Thruxton-like Bahrain Outer circuit tipped to produce “bonkers” race

2020 Sakhir Grand Prix

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Formula 1 drivers expect a new challenge and a lively grand prix when F1 returns to the Bahrain International Circuit for a second race on its shorter ‘Outer’ circuit next week.

The familiar 15-turn, 5.4-kilometre circuit will host this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix. However next week’s second race at the venue, dubbed the Sakhir Grand Prix, will take place on the shorter, 3.5-kilometre ‘Outer’ circuit.

By F1 standards, its layout is very simple, with just four braking zones at the most. Lando Norris said the “unique” circuit reminds him of Thruxton in Britain: “It’s not many corners – small, sharp corners, the ones we have in Bahrain – but at the same time it’s a very small oval kind-of shape track and very short as well.”

As most of the track is shared with the grand prix layout, Carlos Sainz Jnr says it won’t take long for drivers to get up to speed on it.

Bahrain Outer Circuit
Bahrain Outer Circuit
“There’s only two extra real corners that we will do in Bahrain,” he said. “The rest of the two or three corners that track will have, we will race there one week before. So it will be fairly easy to get to learn it then and to maximise every corner.”

However Sainz says it could be tricky to judge downforce levels at the track as much of it will be flat-out.

“It’s going to be a challenge to find the right compromise on the set-up because it’s not a typical track for Formula 1,” he said. “You never go to this kind of circuit with only long straights and two or three corners to really drive around.

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“It’s going to be a bit of an experiment for Formula 1, I think it will generate some different kind of racing. There will be a lot of talk regarding rear wings, what downforce level you run and all that. That obviously has our input, as drivers, but it’s more simulation work, more engineering work that the team needs to figure out how to arrive there as well-prepared as possible.”

Flat and flat-out: Bahrain Outer reminds Norris of Thruxton
The short layout will make for a more congested track during qualifying and the race. George Russell said the event is “definitely going to be bonkers” and pointed out small driving errors could have major consequences in qualifying.

“It’s exciting because the lap times are going to be so close, I reckon everybody will probably be within a second in qualifying. Which means if you make one small mistake, you can be losing loads of positions on Saturday.

“So it’s going to be giving it absolutely everything you’ve got, making sure you nail the lap because there more than anywhere if you do make a mistake, you don’t have enough corners to make that lap time back up. So it’s going to be exciting.”

Simulations have indicated lap times could be less than 54 seconds if three DRS zones are used. “It will be probably a bit of a mess on Saturday because everyone will be looking for slipstream,” said Russell. “I don’t know how short it is but there’s probably not enough space to fit 20 cars on there and the racing is going to be pretty wacky.”

Only a short section of the circuit differs from the regular layout. However Esteban Ocon, who has already tested the track in Renault’s simulator, was impressed by the alternative route.

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“The first bit is the normal Bahrain track, but then straight away into the straight line on the back,” said Ocon. “It’s actually some decent corners in there.

George Russell, Williams, Hungaroring, 2020
Russell expects a “bonkers” race and hectic qualifying session
“I hope we are going to be able to follow closely for us to be able to overtake because if it is not, it’s going to be probably the same as the Bahrain circuit. Which is great for overtaking but we want something a bit more spicy, being [we’re] staying on the same layout.”

Whether drivers are able to overtake each other easily will depend partly on the unfamiliar, fast sequence of corners in the middle of the track, said Daniel Ricciardo.

“It’s going to be interesting. I don’t think we’ve come to a circuit like that before with so few corners followed by quite long straights. I hope at the chicane we can carry enough momentum to get close and to get a tow and to set up some overtaking maybe into the last corner, for example.”

“I am a fan of changing the layout,” he added. “If we’re going to go to a circuit twice in two weekends, let’s change it. So I am ‘for’ that and I’m excited to see how it performs.”

However Nicholas Latifi says Williams’ simulation of the track indicates the little-used link between the two familiar sections of Bahrain’s circuit could be quite rough.

Esteban Ocon, Renault, Imola, 2020
Ocon likes the look of the shorter track
“The new part of track that we’re going to be driving on seems to be quite bumpy,” he said. “It’s obviously not used a lot. I’m not sure if it’s going to be re-paved or if it’s just very, very old Tarmac.

“That’ll definitely change quite a lot the profile of the track and probably quite a bit the set-up that we use. It’s basically now just combining three long straights together as opposed to the whole infield section in Bahrain where you need a bit more downforce.”

Latifi predicted the track will “throw up a unique challenge from the car set-up point of view” and “switch it completely from how it is on the first race weekend.”

“From a racing aspect, whether the racing action will be better, I’m pretty sure it will be,” he predicted. “But I think it’s going to be quite interesting in practice and qualifying with all the cars on track at once. It’s obviously not a lot of real estate to have all 20 cars on.”

