Bahrain Outer Circuit

An F1 race on Bahrain’s “almost oval” Outer Circuit is a smart idea

2020 F1 season

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I was beginning to get a bit worried about some of Ross Brawn’s plans for Formula 1.

Not his goal of completely overhauling F1 car aerodynamics to allow drivers to race each other closely. F1 badly needs this, and it’s a pity the rules intended to bring about the change had to be postponed by a year to 2022 because of the pandemic.

But some of the ideas Brawn has pushed since then have been poor at best. Like the bonus point for fastest lap.

Introduced last year to much fanfare, predictably enough it’s made little appreciable difference to the racing. And it will continue to do so, until one day it spoils a title-deciding race, and then everyone will wonder why F1 introduced such an unnecessary rule in the first place.

Lately Brawn has advocated reverse-grid qualifying races. This is a gimmick if ever I saw one, and both the readers of RaceFans and many top drivers are likewise deeply sceptical of the plan.

Bahrain’s slow ‘endurance’ extension was a flop in 2010
But yesterday he hinted at an idea which I think is a smart one. Faced with the possibility of holding two races on the Bahrain International Circuit this year, Brawn proposed using an alternative layout for the second event.

This is an idea discussed here previously. But Bahrain’s layout is uniquely well-suited to offering multiple configurations. It has five different configurations which hold the necessary FIA grade one licence in order to hold F1 races. However one, the ‘Oasis Circuit’, is too short to meet the minimum 3.5-kilometre length for F1 circuits stipulated by the International Sporting Code.

F1 has used another Bahrain track layout before, with poor results. In 2010, having expanded the grid from 20 to 24 cars, F1 decided it needed to use Bahrain’s longest circuit.

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That year’s race was held on the Endurance track, a whisker under 6.3 kilometres, with most of the extra distance coming from short, tight corners. The race was incredibly tedious, and F1 sensibly never repeated the experiment.

However Brawn dropped a hint that if F1 were to use a different circuit this time it would be “a nice sort of almost oval track that would be quite exciting”. This looks like the Outer Circuit, which at 3.543km would be just long enough to qualify as a potential F1 destination (Monaco, incidentally, is only 3.34km, but gets a dispensation).

Kevin Magnussen, Haas, Monza, 2019
Could Bahrain’s outer track be even faster than Monza?
Using the Outer Circuit is an idea RaceFans readers enthusiastically approved when we polled about it a few years ago. Consider what an F1 race on it might look like and it’s not hard to see why the idea was so popular.

As is clear from the layout, this would be a very fast lap, potentially on a par with Monza. The Italian circuit has held the record for Formula 1’s highest average lap speed for years – perhaps Bahrain’s Outer Circuit could topple it?

The race would have the highest lap count of any on the current calendar – 87 laps would be needed to hit the minimum race distance of 305 kilometres.

Would these changes make for a great race or a bad race? That’s not the point. The point is it would make for a different race. Different from the other race held a week earlier at the same track, and different from F1’s other races generally held on much slower circuits.

Experimenting with an oddball track layout is a good idea to begin with. Compared to some of the other alternatives mooted – such as the terrible reverse-grid qualifying race scheme or a second grand prix at Sochi, a track which has consistently produced processional events – it is vastly preferable. And, who knows, it may even turn out to be an improvement over Bahrain’s usual course.

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2020 F1 season

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Bahrain International Circuit, 2019
Bahrain International Circuit’s current track layout

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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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48 comments on “An F1 race on Bahrain’s “almost oval” Outer Circuit is a smart idea”

  1. Long straights with very few twisty bits like Austrian GP, should be very interesting.

  2. They call that allmost oval looks to me more like Monza!

    1. the old one!

  3. I thought the minimum lap-length requirement for F1 circuits stipulated by the International Sporting Code was 4 km, and Monaco’s lap-length is 3.337 km to be precise.
    Concerning this Outer Circuit-layout option: That section of track-road doesn’t seem to have floodlighting-poles aimed at it, but there should still be enough light hitting that section from the existing poles. At least based on these images:

    1. Or do it by day instead of by night

    2. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
      12th June 2020, 8:17

      @jerejj could have a day race. It does have grade 1 status.

      1. @paeschli @asleepatthewheel
        I’d rather have both under artificial lighting. One starting at 17:10 and one at 16:10 to make it a transitional-race like the Abu Dhabi GP starting around half an hour before the sunset.

  4. AJ (@asleepatthewheel)
    12th June 2020, 7:57

    If this goes ahead, expect Q3 to be a repeat of last year’s Monza shenanigans.

