The history of the Bahrain Grand Prix stretches back to 2004, as its first edition marked the first-ever F1 race in the Middle East. As much as it is regarded as a pioneer race, its turbulent past was also characterised by a dramatic cancellation in 2011 due to the Bahraini protests, with follow-up controversies in 2012. Since 2014 the race has been held under the floodlights, first to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the venue.
Bahrain sees Ferrari’s supremacy in its roll of honour: the Maranello-based team has scored 6 victories, twice as much as Mercedes (3), whereas Red Bull Racing and Renault follow with two. As for the drivers, Sebastian Vettel tops the chart with four race wins, two with Red Bull and two with Ferrari, ahead of Fernando Alonso with 3. Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton are multiple race winners at Sakhir as well, having achieved 2 victories each, while Michael Schumacher, Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg got only one in their tally.
Ferrari fixed its ensign at Sakhir with a 1-2 at the inaugural race in 2004. Pole position, race win and fastest lap for Michael Schumacher, who crossed the line ahead of Rubens Barrichello in dominating fashion. A young Jenson Button completed the podium with BAR-Honda.
The following year saw a strong Alonso steal the show from qualifying to the very end of Sunday. The Spaniard was pursued by world champion Michael Schumacher until lap 12, when he made a mistake and flat-spotted his tyres. As he cruised back to the pits, he did not make it back to the track, suffering his first mechanically induced retirement after 58 trouble-free races in a row. This allowed Fernando Alonso to win with a comfortable 13.4s gap to Trulli and Raikkonen. The Spaniard managed to repeat his deed the following year, although he did not start from pole position. He qualified fourth and moved up to 2nd at the start. After a near fall with Felipe Massa ay turn 1, Alonso managed to circumvent Schumacher by pitting later and overtaking him once they found themselves toe-to-toe. Schumacher kept himself glued to the Renault driver, who endured until the end and successfully picked up the win. McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen completed the podium.
Felipe Massa won the following two editions, dominating in 2007 and beating poleman Robert Kubica in 2008. Toyota had the upper hand on Red Bull and Brawn GP at qualifying in 2009, but came up short in the race, as Jenson Button took the lead halfway through the race. Owing to Toyota’s wrong tyre strategy, victory became a two-way business between Button and a rather quick Vettel towards the end of the race, but the Brawn GP race car was clearly superior.
The race took place on the Sakhir Endurance Circuit in 2010, making a single lap almost 1 km longer. More changes came along, as it was the inaugural race of the season, kicking off the newly-elaborated point system, extending point finishes to the whole top 10. Sebastian Vettel on Red Bull snatched pole position, edging out the Ferrari pair, but a mechanical failure spoiled Vettel’s winning chances on lap 34. His exhaust failure allowed Alonso, Massa and Lewis Hamilton to go through, while he was crawling in fourth until the end. Therefore Fernando Alonso won at his debut with Ferrari, and Massa’s solid P2 sent the Prancing Horse to top both championship standings.
Vettel came out on top in 2012 and 2013, scoring his first two wins in Bahrain. Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean from Lotus completed the podium on both occasions with Vettel, but while he grabbed pole in 2012, Nico Rosberg prevailed at qualifying the following year. The German driver possesses a see-sawing history in Bahrain, as in 2012 he forced two drivers off the track before turn 4, first with Hamilton and then with Alonso, triggering the infamous ‘All the time you have to leave a space’ team radio from the Spaniard. The 2013 edition saw Alonso suffer a DRS failure, which compromised the remainder of his race. The Spaniard closed in P8, holding on almost defenseless against his opponents.
Lewis Hamilton put his vexillum on the 2014 and 2015 editions, reflecting Mercedes’ dominance in the V6 turbo era. His intense and captivating duel against Rosberg in 2014 went down in history, and was later redeemed by Rosberg’s success in 2016. Sebastian Vettel bea the Mercedes duo in 2017 and 2018 as well. Remarkably Pierre Gasly, following a brilliant qualifying result, finished in P4 last year on the Honda-powered Toro Rosso. McLaren-Renault yielded a double point finish with Alonso and Vandoorne respectively in P7 and P8, ahead of Alfa Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson. Last year’s edition also featured a scary incident during Kimi Raikkonen’s pit stop. Owing to a miscommunication, the Finn was given green light when the mechanics were still operating on his rear left tyre and ran over Francesco Cigarini’s shinbone, causing him a compound fracture, which kept him away from the paddock for nearly a year.
Now we are picking up from where we left in Australia. Will Ferrari unlock its potential at Sakhir following its disappointing display in Melbourne?