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39 comments on “Thruxton-like Bahrain Outer circuit tipped to produce “bonkers” race”

  1. I hope for three activation zones since this is only a one-off occasion for this specific layout, but having the two existing ones instead of three wouldn’t be as bad as having one instead of two in both Algarve and Imola, though. The DRS effect will be very minimal anyway due to the Monza rear wing configurations that are probably going to be in use for the second weekend.

    1. Why have any DRS zones? It looks like there will be ample passing opportunities without it so it would be nice if l they made it possible for people to defend. I enjoyed the early stages of the race in Turkey when vettel in particular was able to defend against quicker rivals for many laps. What overtaking there was happened in the braking zones and following driver error (as it should be). As soon as they turned DRS on, all the passing got done on the straight with no opportunity for the driver in front to defend (extremely dull).

      DRS was always a clunky solution to the problem of cars not being able to follow closely – in fact, it does nothing to alleviate that. If they were determined to go down such a gimmicky route (instead of merely redesigning the front wings) they should have introduced a DIS – Downforce Increasing System that allows the following car to crank on extra wing to compensate for the turbulent wake. At least that would avoid the motorway passes we get now, which are just depressing.

      1. @frood19 Even in Turkey, DRS didn’t automatically guarantee a passing move once it became available. Most of the time, it doesn’t really make a difference in aiding overtaking and rarely does it make overtaking look easy like in Portugal.

        1. Rarely?! Yikes.

        2. @jerejj We’re clearly seeing the races in very different ways! for me, a DRS assisted pass almost always gets done before the braking zone. the speed delta is something like 20km/h on some circuits, which is massive. It’s become a push-to-pass button, impossible to defend against. and as I said above, it does nothing to solve the problem of the dirty wake affecting cars behind. you still can’t follow closely through the corner – all DRS does is (over)compensate by allowing the chasing car to catch up on the straight.

          I think the other thing to consider is that if passing is too easy, the races become incredibly boring. there is no tension in the fight because (a) the fast cars rip through to the front too quickly and there is then a long boring run to the flag and (b) the passes themselves are without intrigue or skill. we are denied the excitement of a concerted rearguard effort (alonso against schumacher in imola in 2005, for example).

        3. Obviously Jere has been watching difference races to Frood who is bang on. Each to their own i guess though on what we class is a race.

          The perfect example of how DRS doesn’t work for the show but does for the tick sheet at F1 head quarters was Lewis passing Perez in a blink of an eye. No anticipation, no build up, no wonder. Just click of a button overtake move we could all watch on a M25 flyover.

          1. @q85 Most of the time doesn’t mean 100% of the time, only the majority, which has indeed been the case. Take Imola, for example, despite the length of the S/F straight.

      2. Totally agree. There should be no need for it. With the speeds and the cars having Cds like a mountain bike there will be plenty of slingshot passes in the middle of the straight if that’s what people like.

      3. @frood19 the sport has already tried that – in 2009, drivers were allowed to alter the front wing angle from inside the cockpit to compensate for the loss in downforce when following another car, but in practice it was not that effective.

      4. A better question would be why have artificial drag imposed on the car’s design? You could argue, If there were no drag there would be no drag reduction system.

        It seems to me these imposed restrictions on the car, also creates opportunities to also cheat those restrictions.

        DRS , Quali modes, Fuel flow, etc

        These imposed restrictions will also come with the potential to cheat, arificially creating advantages and disadvantages.

    2. Has this layout been used before? Wonder if there is footage of any other formula racing it. I think they should have done an indy 500 type qualifying of one car at a time, because its going to be messy and drivers will be overtaking each other for position.

      1. @kpcart I’m not sure, but at least not for international racing.

        1. Wasn’t there a Sportscar race on the “Oval” version of this race just recent?

  2. Joe Pineapples
    24th November 2020, 8:33

    I had the Benny Hill theme tune in my head whilst reading that, for some reason :)

  3. Looking forward to this race. The disrupted season has given F1 some latitude to try a few things out on an experimental basis (did anyone think we’d ever see a sub-60 second lap in an F1 car before this season?), and in some ways it’s a shame more hasn’t been made of it.

    The teams (sensibly in my view) blocked the proposal to turn some weekends into a two-part reverse grid race, but there are other things that could have been done to mix things up a little. For example, would the owners of Lausitz have let F1 run on their tri-oval? Could we have seen one of the alternative configurations run at Silverstone for the second race?

    Maybe they could have varied the tyre rules on occasion – for example one weekend where Pirelli brought all five tyre compounds, let the teams choose which ones they ran and scrapped the mandatory tyre change. Or repurposed DRS so each driver had a limited number of uses throughout the race, similar to ‘push-to-pass’ concepts in other series.