  5. Looks like an old-school 60s-70s F1 track. Could work very well!

  6. I’m all for using alternative layouts for the second Bahrain race. Forces teams to use different setups and take a different approach during the weekend. This track would be mega fast too.

    To be honest, I would’ve done the same with Austria and Silverstone, even if the alternative layouts are too short. It would have been fun to see a race in tracks so small. Nevertheless, this is a no brainer given these alternative layouts in Bahrain are already Grade 1.
    And for the sake of every F1 fan, Don you dare to race twice in Sochi at the expense of an inaugural F1 Mugello event

    1. Bahrain is one of the two circuits on the calendar that you can actually stage two (or more) GPs and change the parameters so as not to be the same, the standard circuit at night with standard tyre wear and typical set up and the outer circuit on day with different tyre wear and Monza/old Hockenheim style set up.
      The only other cicruit we can actually change stuff is Paul Ricard…so we ignore the last fact and as we can see only Bahrain can :P
      If only we could race in Silverstone’s old layout…

      And for the sake of every F1 fan, Don you dare to race twice in Sochi at the expense of an inaugural F1 Mugello event

      Hear, Hear!
      If they decide to race twice in Sochi, i would gladly let for once Ross Brawn to gimmick up the process and just stage 2 lotteries with the drivers names and just announce the winners and the podium without them needing to race there, to save us (and them) from racing in that eyesore of a circuit.
      If that doesn’t happen, just pray that this will be the last race in Sochi before they move next year to Igora Drive.

  7. When I saw the track layout it reminded me of the old Hockenheim circuit! I think it would be fantastic! Why not try it this year. This is the year to be Ambitious and see where it ends up.

    1. agree 100%
      now its the time to try new things. I like the idea of having different circuits of different lengths etc. They always say that Monaco is an exception but its one race that always stands out (same for Spa being the longest). Why not have more of these exceptions? ; short, long tracks, semi-ovals (or almost) etc.

      Why not try to have (slightly) different qualifying rules for particular races? (for example a long wide circuit could have the old 1 hour quali format, another short track could have timed single shot quali etc).

  8. I think the teams will shoot this one down. It takes a ton of time, money and effort to program the engines for each circuit to teach the computer the perfect electrical deployment maps so adding essentially a new circuit would mostly help the bigger teams. The same with aero parts and other setup work. I think pirelli might oppose as well as they may not have data for the different circuit and does not want to find itself in a situation where all teams are suddenly struggling because they made a bad guess.

    That being said it is more like a no-brainer than a smart idea. But they have technical issues to solve.

    1. I’m massively in favour of this. I’ve long been of the opinion that shorter laps are better for exciting races and this proposed layout removes some uninspiring slow corners while retaining the exciting passing places on the existing track. What’s not to like?

    2. There are just 5 or 6 new bends to add and a bunch to delete.

    3. It takes a ton of time, money and effort to program the engines for each circuit to teach the computer the perfect electrical deployment maps so adding essentially a new circuit would mostly help the bigger teams.

      Ha ha! This is just so stupid! If this is true then it shows a huge amount of bias and favouritism. Aren’t drivers supposed to drive their car unaided? Wasn’t it Renault that got Disqualified at a race last year because the Stewards deemed something in the car was assisting the drivers. Oh yes, that’s right, the brake bias. The car had something in it to automatically adjusted the brake bias for different corners. So now Renault drivers have to adjust the brake bias for each corner by hand. Okay, so you’re not allowed to have an automatic brake bias system … so how can you justify having an engine management system that needs to be programmed for a race track? One has to be consistent: the FIA should question any engine management systems that includes any reference to the race track being loaded into the memory or be included in the software. If this is true the FIA needs to clarify why they allow a driver to be assisted when the car is starting a race or accelerating out of a corner but not when the car is braking.

  9. Loved this idea when I read it. Thumbs up from me..!

  10. That configuration seem a bit too short, Brawn himself said the race would last for 84 laps, but if it can bring some unusual spectacle, sure, bring it on. But please, no DRS on this configuration. The slipstream should do enough of work and the race might be a bit less predictable without DRS, just remember last year’s Abu Dhabi. Having one or two DRS zones is just a pass ticket for the top 3.

    1. @pironitheprovocateur The top-three teams generally get past slower cars with or without DRS due to the significance of the pace-advantage over the rest.

      1. They had significant troubles doing that last year in Abu Dhabi. Verstappen could, after several tries, due to his natural ability; Bottas, on the other hand, wasn’t able to pass Hulkenberg until DRS had been allowed to be used again. This subtle difference between drivers is missing due to ridiculously easy passes.

