Traffic on Bahrain’s outer ring road will create headaches during qualifying RaceFans

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The top 10 of the second training session was covered by just over half a second. Lap times are tight around Bahrain’s 3.5 kilometer “Outer” circuit.

Losing a moment behind another car could make a huge difference to a driver’s starting position. And with the traffic set to be a serious headache in qualifying, especially in Q1, it’s a very likely scenario for Saturday that is already causing concern for the drivers. “I think it will be really important to get some clear rounds, ”said Valtteri Bottas. Between the two F1 sessions, he kept his eye on a hectic half-hour of Formula 2 qualifying, which ended in a collision between Mick Schumacher and Roy Nissany.

“I think F2 has given us a great example of how messy it can be at the end of qualifying,” said the Mercedes driver. “So we have to prioritize the gaps.”

Lap times are expected to be around 55 seconds at the Bahrain Outer circuit and Sakhir’s first two Grand Prix practice sessions have proven that. Only Red Bull and Mercedes cars were able to dive into the 54s in the first practice, but after the second session Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon had joined them.

The Sakhir Outer Circuit is only 3.543 kilometers long, which means that when the 20 cars come out there are almost immediate traffic problems. Max Verstappen was particularly vocal on the subject on his radio and after the session as well.

The fastest drivers can qualify on the mediums

But a glance at the piste map during most of the stages of today’s session showed just how crowded it really was. The sequence of rounds four to nine, in particular, comes very quickly. Jack Aitken looked like he was simply listing the turns rather than crossing them during his radio check during the first practice.

McLaren team manager Andreas Seidl was one of many who stressed the importance of traffic management in the next qualifying session and the race.

“I think the most critical thing is probably the management of traffic in qualifying,” he said. “Making sure you don’t repeat the subject of the blue flags during the race will also be a challenge. ”

For teams that should get into Q3 easily, like Mercedes and Red Bull, it should be possible to do so on the average tire compound, based on the times set at the start of second practice today. With time gaps so small above the top 10 it could be risky, but the short lap should at least give them several chances to score times.

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It would be difficult to predict which other teams will be in the third quarter at this point. Almost any midfielder could, on the right tires, hopefully in traffic. Times have been very tight on the soft compound, qualifying practice testing and getting some headroom will be key, as teammates will potentially help each other with grooves in the pit straight.

“I can imagine we have a similar situation to last weekend with some teams trying to qualify on the medium tire,” said Mario Isola, Motorsport Manager at Pirelli. However, the narrow gaps between the teams due to the shorter lap (see graphic below) may force them to opt for the soft tire.

“Some of them are probably forced to qualify on the soft,” continued Isola. “It’s not too bad, I think, because the software works better with this layout. There is less demand for traction and braking due to the long straights that cover most of the lap and so the soft could probably be a good option for racing.

Carlos Sainz Jnr, McLaren, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020
Drivers must now stay within the limits of the eighth turn

Between today’s two sessions, race control informed drivers of new restrictions on the track limits at turn eight. This is where Bottas had not only his fastest lap, but also five others, dropped for running too wide. He was the most prolific offender, followed by Alexander Albon (four) and George Russell (three).

The disastrous effect of a good lap removed was shown by Bottas, in particular, who would have taken the fastest time of the second test session without his qualifying race being one of the nixed laps. With no chance of getting another faultless race, he was forced to settle for 11th – frustrating, no doubt, in practice but potentially disastrous in qualifying.

Mercedes’ usual pace advantage can be reduced by the short lap, although the high proportion of the lap spent at full throttle will undoubtedly favor the team with the best power unit in F1. Russell’s inexperience in the car and the damage Bottas suffered in the first few tests will mask some of their performance. They have an eye on Verstappen’s racing pace, however, and all may not be lost for Red Bull if they manage to beat Mercedes customers to place two on the grid.

Citations: Dieter Rencken

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Combined practice times

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Gaps between teams Friday

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2020 Sakhir Grand Prix

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