After a long winter break, the Formula 1 World Championship returns this weekend with the Bahrain Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit.
The 2023 season doesn’t bring many new car designs after a complete redesign last season, but there is a new race to look forward to in Las Vegas (one of three US races this season), bringing this year’s calendar to 23 rounds . There are also three new drivers this season, as well as a returning veteran.
New drivers include McLaren’s Oscar Piastri, AlphaTauri’s Nick de Vries and Williams’ American Logan Sargent. Nico Hulkenberg also returns to F1 as a Haas driver. Fernando Alonso, who is driving for Aston Martin for the first time, should also be one to watch. Alonso joins Lance Stroll, who missed the latest Test with a wrist injury but has been confirmed to play in Bahrain. Ferrari and Williams also had new team owners – Fred Vasseur and James Vowles respectively.
All eyes will be on reigning world champion Max Verstappen, who is racing again for Red Bull Racing and is now chasing his third title. Mercedes-Benz AMG’s Lewis Hamilton is also back, looking for a record eighth win.
The Bahrain Grand Prix replaced the Australian Grand Prix as the traditional season opener. The Bahrain International Circuit, located on a former camel farm in the Sakhir Desert region, is home to this year’s pre-season testing, so drivers will be familiarized with the latest track conditions.
Bahrain International Circuit, home of the Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix
The 3.36-mile course is one of the most grueling on the calendar. It consists of high-speed straights and hairpin turns with hard braking. Turn 10 is one of the trickiest corners, as it has a long, combined corner entry that gets tighter towards the apex, in this case over a blind hill. The drivers started to apply the brakes while also navigating the wide arc of Turn 9, where the track descended at the apex. All of these factors lead to a lighter left front tire and an increased risk of locking.
Engine performance, cornering traction and braking stability form the technical challenge here. Also, due to the abrasive nature of the track, tire degradation also plays a vital role.
Pirelli has specified the hardest tire compounds for the race: C1 is a white hard compound, C2 is a yellow medium compound and C3 is a red soft compound. C1 is the new compound for this season. According to Pirelli, it is based on last year’s C2 compound and helps close the performance gap between the harder compounds in the range.
Conditions appear to be mild for Saturday’s qualifying session and Sunday’s race, with Sunday’s high expected to hover around 83 degrees Fahrenheit. Changeable winds can also blow in sand from the surrounding desert, which can affect grip levels, although a sticky adhesive substance has been sprayed on the surrounding sand to help reduce the likelihood of this.
Teams must also be mindful of rapidly changing track temperatures. The race starts at 6pm local time, so track temperatures are hottest at the start and cool down as the race progresses. Last year’s winner in Bahrain was Charles Leclerc with Ferrari.