By Steve Aibel, Senior F1 Writer
Round 2 of the Formula 1 World Championship comes to us this weekend at the Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix.
The Sakhir International Circuit is split into two different sections with one around the pit and paddock resembling an oasis and the other showcasing the raw sand and rock of the native desert. Each portion of the track, built on a former camel farm, is designed to give it a different look. Finally, this Grand Prix will take place in the evening, under the lights, which always helps to set an ambiance fitting of Formula 1.
There are 3 major story-lines in Bahrain this week that will aid in establishing the early direction of the fledgling season.
First and foremost, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton will continue their quest for early momentum within the Mercedes. With his win in Australia, Rosberg is on a 4 race win streak spanning across two seasons. While many argue that the wins from the previous season do not transfer over to the current campaign, there is a highly motivated and determined Rosberg who can certainly take the fight to the 3 time World Champion.
Hamilton, on the other hand is a worthy opponent who has been battle tested. He seems to be able to elevate his game to the level necessary to win, if not dominate his opposition. There is no question that Hamilton has done this in the past, but the quiet resolve of Rosberg and those 4 straight wins are enough to make this the most important story-line of the season until proven otherwise.
And what might prove them otherwise?
There has been an enormous focus on the progress made by Ferrari and they seem to have made significant gains this year.
Is it real, or is it Memorex?
While Ferrari has gotten a lot of print and has shown strong pace, it was still Mercedes who walked away from Australia with another 1-2 finish and maximum points.
Ferrari needs to react quickly and not allow Mercedes to gain early season momentum that could quickly prove insurmountable.
The Sakhir circuit should favor the Ferrari package and it would be a huge statement if the Scuderia can accomplish two things in this round.
A race win and outscoring Mercedes in points!
For Ferrari truly to be in the fight, they need to grab a victory early in the season and they need to have both cars bring home a boatload of points every week. What would that look like?
A podium with two Ferrari drivers!
That would show Ferrari has truly arrived and are ready to challenge the dominant Silver Arrows.
This is the second main story-line for Bahrain and it might be the first place we see if Ferrari is a contender or a pretender.
The final story-line is Qualifying.
This motif continues from the opening round in Australia and will take place on Saturday. Formula 1 will again attempt the knockout style qualifying that was an unqualified disaster in round 1. In its debut, we saw a pole position settled with cars in the pit and no driver on track trying to wrest away to top starting position. We saw drivers eliminated without even sitting in their cars. They left the pit before their session was over.
Puzzling, and not great drama for the fans.
Why try this format after watching it work so poorly? The teams and drivers don’t want it and it would be of no surprise if the teams gave less than full effort in trying to make this format a success this weekend.
Ah Bahrain, you will dazzle us with your lights and your magic. Expect to see a result that gives a stronger example of what to expect from the F1 season from this race.