Bahrain GP: Preview & five predictions for Sakhir

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After Mercedes' unexpectedly dominated in Australia, plenty of questions remain ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix.

 Are the defending world champions as far ahead as their pace suggests? Will Valtteri Bottas' victory over Lewis Hamilton be more than a one-off?

Was Ferrari's lack of pace in the season opener a true reflection of their potential? And can Red Bull challenge consistently for podiums and better?

Expectations are that the gap between Mercedes and Ferrari will be smaller in Bahrain.

That's because firstly, the Italian team is confident that the weaknesses have been fixed and secondly, this has been a strong venue for them with Sebastian Vettel winning the past two years,

The characteristics of Bahrain suit Ferrari too, with warmer temperatures and a layout which puts great stress on the rear tyres, an area where Mercedes traditionally struggle.

If anything, however, Red Bull is better still at looking after the Pirellis and with more power from Honda, they could be dark horses this weekend.

About the race

2019 sees a milestone for the Bahrain GP, marking 15 years since it became the first F1 race in the Middle East in 2004.

Though there have been some controversies, notably when it was cancelled in 2011 during the Arab Spring, generally, the races have always been very entertaining.

Michael Schumacher dominated the inaugural year, but that would be his only win at this race with Fernando Alonso famously beating him to victory in 2006.

The Spaniard scored another notable triumph in 2010 on his Ferrari debut, which was also the only time the 'endurance' layout of the Sakhir circuit has been used.

Since 2014, the intense heat of the day was replaced with the ambience of the night to commemorate the 10th anniversary.

That year also saw the best Bahrain GP of all time, with Lewis Hamilton beating teammate Nico Rosberg in what became known as the 'duel in the desert'.

Last season, Vettel held off a charging Valtteri Bottas late on to claim his fourth win at this race, as a botched pit-stop for Kimi Raikkonen had resulted in a double-leg break for a Ferrari mechanic.

The circuit

Image result for Bahrain circuit layout

Sakhir is characterised by three long outer straight and technical middle sector which call for a balance between top speed and downforce.

Turns 1 and 4 are prime overtaking opportunities and this year there will be a third DRS zone on the run between Turns 3 and 4, in addition to main straight and the run to Turn 11.

Another key section is the unique Turns 9 and 10 as a curved braking zone makes locking up very easy into the tight hairpin, and can be particularly difficult when the desert wind blows.

The number of slow corners combined with an abrasive track surface also make Bahrain a tyre-hungry circuit with Pirelli bringing their three hardest compounds, the C1, C2 and C3.

Predictions

1. Max Verstappen to claim a surprise win

A bold choice but there is a strong argument why Verstappen and Red Bull can get the job done this weekend.

Mercedes and Ferrari may well have an advantage over a single lap, but in race trim, as Australia showed, the Honda engine is more than a match for their rivals.

This means Red Bull's main weakness in Bahrain should be resolved, allowing their strength in slow speed corners and in tyre conservation to keep them in contention.

Add in Verstappen's overtaking prowess and even starting on the third row would allow the Dutchman to challenge for the win.

2. Charles Leclerc to claim a podium

It was a pretty underwhelming first race for Leclerc at Ferrari in Melbourne, but the signs were certainly there of his potential this season.

Now, the Monegasque heads to a circuit on which he has more experience and good memories from F2 in 2017, when he famously stormed through the field to claim victory in the sprint race.

This should allow him to push teammate Sebastian Vettel harder and challenge for his first podium... if Ferrari has the pace.

3. Haas to remain 'best of the rest'

As expected, the midfield battle proved very tough to call in Australia, but Haas' place as the fourth best team was a clear conclusion.

And there's little reason to expect any different in Bahrain, with Renault the only team seemingly capable of challenging that position.

Of course, there is Haas' unwanted knack of making critical errors, but if that can be avoided then seventh and eighth at least, should be highly possible.

4. Norris to score points

The scale of Lando Norris' achievements in Australia seemed to go underestimated, as the Briton made Q3 on debut for McLaren at one of the trickiest circuits on the calendar.

Only a Giovinazzi roadblock cost him points in the race, but on a circuit where he has much greater experience and overtaking is easier, points should be much more possible.

5. Alfa Romeo not to score points

The former Sauber team made a solid start to the season, with Kimi Raikkonen his ever-consistent self, but it was quite an anonymous weekend based on expectations.

It's not to say they are slow because they are not, but in such a competitive midfield there are enough good drivers to drop them down the field and that could be the case in Bahrain.

Racing Point and Toro Rosso are two teams that can potentially achieve that, with both getting one driver into the top 10 in Australia.

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