Sakhir GP: New track layout, new drivers - the big preview as F1 takes giant step into the unknown
George Russell making Mercedes debut as F1 2020 takes on another challenge with Bahrain's 'Outer' track layout; Fastest lap times in F1 history predicted; Whole weekend live on Sky Sports F1 - watch the race at 5.10pm on Sunday
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 07/12/20 12:09am
After a remarkable week in Formula 1, the sport takes a big step into the unknown this weekend with the Sakhir GP - as a reshuffled grid of drivers take on Bahrain's super-fast 'Outer' track, with sub-minute laps, and plenty of excitement, predicted.
New driver line-ups, a new circuit layout - it's set to be one of F1 2020's most thrilling challenges at the end of a dramatic season. And all the action - including the Formula 2 title finale - will be live only on Sky Sports F1.
- The race takes place on Sunday at 5.10pm, with build-up from 3.30pm
The big news heading into the weekend
Lewis Hamilton, after testing positive for Covid-19 following his Bahrain GP win last weekend, and Romain Grosjean, receiving treatment for minor burns after his death-defying crash in that race, will both be absent - which in turn has handed three drivers big opportunities.
George Russell is swapping his Williams for a championship-winning Mercedes car to take Hamilton's place, with F1 debutant Jack Aitken stepping in at the Grove team, while Pietro Fittipaldi - grandson of two-time champion Emerson - will also make his bow in the sport with Haas.
They will all be taking on F1's newest, fastest, test for the penultimate race of a season of change...
The Sakhir 'oval' guide: F1 records set to be smashed
Following back-to-backs in Austria (Austrian GP, Styrian GP), and Silverstone (British GP, 70th Anniversary GP), Bahrain is the latest to have two races at the same venue. Except, it's not the same track...
The Sakhir circuit - which hosted last Sunday's incident-packed Grand Prix - has been transformed to feature fewer corners, and produce much faster laps. In fact, the fastest laps in F1's history are expected.
The 'Outer' track features just 11 corners in all, and with around 74 per cent of the lap at full throttle, it has been predicted that times in qualifying will be around the 55-second mark. That would break a 46-year F1 record if that were to be the case, as there is only one track which has had sub-minute laps in the past, Dijon - the former home of the French GP.
The oval-shaped layout, which has never been used for any international race, follows the same route as last weekend until Turn Four, when there is a mini twisty middle sector before it rejoins the Bahrain GP circuit, for the final two turns and two long straights.
As well as quick qualifying laps, it's set to be chaos on Sunday, too, with plenty of overtaking possible during the 87-lap - the highest on the F1 calendar - race.
Drivers verdict on exciting new F1 challenge
Max Verstappen, Red Bull: "With such a short track it will be difficult to get a clear lap in qualifying, especially with it being about a 54-second lap. I think everyone on track is going to be within 150 metres! I think blue flags and backmarkers will be interesting but lap times should be a bit closer so I don't expect the gaps to be as big"
Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari: "It will have a very different feel. We will need to run with lower downforce to match the high-speed nature of the circuit, but with the same tyre selection as last weekend it will be a challenge to find the right set-up. Of course, many of the corners will be familiar to us but with such a short lap, traffic will be an issue and the sessions will feel hectic. Qualifying is likely to be much closer and who knows, maybe a new track will bring some surprises on Sunday."
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari: "I think that on a track like this the difference between the cars, especially those in the midfield, will be minimal and every thousandth could make a difference."
Lando Norris, McLaren: "The outer circuit is definitely going to be different to what we're used to in F1 which is exciting. It could be quite a crazy race with not so many corners, several long straights and lap-times of less than a minute."
Carlos Sainz, McLaren: "The outer circuit in Bahrain is not your typical F1 track. We never really race on circuits with mainly long straights and only a few corners. It's going to be interesting to see how this plays out in F1 cars as I'd expect there to be consistent flat-out racing."
Daniel Ricciardo, Renault: "The expected lap times of under a minute will be the shortest we've all ever done in Formula 1, so that'll be interesting to see how everyone finds it. What it does do is make qualifying extra challenging, because it'll force the field to bunch up on the out lap. Ultimately, it will all be about putting together the perfect lap and one small mistake will make up for half a dozen places, so there will be no room for errors."
What's left to play for - including F2 title finale
The F1 2020 titles may have been wrapped up, but new drivers - particularly Russell in the Mercedes - certainly spices up the penultimate weekend of the season, while there are also very tight battles for third in the constructors' standings and fourth in the drivers' to look out for.
A great Bahrain GP - coupled with Racing Point's double DNF - has done wonders for McLaren's hopes of clinching third as they are now 17 points clear, with Renault a further 10 points back. Daniel Ricciardo holds fourth in the Drivers' Championship, although only two points ahead of Sergio Perez and four ahead of Charles Leclerc.
There is also the small matter of an F2 title climax this weekend.
Mick Schumacher, now confirmed at Haas for 2021, leads Callum Ilott by 14 points heading into the final round, where a maximum of 48 points can be collected through qualifying, two races and fastest laps.
Nikita Mazepin, Schumacher's F1 team-mate next year, and Robert Shwartzman are also mathematically in contention but, more than 40 points adrift, would need an incredible amount of luck to usurp the two ahead.
Check out the full schedule below...
When's the Sakhir GP on Sky Sports F1 this weekend?
12.05pm: F2 Race Two LIVE!
3.30pm: Grand Prix Sunday LIVE!
5.10pm: THE SAKHIR GRAND PRIX LIVE!
7pm: Chequered Flag LIVE!
8pm: The Notebook LIVE!
9pm: Sakhir GP highlights
12.35am (Monday): Sakhir GP race replay
How to watch F1 with Sky Sports
Whether watching on the big or small screen, Sky Sports F1 has you covered.
In addition to the coverage of every track session from each weekend on our TV channel, subscribers can also watch live coverage and in-race clips on the Sky Sports App.
The App features Race Control - giving you access to on-board driver feeds, a mix feed, driver tracker and live timings. Race Control is also available via the Red Button on Sky Q and HD boxes.
Sky Q is also the home of advanced features, including an interactive track map, plus the latest video clips of action, features and interviews.