But following three races in which Rosberg has appeared unable to challenge his team mate for position on track, let alone pass the world champion, the biggest question ahead of this weekend is whether Rosberg can respond to his team mate’s early season form.
After Ferrari snatched victory from Mercedes in Malaysia, the performance of the Silver Arrows in China showed that they are still the team to beat. Given the short turnaround between China and Bahrain it seems likely that unless Ferrari can find a touch more performance here, the race will still be Mercedes’ to lose.
Bahrain International Circuit
|Lap length||5.412km (3.363 miles)|
|Distance||57 laps (308.2km/191.5 miles)|
|Lap record*||1’31.447 (Pedro de la Rosa, 2005)|
|Fastest lap||1’29.527 (Mark Webber, 2005)|
|Tyres||Medium and Soft|
*Fastest lap set during a Grand Prix
This weekend, the Bahrain International Circuit plays host to a round of the Formula 1 world championship for the 11th time and, if recent form is anything to go by, it should provide a reasonably entertaining race.
The enthralling race-long battle between Hamilton and Rosberg here last year proved to be one of the defining moments of the season. If Mercedes are to dominate proceedings once more, similar excitement this weekend would not go amiss.
Behind Mercedes, there are similarly tight battles at Ferrari – with Kimi Raikkonen robbed of a chance to challenge Sebastian Vettel for a podium last weekend – and at Williams with Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas finding only each other to race this season.
The Bahrain track is hardly the most iconic of Formula 1’s circuits, with tarmac run-off in abundance around the circuit and only the tricky downhill braking zone of Turn Ten providing much in the way of challenge.
But with its long straights, heavy braking areas and wide medium-speed turns, the Sakhir circuit is more than capable of producing wheel-to-wheel action – even if DRS is a contributing factor more often than not.
The invariably hot, dry conditions in Bahrain mean there is a higher chance of seeing Caterham make a surprise return to the grid than the teams needing to use wet tyres this weekend. Dry tyre wear is above average in Sakhir, but this season Pirelli have opted for the Soft and Medium compounds as in Shanghai, which could change the strategy dynamic of this year’s race.
Like last season, this year’s race will also be a floodlit affair as the race will begin at 6pm local time, making it the first time this season that fans will get to see the 2015 cars in action under lights.
Bahrain Grand Prix team-by-team preview
Back to their dominant ways in China after being beaten in Malaysia, Mercedes are again favourites this weekend. The tension between Hamilton and Rosberg is beginning to simmer after Rosberg’s post race comments in China, but Hamilton has every reason to feel confident after beating his team mate in each of the opening three rounds.
Bahrain was, of course, scene of the two rivals’ most memorable on-track battle of last season with Rosberg unable to pass Hamilton despite his best efforts.
Another frustrating weekend in China included yet another engine related retirement with Daniil Kvyat forced out early but both Red Bulls struggled for pace all weekend.
With the Bahrain circuit sharing similar characteristics to China, it’s difficult to see fortunes changing dramatically for the team this weekend. However, Sakhir has been a track where Daniel Ricciardo has impressed at before and the Australian could use his aggressive driving style to good effect again this weekend.
Williams have been caught in race-pace limbo in the previous two races – too fast to be troubled by the likes of Lotus, Red Bull or Sauber but not fast enough to run with Mercedes or Ferrari out front and expectations are likely to be similar for the team this weekend.
Felipe Massa’s long time engineer Rob Smedley believes the Brazilian is driving as well as he ever has this season and that bodes well for Massa on a track where he has enjoyed success with two victories and a pole position to his name.
Despite running close to the Mercedes in the first two stints in China, the ability of Mercedes to pull away from Ferrari in the final third of the race showed that a win was never really on for the Scuderia in China.
With Ferrari favourites to occupy the third step on the podium in the event of another Mercedes one-two in Bahrain, the question becomes which of the team’s world champion drivers it will be. Raikkonen was denied a chance to challenge Vettel in China after the late Safety Car, but the Finn is hungry for his first podium since Korea 2013 and there’s every chance we could see a battle between the two Prancing Horses on Sunday.
McLaren continue to make progress with every race weekend but there is still a long way to go until the MP4-30 is truly competitive. Getting two cars to the finish in China without any mechanical problems will have been an important achievement for the new McLaren-Honda partnership.
With McLaren now able to concentrate more on improving performance, the first target will likely be to make it through the first session of qualifying. This goal will be made easier to achieve this weekend as Honda begin to ramp up the performance of their new power unit for the first time.
Force India headed to China with modest expectations and left with mixed feelings. Nico Hulkenberg was forced into retirement early with a drive train problem, while Sergio Perez just missed out on a point in 11th place.
Last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix was a memorable race for the team, with Perez fighting his way to a surprise podium. It’s unlikely that we’ll see a similar result this weekend and the Silverstone team will likely leave Sakhir satisfied with a points finish.
Toro Rosso will have been disappointed to have left China without any points after showing decent race pace. Max Verstappen’s impressive drive deserved to be rewarded by points, but mechanical problems ended his race and also temporarily halted Carlos Sainz Jr.
The team will likely be looking forward to Bahrain as it has proven to be a strong circuit for Toro Rosso in recent seasons. Sainz has prior racing experience in Bahrain from GP3, but Verstappen has only ever driven the kart circuit here, never the Grand Prix track.
Relief will have been the overriding emotion for Lotus after China with Romain Grosjean scoring his first points for 11 months and the team’s first points of the season after a difficult start to the year.
Even with Pastor Maldonado’s mishaps, the E23 appears to be the fourth-fastest package this season behind Williams. With Romain Grosjean’s strong record around the Bahrain circuit, another points finish will be the goal for the team on Sunday.
For the second successive weekend, Jolyon Palmer will perform First Practice duties in place of Romain Grosjean.
With Mercedes, Ferrari and Williams locking up the front of the field, Sauber are locked in a tight battle for the minor points places with Lotus, Toro Rosso, Red Bull and Force India.
After a solid weekend resulted in both cars again in the points, Sauber are hoping to add to their tally in Bahrain with a batch of aerodynamic upgrades.
Manor achieved their goal of seeing both cars finish in China. With that, the team can finally focus on bridging the gap to the rest of the field.
Although the team’s claims that the car is improving on a session-by-session basis is likely true, Manor will act as backmarkers again this weekend as they seek to close down a three second deficit to the rest.
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