    It’s hard to criticise the organisers when they have done so much to put a calendar together, but in some respects it feels like opportunities have been missed.

    1. Drs would be better used if it were to be programmed to shut off when the the cars get with a tenth of a second on the straight

      1. Yes DRS would improve if automatically turned off as soon as cars are alongside, whether that’s 100/300/600m before a corner, basically it switches off as soon as alongside no matter the distance, car position dictates this.

    2. @red-andy the sport has seen sub 60 second lap times before – the 1974 French GP was held at Dijon-Prenois, and the organisers decided to use the shortened version of that track.

      It therefore meant that, in qualifying, the top 12 cars all set lap times that were less than 60 seconds, with pole being a 58.79s lap time by Niki Lauda.

      1. And now we might even see first ever sub-one-minute race lap(s).

  4. I heard the opposite on the PLC, that it is a power racetrack and with these cars unable to follow closely, it may turn into procession.
    But I hope drivers get it right.

    1. @jeff1s The outer layout is Monza-style, so the quality of racing and following should be more or less the same as there.

  5. drivers ‘ this is not f1’
    teams ‘ if people want mad cap dodgems they should check out other series’
    fans: ‘that was mental!’

    1. The teams and drivers are correct though. I mean yes, Turkey was very entertaining but if we had that every week then the “fans” would want more. We would end up racing on ice with square wheels. A mad cap Turkey style race is fine once or twice a season but it gets silly beyond that.

      1. Absolutely. Where would we be without railtrack processions with no overtaking and fuel and tyre saving dominating the season.

        Your hyperbolising of Turkey to square wheels on ice is your best argument?

      2. @deanr Turkey was very entertaining but if we had that every week then the “fans” would want more.
        We can’t have F1 viewers raising their expectations, can we….

        1. S, it’s more the case that, in trying to replicate the sort of races in order to try and cash in on the hype that is often put out, we end up with the sort of measures that are often criticised (including by yourself), such as DRS or high degradation and high thermal sensitivity tyres.

  6. Matthew Taylor
    24th November 2020, 10:49

    I expect that cars will only be set up for the fast corners on both configurations, but is it going to be at all significant if the three edges of the track that are raced this weekend are very rubbered in while the top/east section will be virtually unused?

    1. @Matthew Taylor, What three edges and what top east section to be precise? Do you mean T1, T4, the penultimate, and final corners as the edges, and the T4 area for the latter?

  7. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
    24th November 2020, 11:34

    I’m ridiculously happy F1 are trying this type of circuit. There are too many similar tracks if F1 nowadays. That’s one of the things I like about Indycar. There are road courses, street tracks, short ovals and super speedways. It makes for a variety of challenge of the driver and the engineers.

    I used to love the old Hockenhiem ring. Remember when Tyrell tried front tyres on the back?

    Or Williams tiny low rear wing?

    Love it!

      1. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
        24th November 2020, 11:37

        messed up the links a bit you’ll see what I mean…

    1. Yep Indycar has the best variety of track for open-wheel racing. Love the series and its bumpy tracks.

      1. Indycar tracks are fantastic, and much more fun in sim racing than f1s tilke drones. At least f1 still has a few tracks like Suzuka, Spa, Interlagos and Albert Park. If f1 had competion like indycar has, imagine the great races those tracks would host.

    2. Indeed, variety is the spice of life and all that. The calendar needs a bit of everything: Street circuits like Singapore, Tilkedromes like Austin, classic circuits like Spa and bonkers outliers like this and Baku.

    3. Yes +100. The lack of power steering and the drivers fighting the cars is a great watch on those bumpy tracks and Ovals are terrifying. As it should be or as it was anyway. The lack of money in Indy has actually helped the ‘show’.

  8. Potential mess. This quickly accepted solution may yield unexpected results.
    The not so good results. I predict half of the field crashes out. That screwball looking chicane complex across the back of the track looks like NO ONE will gain any advantage there. So add another set of brakes because the guy who goes in deeper than the rest will win. All about big brakes, big balls and having a bigger desire. Wreckem Rodeo Sunday

  9. I wonder if RB will have problems with their below par MGU-H with all these straights…

  10. I’m liking the sound of this already. 2020 has been a bonkers season and year already. Let’s have a bonkers race on a short track with under 1min lap times. Cannot wait to see how this turns out! 😃

  11. All the more reason to get the DRS zones sete up correctly. We’ve seen with other one-off races this year that the DRS can ruin a race as a spectacle if it’s set up too generously. This race has the potential to be a belter. I really hope they err on the side of caution and let the cars follow each other rather than the auto-pass button it could become.

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