MANAMA: The spotlights, all 5,000 of them, will be on Mercedes team mates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton on Sunday when Bahrain adds another novel twist to an already changed Formula One landscape. The pair is one-two in the new-look championship after a win each from the first two races of the quieter-sounding, fuel-saving and less reliable V6 turbo era that started in Melbourne last month. Neither driver has won before at the Sakhir circuit but are clear favourites to fight for the top step on the podium after their one-two finish for the Silver Arrows in Malaysia last weekend.
What would normally be a sweat in the afternoon heat, with temperatures soaring to 45ºC, will be a cooler duel in the dark with the race switching to an evening format for the first time. The Bahrain International Circuit, celebrating the 10th anniversary of a race that had to be cancelled in 2011 due to bloody civil unrest that continues to simmer in the background, has followed Abu Dhabi in becoming a day-to-night event. Some 500km of cabling has been installed to power the 5,000 lights needed for the Gulf kingdom’s showcase sporting event. Rosberg, who will be starting his 150th grand prix, leads the championship by 18 points but Hamilton, chasing his third pole in a row, can score an important psychological blow if he takes his second successive win.
Endurance test: Two of the three pre-season tests were held in Bahrain and Mercedes will be carrying out a Pirelli tyre test at Sakhir next week along with Williams and Caterham. The teams have no shortage of data about the circuit but Bahrain, following on from Malaysia, is the first time this year that they have had to race on successive weekends. That will be an extra challenge for reliability and teamwork as well as providing the first real insight into the endurance of engines and gearbox. The long straights should suit the Mercedes well, and the dry conditions will also play to their strengths.
Red Bull’s quadruple champion Sebastian Vettel has won the last-two Bahrain Grand Prix but he knows a third is a long shot this time with the Renault power unit still lagging the performance of the Mercedes. That was also his first race distance since Brazil last November. Nobody has ever won Bahrain from further back than the second row, which realistically rules out Australian Daniel Ricciardo’s hopes in the other Red Bull after he collected a 10 place grid penalty in Malaysia for an unsafe pit-stop release. Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, a three-time winner in Bahrain, will be seeking to improve on two successive fourths this season while McLaren’s Jenson Button hopes to mark a big personal anniversary with something special.
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