Bahrain GP: 'A One Thousand and One Nights atmosphere'

From the cold of a Shanghai spring to the searing heat of the Middle East, Formula 1 is in Bahrain this week for the fourth race of the season.

Sakhir circuit

  • First grand prix: 2004
  • Circuit distance: 5.412km
  • Laps: 57
  • Lap record: 1:30.252secs (M Schumacher, 2004)

All the build-up has once again been against a backdrop of political turmoil in the Gulf state, but the teams' and drivers' focus will be on what happens on the circuit.

Last year, the first seven races had seven different winners. With three different drivers having stood at the top of the podium so far in 2013, could we be in for a similarly unpredictable start to the season?

The track

Bahrain facts you might not know

  • There will be a taste of home for the four British drivers on the Sakhir circuit, with the track made of crushed rock from a quarry in Shropshire.
  • Building a circuit in the middle of the desert brings with it the inherent problem of sand being blown all over the place - including on the circuit. To counter, organisers spray glue on the sand around the track.

The Sakhir circuit, designed by renowned F1 architect Herman Tilke, is a medium speed track dominated by long straights and tight corners, making braking skill important.

The sharp right-hander at Turn 14 is a particularly tough test as failing to get a good exit makes it easy for a chasing driver to take advantage and overtake on the long straight towards the start/finish line.

The track itself is relatively smooth, although changeable wind and the surrounding desert means sand and dirt can often be blasted on to the track surface, making it slippery to drive on.

The venue

Mark Webber: 200 not out

Red Bull driver Mark Webber is set to reach a significant personal landmark in Bahrain - the race will be the 200th grand prix of his career.

Surrounded by sand and located around 30km south of Manama, the capital city, the Sakhir circuit is something of an oasis in miles and miles of featureless desert.

With the circuit in existence for less than 10 years, drivers and team personnel have come to appreciate the modern facilities and friendly paddock atmosphere. It is not, however, one for celeb spotting, with few famous faces willing to trek into the middle of the desert.

What the drivers say

Analysis

"A true world championship needs a good race in the Middle East. But Bahrain, the sport's trailblazer in the region, is not it.

"The track was built with no expense spared on an empty stretch of desert. And yet it does not really work.

"Bahrain just does not produce interesting grands prix, although last year's edition was the exception to the rule with battles between Vettel and Raikkonen, Rosberg and Hamilton and Alonso and Rosberg bringing the race to life.

"A succession of long straights and slow corners should produce good racing and plenty of overtaking, but somehow it rarely has.

"And the one good corner - Turn 12 - is so well hidden most people don't even know it's there. David Coulthard describes it as "a fast, uphill right-hander where you're really hanging on".

"Add in the troubled political situation in the country and, for many, it is a race to be endured rather than enjoyed."

Lotus's Romain Grosjean: "I have good memories after a strong race there last year. Our car worked well and we seemed to like the heat so it's a race I'm looking forward to. [Bahrain is] a track I knew from before Formula 1 and it has characteristics that I like in a circuit: some big braking into certain corners, some good change of direction with the double-left in the middle of the race track, and it all flows quite nicely."

Mercedes's Lewis Hamilton: "The Bahrain circuit is a real challenge, particularly for the tyres with overheating and also the sand on the track, but this helps to make it unique. The layout has a great combination of fast, slow and medium corners, which make it tough for the drivers and the car, so it will be a true test for us. I can't wait to get back in the car and see what we can do."

Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel: "The corners can fool you and lead to errors because the track is very wide and quite often the apex of the corner is not obvious. For example, the apex of Turn 14 is hidden as you approach it."

Sauber's Nico Hulkenberg: "I'm looking forward to the race. In 2010 I drove my first Formula 1 Grand Prix there. I like the track, and there is always a 'One Thousand and One Nights' atmosphere in the paddock."

McLaren's Jenson Button: "The Sakhir circuit is a place where the grip levels can be quite hard to anticipate, and where the wind direction can play quite an important part in determining the car's balance. The wind can affect top speed and cornering performance, so practice will be more important than ever in enabling us to take the best overall package into qualifying and the race."

A classic Bahrain GP

Fernando Alonso fends off the challenge of Michael Schumacher

Classic F1 - Bahrain Grand Prix 2006

The 2006 Bahrain Grand Prix was memorable for two reasons.

One was the superbly executed race by then reigning world champion Fernando Alonso, who took victory, and the other was Kimi Raikkonen's incredible drive, rising 19 places to claim the last podium place.

The race was set up for the battle between the sport's greatest driver, Michael Schumacher, and the man who seemed poised to inherit his mantle, Alonso. It did not disappoint.

Qualifying fourth, Alonso quickly moved up to second in his Renault on the first lap but pole sitter Michael Schumacher had gradually started to pull away.

However, the race-winning moment for Alonso came at the second set of pit stops when the Spaniard came out of the pit lane side by side with Schumacher. Alonso kept up the pace with Schumacher before making his move, pulling ahead of the former world champion and holding on to secure victory.

Bahrain Grand Prix, day one

  • Friday, 19 April: First practice: 08:00 BST, live text and audio commentary online. Second practice: 12:30 BST, 11:55 BST on 5 live sports extra, live text commentary online

Bahrain Grand Prix, day two

  • Saturday, 20 April: Final practice: 09:00 BST, live text and audio commentary online. Qualifying: 12:00 BST, 11:55 BST on 5 live sports extra and live text commentary online. Qualifying highlights: 17:30 BST, BBC One

Bahrain Grand Prix, day three

  • Sunday, 21 April: Race: 13:00 BST, on 5 live and live text commentary online. Race highlights: 17:00 BST, BBC One