oversteer to a more neutral setup, putting Max Verstappen in a favorable position for the FP2 long runs.

During FP3, Verstappen’s car balance issues resurfaced on the hot, low-grip track, and he was edged out by Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin for the fastest lap. The team now faces a difficult decision: how much of the imbalance should they address, given the anticipated changes in track grip during qualifying?

This is a common challenge in dusk race meetings, but the team’s lack of familiarity with the new front tire makes the situation even more uncertain.

Verstappen acknowledged that he made significant setup adjustments throughout the weekend, ultimately finding a compromise that worked best for qualifying. He remains optimistic about the team’s race pace, which he believes is typically a strong point for Red Bull compared to their one-lap pace.

Sergio Perez, who qualified second, noted that the car’s balance had been significantly different from what they experienced during testing. The team had to make significant changes to find the optimal setup for the race, even if it meant sacrificing some qualifying pace.


Perez stated that they had to make a compromise in qualifying pace for the race and they were unsure about the reason for the variation, but they hoped to have a better understanding after the weekend.

Charles Leclerc of Ferrari qualified third after only completing one run in Q3, a strategic decision that ultimately cost him a place to Perez. Despite this, he was able to come within a tenth-and-a-half of Verstappen’s pole position time on his initial run, and with the track getting faster as it cooled, sitting out the final run was a calculated risk.

Bahrain Grand Prix Challenge

Leclerc’s decision to start on a fresh set of tires from third place was driven by the Ferrari’s tendency to degrade its rear tires faster than the Red Bull and Aston Martin. During the long runs of FP2, he had to drive 0.7 seconds slower than Verstappen and 0.5 seconds slower than Alonso, despite both drivers operating at the same rear tire temperature margins.

In Leclerc’s view, it was a strategic decision that would pay off in the race, as he would be better equipped to manage tire wear and maintain consistent lap times over the course of a stint.

The Ferrari’s natural balance appears to be more oversteering than the Red Bull and Aston Martin, which can be challenging for tire management at this circuit. The sustained high lateral loads of the long, fast Turns 5/6/7 put significant strain on the rear tires, leaving them little chance to recover before providing traction out of two successive hairpins. By the time the tires are loaded up hard laterally through Turns 11, 12, and 13 – all of which are fast and long corners – they have not fully regained their grip.

While this oversteer balance may have flattered the Ferrari during qualifying, it tends to be better over a single lap than the understeer balance that the Red Bull and Aston Martin were able to dial in to protect their rear tires for the race.

Carlos Sainz struggled with the Ferrari’s snappy rear end through Turn 6 on his first Q3 lap, forcing him to go back out for a second run. Although he managed to secure fourth place, pushing Alonso’s Aston Martin down a spot, it will likely come at a cost in the race, as he will have one fewer set of new tires at his disposal.

Bahrain Grand Prix Challenge

Alonso also opted for a single Q3 run to conserve tires, while Aston Martin’s pace was not as impressive as it had been in practice, where the team was able to compete with the Red Bulls. On his Q3 lap, Alonso was just over 0.3 seconds behind Verstappen’s first run, with the Red Bull subsequently trimming a further two-tenths of a second off on his final run, aided by the faster track surface.

It is possible that the Aston Martin was running a lighter fuel load during practice, as the 0.3-second deficit he faced against Verstappen during qualifying could be equivalent to a 10kg difference in fuel load. However, it is also possible that Aston Martin was more focused on protecting its tires for race day, which could result in a slower qualifying time but benefit the team during the race.

The Ferrari drivers do not sound confident in their ability to hold off Alonso in the race, and even at Red Bull, there is some concern. Sergio Perez, who spent several years with Aston Martin in its previous iterations, is well aware of the team’s expertise in tire management, which could pose a significant threat during the race.

Perez expects Aston Martin to be a strong contender during the race, given their proven expertise in tire management. As someone who spent several years with the team’s previous iterations, he is familiar with the approach they take to optimizing tire performance, which is biased towards race day.

At Mercedes, George Russell and Lewis Hamilton also opted for a single Q3 run each to preserve their tires for the race. Following significant changes between Friday and Saturday, the W14 performed well on the hot track during FP3, with Hamilton coming within a couple of tenths of Verstappen’s pace.

The Mercedes’ tendency to bring its tires up to temperature more slowly than its rivals was an advantage in the hot track conditions, but a disadvantage in the cooler conditions of qualifying. During FP2, the team’s long-run pace was poor, trailing Ferrari by 0.5 seconds. However, this was before the team made setup changes, so it remains to be seen whether the situation will improve during the race.

Bahrain Grand Prix Challenge

The unique demands of the Bahrain circuit, which impose a high level of thermal degradation on tires, have played a significant role in determining the competitive order between the cars. However, this high degradation rate could also mean that a safety car period during the race could have an even more significant impact on the outcome.


If a chaser has the opportunity to fit a new set of tires while the car they are chasing is using older tires, it could completely upend the competitive order. As a result, Sunday’s race will not only test which team has best solved the set-up conundrum but also be subject to a greater degree of chance and unpredictability than usual.

Bahrain Grand Prix Challenge F1 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix Challenge F1 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix Challenge F1 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix Challenge F1 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix Challenge F1 2023

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