Carlos Sainz Jnr, McLaren, Bahrain International Circuit, 2019

Alfa Romeo and McLaren make biggest gains in Bahrain

Lap time watch: 2019 Bahrain Grand Prix

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The addition of a third DRS zone at the Bahrain International Circuit should have helped significantly reduce lap times around the track this year.

However that change, plus the year-on-year lap time gains made by the teams, were more than cancelled out by the more conservative tyre selection which has been brought to this year’s race.

In 2018 drivers qualified on the super-soft tyre. That compound has no equivalent in Pirelli’s re-labelled 2019 range and the softest tyre available this weekend, the C3, is equivalent to a 2018 soft.

Nonetheless, Charles Leclerc was able to knock almost a tenth of a second off the track record for this circuit with his pole position lap. The current iteration of the Bahrain track was first used in 2005, and today’s machines are now lapping around 1.6 seconds faster than then:

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Three teams have made much more significant year-on-year improvements than the rest. Alfa Romeo have made by far the greatest progress in 12 months. McLaren have made impressive gains too, and got both cars into Q3 today.

So did Haas, who have drawn slightly clear of the midfield pack and, at this track at least, are snapping at Red Bull’s heels. Kevin Magnussen missed out on beating Max Verstappen to fifth place by just five-thousandths of a second.

Heading into the race weekend Magnussen admitted he was surprised the midfield has closed the gap to the ‘big three’ teams.

“I don’t know why that is but it is true that we are slightly closer to the top guys, the top teams. The whole midfield is very close and the whole midfield is much closer to the top.

“That’s interesting and hopefully over the rest of the season we can keep it up and catch up. It’s normally not the way that it works but we’ll see.”

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2019 Bahrain Grand Prix

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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9 comments on “Alfa Romeo and McLaren make biggest gains in Bahrain”

  1. Leclerc was also the only driver to beat last season’s pole time.

    ”The addition of a third DRS zone at the Bahrain International Circuit should have helped significantly reduce lap times around the track this year.”
    – Why should it have? How’s that? It’s just one short-ish straight after all. The track is more than 5 kilometers long, so it’s just one short stretch of it. I doubt the addition of a third DRS zone realistically can make a difference over that long of a track. It didn’t really have an impact even in Austria or Canada despite the venues of them being one of the shortest of F1.

    ”The current iteration of the Bahrain track was first used in 2005”
    – Yes, but the lap times can still realistically be compared all the way to the inaugural 2004 weekend (bar 2010, of course), due to how meaningless the slight change of camber to T4 (T3 in my books) from ’04 to the following season was, and therefore, I still consider the fastest 2004 race lap as the official lap record.

    1. 3rd DRS zone was likely worth in the region of 2 tenths. Quickest 1st sector this year was Leclerc with a 27.762 compared to last year which was Vettel with a 27.989. Compare that to the middle sector where this year they were slower, 38.065 compared to 37.859, and the 3rd sector where it was pretty even over the 2 events, 22.036 this year compared to 22.053 last year shows that the additional DRS zone probably did actually give a healthy lap-time benefit.

      1. Even if the drs zone is only short it’s still going to reduce lap times – the length of the track has no bearing on that section except to make the time gain a smaller percentage.

        Regarding the lap record (which I’ve always thought should be in any session) it’s not the best comparison without refuelling but based on qualifying times either the cars or track are much faster than 2004.

        1. @Ryan @glynh If it was that simple then, in theory, the (qualifying) lap times should’ve got slower from 2012 to 2013 due to the usage of DRS getting restricted from being effectively entirely free to only the designated activation zones for all sessions, but in the end, they didn’t, in fact, the lap times, in general, were faster in ’13 than they were in the previous season, and even faster than 2011 on a number of circuits, so it isn’t that straightforward to judge that a third DRS activation zone, as opposed to two, definitely would have a direct impact on the overall lap time.

          1. @jerejj That’s because the cars got faster overall to counter the drs. Regardless of the length of the drs section upping the speed of the car for any amount of time is going to reduce lap times.

            To put it simply; if your journey to work every day takes 5minutes and one day they the speed limit through a little village is changed from 30 to 40mph it’s going to make the overall journey/lap quicker no matter how short that limit is. It might only be 1 second, or 0.2 in the case of Bahrain, but the gain will be there.

        2. @glynh Yes, but then there’s also the thing about drag to take into account. The current cars are supposed to be more draggy down the straights than their predecessors meaning that the top-end straight line speed of a 2019 car with DRS activated could very well be similar to that of a 2018 car without DRS being activated, thus mitigating the effect of the usage of DRS on one extra straight. The only way to accurately judge and come to definite conclusions on whether the third activation zone, in reality, had a direct impact on the overall lap time or not would be to get access to the telemetry data of both this year’s and last season’s pole laps. It’s a bit similar case with, for example, Nico Rosberg’s pole lap in Hungary in 2016 during which he encountered double-waved yellows and yet still managed to improve on the overall lap time despite slowing down significantly for them. Even though he lost speed and time through that section of track, as opposed, to driving it at full racing speed all the way through he still managed to improve thanks to the ever-improving track conditions, as well as, how little time he had to spend under the yellows as they were just about the be lifted by the time he reached that part of the circuit. Without access to the telemetry data, it’s more or less impossible to ‘definitely’ say that Leclerc’s lap was faster than Vettel’s pole lap last season ‘solely’ due to the usage of DRS on the second straight.

  2. Honestly, I’m really happy for Mclaren. I expected them to start the season at the bottom of the midfield, and be only quicker than the Williams initially. They’ve definitely shown that they have some pace in that car, and can be battling at the top of the midfield. To finish less than a tenth behind the quickest Red bull is incredible for them. Really hope that they make some giant leaps during the season. Would be great for them to battle against Haas and Renault for best of the rest.

  3. How was Red Bull the slowest of them all?

  4. So much for Red Bull ‘almost keeping pace’ … Close to last in terms of year-on-year lap time improvement in Melbourne, dead last now (even worse than Williams, go figure).
    Why am I not surprised that this development isn’t mentioned at all in the article?

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