F1: 2019 Bahrain Grand Prix Preview
Sebastian Vettel was the victor in the 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix    Credit: Getty Images

F1: 2019 Bahrain Grand Prix Preview

The second round of the 2019 Formula One season sees teams race under the artificial lights of Sakhir International Circuit for the Bahrain Grand Prix

Jaquob Crooke

Drivers will be looking to keep their cool in the desert heat as the 2019 Formula One season heads to the Middle East for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

After being dropped from the Formula One calendar in 2011 amid Bahrain's civil issues, the race has been a lively thriller since its return the following year and has been further enhanced by its transition into a night affair in 2014.

Sebastian Vettel was the victor in 2018, and after seeing Mercedes dominating the opening round in Melbourne, eyes will be firmly fixated on the Ferrari garage to see what sort of response they can muster.

Back-to-back Bottas

Valtteri Bottas will be looking to make it two consecutive victories for the first time in his career, with the Finn hoping to build on his resounding Australian GP success.

The Mercedes driver got the better of his team-mate Lewis Hamilton at the start of the race before coasting to a comprehensive victory, and one that he described as one of his "best races."

It was a fighting statement from Bottas, who silenced a number of his critics with his win, but the 29-year-old will be well aware that he cannot afford to rest on his laurels if he is to become a genuine title contender.

Hamilton, meanwhile, will be looking to make amends for the struggles he endured in Melbourne after his Mercedes team discovered after the race that Hamilton's W10 had endured floor damage from debris - causing the five-time world champion to suffer from balance issues from as early as lap four.

Ferrari have ground to make up

A four-time winner here in Bahrain, Vettel is the most successful driver on the grid in the heat of Sakhir.

However, with Ferrari sulking to a humiliating weekend in Melbourne, the sweeping sectors of Bahrain should give a more definitive answer as to where the Scuderia lie with their 2019 package.

After all, Sakhir is a circuit that Ferrari have enjoyed some great success in recent years.

The Circuit de Barcelona, host to the Maranello outfit's impressive pre-season showing, draws similar characteristics with that of Bahrain and Vettel, along with his team-mate Charles Leclerc, will be looking to maximise their performance in the final sector.

There will be a level of intrigue over Ferrari's stance with Leclerc, who was informed to hold stations at Melbourne, despite looking quicker than Vettel in the final stages of the race.

Either way, Ferrari need a response. If a positive result isn't drawn from this weekend, then an internal crisis could be on the horizon before the season has even matured.

Red Bull could be there or thereabouts

An excellent drive from Max Verstappen seen him claim his first podium in Melbourne to qualm any fears over Red Bull's merger with engine supplier Honda.

Verstappen's tyre management was key in allowing him to pass Vettel before mounting a late charge for Hamilton before the end of the race, coming to within a second of the Mercedes driver.

The RB15 still remains to be somewhat of an unknown quantity, especially after the difficult weekend that Pierre Gasly endured two weeks ago after qualifying 18th before struggling to out-manoeuvre the sister Toro Rosso car driven by Daniil Kvyat.

Yet Bahrain is the circuit where Gasly produced a monstrous performance last season and astonished the paddock with an incredible fourth-place finish.

The Frenchman has previously enjoyed success in the lower formulas, and if his Red Bull is unhindered by strategic miscalculations, expect Gasly to be lurking around the podium places.

Midfield murder

Haas headed the glorified 'midfield pack' in Melbourne with Kevin Magnussen's excellent sixth place finish, although it could have been more for the American manufacturer had Romain Grosjean not suffered his second consecutive Australian GP retirement.

The other midfield runners have some catching up to do if Haas' opening showing was anything to go by, although the overtaking opportunities that Sakhir offers will mean competition for places will ignite in the desert climate.

Wheel-to-wheel racing is inevitable, and Bahrain has been host to the exciting thrills and the occasional spills. One team looking to avoid any further spills is Renault, who's pre-season hype fell a little flat after their despondent qualifying session.

Nico Hulkenberg made amends in the race, but new star Daniel Ricciardo was unfortunate to see his home outing come to a premature end following his lap one incident.

The two DRS zones, situated after Turn 10 and Turn 15, will be a welcome boost for the straight-line speeds of Alfa Romeo and Racing Point, who both produced credible performances in the opening race.

What’s the schedule?

Friday 29 March

11:00 GMT / 14:00 Local Time – Free Practice One
15:00 GMT / 18:00 Local Time – Free Practice Two

Saturday 30 March

12:00 GMT / 15:00 Local Time – Free Practice Three
15:00 GMT / 18:00 Local Time – Qualifying

Sunday 31 March

15:10 GMT / 18:10 Local Time – Race