Sky Sports F1's Anthony Davidson takes us on a lap of Bahrain
Plus: A video review of Sebastian Vettel's 2012 pole lap
Last Updated: 17/04/13 11:07am
A lap of Bahrain begins along the long start-finish straight which includes a very unusual feature of great interest to an F1 driver. Just before Turn One on the inside of the track is a tower hoisting a humongous flag - there's no other word for it - which functions as a vital information tool because a driver can use it to check the wind direction and determine his braking distance accordingly.
If a driver can see that the wind is blowing towards him then he will know that he will have much higher stopping power going into Turn One, whereas if there is a tailwind then he'll know that braking is going to be tricky, rear-locking could be a problem and he must brake a lot earlier than normal.
F1 cars are severely affected by wind direction to the extent that 25 to 30kms can be won and lost depending on its direction and so, with such a long braking distance from around 185mph down to first gear for the apex of Turn One, knowing its direction is all important at Bahrain. Anything up to two-tenths of a second can be gained or lost at the first corner - making it a key section of the lap even so early on. It's vital to get it right.
Turn One is also a very realistic overtaking opportunity and one that is quite hard to defend as well. At the start of the race, it can be particularly tricky and tight and into Turn Two the car can feel quite loose, so reducing speed on exit of One and keeping a tight line for Two is very important. As a rule of thumb, the wider you run around One, the less chance you have of keeping it flat around Two - and Two is the more important corner to get right because it leads on to a long straight.
Through the Turn Three kink, the straight climbs uphill, with the cars reaching seventh gear before braking quite late into Turn Four. This corner is definitely an overtaking opportunity, particularly at the start of a race and it's not until after Turn Four on the first lap that the order of the race will start to settle down. There tends to be a lot of action around here with cars able to make a move both around the outside and the inside because it's quite a wide corner - which in turn makes judging your line pretty difficult. There's an off-camber section as well, which makes the rear-end quite light and you can easily lose traction out of this corner. It can be a frustrating corner but it's one which is vital to get right, especially in qualifying.
The track then runs down towards Turn Five. It's important to keep the car as straight as possible here under a small dab of the brakes before Turn Six, which has a momentarily blind crest as the track goes slightly up the hill and then down again - but just enough to make it a little tricky. Turn Six is a fantastic corner and one where a driver really feels the g-forces with a minimum speed of around 140mph.
It's another important corner from a racing sense as well because the Turn Eight hairpin at the bottom of the hill is another overtaking opportunity. However, the problem a driver faces is that if he carries too much speed out of Six, he will then have to back out of it around Turn Seven, resulting in a slower exit down the hill towards Eight and leaving him vulnerable to any car close behind. The thing about Six, though, is that it naturally goads you into trying to be brave, but if you don't restrain yourself then you will quickly run into trouble on the exit and around Seven. This is a really technical part of the track and one which demands a lot of thought.
For the rundown to Eight, the car is brought back to the left-hand side and a driver will then try to brake in as straight a line as possible having just turned left out of Seven. It's a corner which asks a lot of the tyres and the brakes because the car will be quite unstable here and it's not unusual to see a car losing its rear end as it turns in.
The circuit now climbs quite steeply uphill towards Turn Nine. Bringing the car back to the right-hand side, a driver will treat Nine and Ten as a single corner, entering Nine at high speed in sixth gear and guarding the brake pedal on the approach. He'll then progressively press the brakes harder and harder, all the time shifting down the gears, until past the apex.
Turn Ten suddenly tightens and it is very easy to lock the left front in a corner that is all about feel and instinct because there are no brake-marker boards here. If, however, the rears are locked up at any stage through this most complex of corners, then a car will inevitably run out of road and on to the kerbs. There's nothing very close to the track so the worse-case scenario is a spin, but this is the part of the lap where a mistake is most likely to occur - especially in Friday practice when we see drivers learning the limits.
After Nine and Ten - which I'd say are the hardest corners on the track - the first thing a driver must do is be careful not to dip his tyres on to the kerb on exit and lose traction. The straight that follows is fairly long and climbs uphill in seventh gear and into another good corner.
Although Turn Eleven isn't a heavy braking zone, it's is a corner which starts off tight but then opens up on exit as it climbs steeply uphill, so focusing on improving your minimum speed is a really important element of this section. The trick is to let the car run all the way out to the exit kerb - but not on to the kerb else the car might break away - and then get it back on to the left-hand side for the approach into Twelve.
Turn Twelve is another great corner, taken in sixth gear and about 165mph. All the time, a driver will be building up speed and trying not to run out on to the exit kerb - it's a rough ride if you do!
On some occasions, you can just grab seventh gear before braking down into Turn Thirteen, the penultimate corner of the lap. This is a corner which a driver will want to open up as much as possible and the exit is particularly important because another straight immediately follows on.
Along the straight, the track falls downhill to Turn Fourteen, which has quite a straightforward braking zone with a 100-metre board, and will be taken in either second or third gear- in a race, it will probably be second, but in qualifying it might be third.
It's a tricky corner to get right because on the approach it looks like a narrow, ninety-degree bend, but on the exit it opens out, making it very tempting to get on the power early. However, after the tack begins to open out, there's a final kink to the corner, making it very easy to run out of road - which is why we see a lot of cars running wide here and onto the asphalt.
As a corner, Turn Fifteen is a tempter because you feel as if the natural flow of the circuit is for it to open up but it pinches at the last minute and, although you can take it at full throttle, any car on the wrong line will be punished and pulled off the circuit. A driver must be wary here.
Assuming a mistake isn't made, we're then on to the start-finish straight and the completion of another lap.