Pirelli, along with all the Formula teams, tested at the Sakhir circuit twice in the build-up to the season – so this should be a circuit that everybody knows well. However, to celebrate its 10th anniversary, the race has been given a 6pm start time for the first time in its history, meaning that it will start at sunset and end in full darkness: a bit like the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
This will have an important effect on the behavior of the P Zero White medium and P Zero Yellow soft tires that have been nominated for the race. Ambient and track temperatures will fall considerably during the race – with a drop in track temperature of 15 degrees entirely possible – which will alter the performance and degradation characteristics of the tires. As night racing in Bahrain is an unknown quantity, the preparation work in free practice will be essential.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director: “Bahrain is a circuit where we’ve done two recent tests, so we go there with a lot of knowledge of the track, which we certainly benefit from. We know that there’s a big traction demand and that’s why we’re bringing the medium and soft tires. Temperatures at the start of the race should still be reasonably high. We’ve noted a very big drop in temperature though as soon as the sun goes down: a variation that can be as big as 15 degrees. Managing that very wide range of temperatures to get the best out of the tires is going to be one of the biggest challenges for the teams throughout the weekend. This should make it quite tactical in terms of strategy, so it should be a very interesting race from that point of view.”
The circuit from a tire point of view:
Bahrain is quite demanding on the tires, particularly during traction areas, with the surface tread temperature peaking at 130 degrees centigrade.
Aerodynamics is another important factor in Bahrain. With four 300kph straights, teams tend to use medium downforce, but this can compromise corner entry and braking stability, causing lock-ups that damage the tires. Sand on the track from the surrounding desert can also disrupt traction and cause wheelspin, leading to increased tire degradation. Two years ago, a sandstorm actually halted one of Pirelli’s test sessions in Bahrain.
Braking is another key characteristic of the Bahrain International Circuit: in the first corner the cars decelerate from 315kph to 65kph in just 130 metres and three seconds. This places a force on the tires equivalent to around 4.5g.
Following the Bahrain Grand Prix, the first two-day in-season test will take place (from April 8-9). Each team has to devote one day of testing to tires this year, with Caterham carrying out test duties on the first day in Bahrain, and Mercedes and Williams testing tires during day two.
Bob Ulrich was named Modern Tire Dealer editor in August 2000. He joined the magazine in 1985 as assistant editor, and has been responsible for gathering statistical information for MTD's "Facts Issue" since 1993.