  11. Would these changes make for a great race or a bad race? That’s not the point. The point is it would make for a different race.

    A to the M to the E to the N. Amen.

    One of the things that bother me the most about contemporary F1 is that the concept of “track variety” has been brutally murdered. 5.x km medium-speed tracks everywhere. I am the first to tell people who claim that past F1 was some sort of wonderland to take off the nostalgia glasses, but it’s also wrong to not acknowledge it when things were better. The rule demanding fixed gear ratios is only ever feasible in a series which has killed any challenge in terms of track selection. Ask an engineer from 1995 to use one gear ratio for every track and he’d go mental trying to get something to work that can provide sufficient acceleration at Okayama but not hit the rev limiter too soon at Hockenheim.

    A short high-speed venue like the Bahrain Outer Circuit is just what is needed to add some valueable spice and challenge and if it proves feasible if done this year, it should become the permanent layout. I personally am more than willing to accept a number of dull races a year if it means we get to see F1 machinery (which, I may remind you, is advertised as being the best of engineering) challenged in more varied environments.

    1. @klon I’m not really sure that you can claim that “The rule demanding fixed gear ratios is only ever feasible in a series which has killed any challenge in terms of track selection.” when we have circuits like Monaco, the Hungaroring or Singapore on the calendar that are relatively low speed circuits that place an emphasis on acceleration out of the corners, whilst having venues like Baku or Mexico where the drivers are on full throttle on straights for longer than at the old Hockenheimring and hitting higher end of straight speeds as well (with Monza also still a fixture on the calendar).

      Also, are “5.x km medium-speed tracks” quite as prevalent across the season as you suggest? If we look at the planned calendar for 2020, out of the 22 venues which were on the calendar, 8 of those venues were shorter than 5km and 2 are 6km or longer, leaving 12 tracks in that “5.xkm” bracket that you talk about (about 55%).

      Out of those venues, Silverstone, Suzuka and Monza are normally defined as high speed circuits and Singapore is defined as a low speed circuit. At most, the 2020 calendar could be argued to have 8 circuits that would have been defined as “5.x km medium-speed tracks”, or about 36% of the tracks on the calendar.

      As an aside, since you brought up the 1995 season, it could be noted that season also used a number of tracks of similar length. In 1995, the most common circuit configuration was a “4.xkm track”, to use your terminology, with 8 of the 17 venues (47%) of tracks that season falling into that bracket.

  12. I’m all for it. Otherwise it’s another ‘ Copy & Paste’ race like two races in Sochi would be. I dont know what having two races each in Austria and Silverstone will be like, they are both exciting circuits though. I’ll just be glad that F1 is back. .

    1. Sharaf Sharaf
      12th June 2020, 14:07

      I think it’s a cool idea : other options for staging 2 races at Bahrian are –
      1- One race during the day and other during the night ( temperature difference should be at least 8C)
      2- Different tire option from Pirelli.
      3-One race with DRS and the second without

      1. All good alternatives. YES for the no DRS race!

  13. tony mansell
    12th June 2020, 11:14

    Baffled about the fastest lap whinge, its no biggie and it gets some drivers stopping for tyres and going for a fast lap at the end when a lot of races have fizzled out. Saying it’ll ruin everything if this or that happens is an argument based on a supposition. Groundless. Anyway if someone loses because of a fastest lap battle, so be it. In the most contrived sport of them all, and a ‘formula’ series is always just that, amending the rules is part of the game.

    Too much time on your hands, too little action

    1. F1oSaurus (@)
      13th June 2020, 7:23

      It’s a bad rule.

  14. When I read the “almost oval” headline last night, I thought Brawn meant the short banked circuit around the paddock and thought he went a bit mad!

    This outer circuit looks like a fun idea, I hope they can implement it.

  15. Jockey Ewing
    12th June 2020, 12:08

    I’d like to see a race on it. It looks like some really oldschool gp circuits. That’s not bad imo, because it’s not full of medium speed turns, therefore the aero sensitive cars will struggle less, and they can use their huge power, so at least it will be fast and more honest.

  16. Aluc Tamsan
    12th June 2020, 12:25

    Personally I feel this circuit is much too short so would prefer to see both races on the standard circuit.

    1. Fair point, but a different configuration might favour a different driver style/setup. Two races on the same circuit layout will just reinforce any setup made in free practice for two races.

  17. They will have 3 decent braking points stops… But would that be enough for the ERS regen?

    Additionally since you just know they will put DRS on every straight I fear that would be way too much & just lead to a lot of DRS-ing rather than actual good racing. Given that if they were to run that layout they should probably look at doing it without DRS.

