Race Weekend Central

F1 Slipsteam Saturday: New Rules Coming? and More on the Bahrain GP

The Bahrain Grand Prix may come to signify a change at the top as Ferrari have paced both practices held thus far and look to be in stellar form.  Thatʻs a great story for fans of the Prancing Pony and if it holds true augurs well for the rest of the season. As usual, there are always questions that abound and in this case, the spotlight shines on Mercedes and whether or not theyʻre pushing the cars to the limit ahead of qualifying.  (Ed. note: qualifying will have run shortly after this piece is posted and could make any statements here look foolish.)

Regardless of whether Mercedes is being daft and demonstrates the form that has become the norm, the big news on Friday did not come from either one of the practices held.  The real focus was on Liberty Mediaʻs, or F1ʻs, reveal of their plans for 2021.

The first aspect may be: what makes 2021 special – and the answer is that 2020 is the last year under the current governing package.  Most of the proposals make sense, in some kind of way, but just having good intention behind an idea doesnʻt mean that it will happen, work as planned, or be regarded as the right decision.  With that caveat noted, here are a few of the important ideas that were announced:

  • That the engine units would become simpler, louder, and produce more power.  Oh yeah, letʻs also add in the fact that theyʻre supposed to be cheaper. Being more simple equates to the cost aspect, while the sound is something that fans have clamored about for the past few years with the current V6 package.  The difficulty comes in making something cheaper but hoping to establish more power but perhaps that aspect is not as big as would be imagined. Some of these rules are also meant to encourage other manufacturers to see worthiness in the sport as the engines still must have some ties to the road.
  • The notion of a spending cap was also pushed, with a limit sitting around the £150 million range.  The focus here is to bring a little more equanimity to the field as teams like Mercedes and Ferrari are rumored to spend close to £300 million a year.  This idea may be a great one that is difficult to police.
  • One of the crippling economic behaviors of F1 has been the revenue payouts, something that has always favored Ferrari, while the Constructorʻs Championship then also distributes monies in a way that is scaled to provide the most to the best and least to the worst.  In stick-and-ball sports, the draft acts as a way to counteract dominance and redistributing the monies in a more equal way may help here, even as some teams – cough cough, Ferrari – will still enjoy a legacy payout benefit.
  • The next idea is one that plagues all auto racing and sounds great in theory but has always been difficult to implement: to create a way for drivers to overtake more easily rather than being tormented in dirty air.  Get to work F1 engineers, this element might be the one that challenges the most.

These ideas were met with tempered enthusiasm from the teams, and thatʻs no surprise.  Not only is it currently 2018 but everyone involved knows there is an arduous process to go through to be able to implement even the smallest of changes.  At the same time, what Liberty Media pushed are all moves that merit worthwhile effort in determining their potential.

Odds & Sods

Lewis Hamilton was hit with a 5-place grid penalty for Sundayʻs race for a gearbox change.  Word is that Hamilton was lucky to finish the race in Australia as he had leaked hydraulic fluid into the gearbox, which is what ultimately led to it being swapped out.  There may be nothing to be concerned about here but for Mercedes to suffer a failure such as that just one race in is a bit surprising.

– One of the talks of the garage has been how Mercedes uses an engine mode to slay in qualifying.  Colloquially called Party mode, there is concern that the Silver Arrows have basically developed a weapon that no other team could even come close to mustering.  The truth is that Mercedes is well within the rules and that they seemed to have hit on something that other teams havenʻt is more a recognition of how they seek out every advantage they can while others continue to play catch-up.  

– You might have heard something like this story before.  Honda is replacing components in their engines after last weekendʻs failures.  Toro Rosso, welcome to the pain. Even if Pierre Gasly was able to nail eighth in FP2, reliability has long been the crux of Hondaʻs return to F1 and while there were signs in preseason testing that Honda may have solved the issues that flummoxed their relationship with McLaren, the start cannot inspire confidence for the junior Red Bull team.  

– Funny bit of trivia comes with this race.  The country of Bahrain is decidedly Muslim, though the alcohol is legal throughout.  The interesting tidbit is that the drivers on the podium do not spray the traditional champagne but instead they uncork a non-alcoholic rosewater drink known as Waard in a nod to the local culture.   

The Race

The first race held in Bahrain came in 2004 with Michael Schumacher taking the victory.  Though the track was reconfigured at one time it is back to its original layout, which is 3.3 miles in length and features 15 turns, and though the track looks flat it’s a bit of deception with surprising elevation changes.  That fact makes the discrepancies in fastest lap a bit intriguing, similar to the statistics for the Shanghai circuit, as in 2004, Schumacher ran 1:30.2 while the fastest lap of 2016, posted by Rosberg, came in at 1:37.0. The trend this year is for the cars to hit a pace a bit faster than last year.  Fernando Alonso and Vettel are level, having won three times, but Hamilton is nipping at his heels with two wins each. Sebastian Vettel won last year’s race, a victory that was supposed to portend Ferrariʻs return to dominance.

About the author

Ava Lader headshot photo

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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Initial reports on the proposed changes seem to be about as expected. The mid field welcomes them while those at claim they are unworkable. As usual the truth is likely somewhere near the middle.

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