Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain

Ben's Sakhir GP preview

By Ben Edwards
C4F1 commentator

Lewis Hamilton will fail to score points for the first time in 49 races this weekend, a record-breaking sequence that has been halted by testing positive for Covid-19.

The fact that he scored enough points to wrap up the 2020 title with three races to go demonstrates how crucial it was that he gave his utmost at every event this year.

He always knew that being placed in quarantine was a possibility and yet he has beaten the consequences, much as he has thrashed the rest of the grid.

What a time in F1 we are experiencing; Hamilton out, and Romain Grosjean also watching the Sakhir GP from the sidelines to ensure a full recovery from that shocking accident last Sunday.

Seeing Grosjean emerge from a wall of flames and walk away from the scattered remains of a racing car is a moment I shall never forget.

The fact that F1 as a sport has been able to increase safety margins to such an extent is a real achievement even though there are still lessons to be learned.

Grandpa Emmo

It was a shock for everyone, especially his Haas team crew, but they have to focus on the next step which is to guide and support a driver with little F1 experience but a tremendous heritage.

Pietro Fittipaldi has been test and reserve driver for Haas over the last couple of years but this will be his first opportunity to race in a Grand Prix.

His grandfather Emerson won 14 races in the early 1970s, earning two driver’s titles initially with Lotus and then with McLaren.

Pietro is yet to drive the 2020 Haas F1 car on track but he has tested at Bahrain in the past. 

Mind you, like all of the other drivers he will have to adjust to a rather different track layout this weekend.

Round the Outside

Fundamentally, it’s a simple change - the middle section has been abandoned and cars have been redirected to race around the perimeter of the site.

It makes a fast but relatively short lap that will create interesting slipstream opportunities.

When the idea was first announced a while ago some observers likened the layout to an oval, as used in many different styles in the United States. But having spent several years travelling around the circuits of America when I was covering Champ Cars in the 1990s, I don’t agree with that notion.

Ovals are their own unique challenge. This version of Bahrain is actually much more closely linked to the circuits that lit up the world of motorsport in the United Kingdom after World War Two - airfields.

Before the war, the UK had a limited number of regular motor racing venues. Brooklands was a mighty oval with internal routes that could mix up the challenge, while Donington was a glorious ride through undulating parkland.

But in the late 1940s, it became clear to motorsport fans in different parts of the country that there was an abandoned wartime airfield nearby that had plenty of space to go bonkers in a fast car.

Flying Low

Westhampnett Aerodrome near Chichester was one of those. Created on land owned by the Duke of Richmond, it proved a useful base for Hurricanes.

After the war it was quickly established that an airstrip could be maintained at the heart of the land, while the perimeter road could be turned into a racetrack. Welcome to Goodwood.

Just after that track was established, the first postwar International Grand Prix to be held in the UK took place at Silverstone, another wartime airfield, in 1948.

Although the initial format criss-crossed the land using original runways, it soon became a perimeter layout, a fast-flowing loop.

Snetterton in Norfolk, Castle Combe in Wiltshire and Thruxton in Hampshire were also created in the same way.

A blossoming of circuits all around the country encouraged more and more people to go racing and formed the basis of a motorsport culture that sees seven current F1 teams operating from the UK.

So, racing around a perimeter track is nothing new to British motorsport, even if it is somewhat unusual in F1 these days.

Marginal Gains

This weekend’s layout will see some of the shortest laptimes in the history of the sport, as cars hurtle around the two-mile layout that features only one serious braking area, the main overtaking zone into Turn 1.

In qualifying we can expect to see teammates helping each other to create a tow down the straights which could be worth a vital few miles per hour of top speed.

Time differences between those making the top ten, and those eliminated could be thousandths of a second. And the slightest hesitation, due to another car being in the way, could make all the difference between topping the grid and starting midfield.

The unpredictability of this race was always going to be on a higher scale. Now that we’ve lost Hamilton from the line-up, the possibilities of an unusual result are even higher. Bring it on.

Join the C4F1 team for highlights of qualifying from the Sakhir Grand Prix at 9:30pm on Saturday 5th December with race highlights and analysis from 10:00pm on Sunday.