    1. Jockey Ewing
      12th June 2020, 15:39

      Yes at a short circuit maybe there will be a lot a of slipstream anyway, and i could imagine that too. Or maybe with only one DRS zone optimized to give the most chace for the slower cars to fight back if overtaken in the DRS zone, so maybe only one DRS zone between turn 3 and 4 on the Outer layout before the “esses section”?

  18. Simon White
    12th June 2020, 15:06

    I hope the Austrian race and Silverstone races have different number of laps to add variety since those races will use the same circuits layouts.

    1. @Simon White It’s most likely going to be the same 71 and 52 respectively, i.e., the minimum number of laps needed to reach at least 305 km on these two respective track-lengths.

  19. Since this place already looks like some Set for an upcoming StarWars movie why not create a spectacle for Grand Prix fans? Might call this race the Phantom Covid Menace or the Grand Prix of the Republic? Many names seem possible. The Vader500 or just the HanSolo GrandPrix. This race run around the perimeters could be a smart solution.
    May the course be with you

    If you doubt me just look at the topography around this place. It’s a SciFi fan landscape for sure.

    1. Sharaf Sharaf
      13th June 2020, 11:48

      totally agree ! it would be really cool and really catch the imagination of the fans

  20. Not gonna fall for Brawn’s small talk, but the prospect of having that 2nd race at that particular layout cheers me up. A World Championship should get as much as different track characteristics and layouts as possible. There is practically nothing like the Outer Circuit at present calendar. Maybe Spielberg. Even so, a power track at night would be something else entirely. I’d be really keen to see this.

    Which brings me to current double headers. I get that Westschleife isn’t possible, given the need for a heavy work. But why don’t they use Silverstone’s Farm Straight is beyond me. Since it will be a smaller operation and behind closed doors, they could even utilize the old pits. In the end I just feel they are always full of it when it comes to improve anything. It’s always easier to come with stupid gimmicks after all, the perfect bait for those seemingly ecstasy-bred excite-hunters.

    1. @niefer because that part of the circuit now forms part of the internal access roads for medical staff and marshals to move about?

      1. @anon – Unless I’m missing something, the access does not interfere with the actual racing tarmac, nor the runoffs. Even if it did, it seems the Arena section could be used instead meanwhile.

  21. “I was beginning to get a bit worried about some of Ross Brawn’s plans for Formula 1.”
    Maybe a lesson for the future in not believing the narrative about Brawn that you push here. The guy only cares about filling his pockets and always has. I don’t get all the love for him on this site. FTG.

  22. I’ve always been a fan of short tracks. As a fan in the stands, you see the cars more, and there are probably less “bad” seats. There is more traffic for leaders to negotiate. Pit stops are more fraught.

  23. 100% agree. Short tracks like Austria mean more bunched up fields, more things going on generally. Let’s hope it happens.

  24. The average speed around this layout will probably be similar to Austria, maybe even a bit higher. That would result in a laptime of somewhere around 51 seconds in qualifying.

  25. Racing in Bahrain is a bad idea to begin with, racing there twice is being twice cursed by a bad bargain.

    F1 CAN stand up to states with deplorable human rights records….it only takes the integrity of choice….the decision to see what is before our eyes…

  26. The whole planet is riddled with areas of deplorable human rights. Seeking a perfect environment that suits everybody is not possible. Doesn’t mean that all places must be avoided based on past histories. Sometimes the human learns from past stupid moments and what once was, doesn’t mean it can’t change, can’t ever be made right again. Maybe choose to live your own life better but understand that at one time many people were badly treated. I might feel different about it if I was directly impacted. So let’s all move on and learn the lessons needed. Race where we race and respect the very country you are a guest in. Bahrain from solely a visual aspect is insane looking. I can’t help but see in my mind the StarWars movie sets when I look out over Bahrain. That’s what makes it so cool.
    Like I said we can’t change the fact that this country has a sad history with its people. But we can respect it. Respect in acknowledging their past and respecting their future.
    All moments in history where human life is given in pursuit of real change is admirable. Admire the past while learning its future.
    FormulaOne brings change and that kind of change offers men challenging men in the pursuit of victory using specialized racing machines that test the abilities and mindsets of men who challenge such intense actions.
    We must remember that the world is a mess at times and FormulaOne offers some escape from trying times while taking on the challenge of men who create machines like these that each of us want to drive just once.

    Let Bahrain happen for futures sake

  27. Some might say that they were going to use the oasis circuit, but Chase Carey wouldn’t roll with it…

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