SAKHIR • Just days after Romain Grosjean’s fireball crash and miraculous escape at the Bahrain Grand Prix, the Formula One circus returns to the same venue besieged by breaking news but set to deliver the fastest laps of the year.
This weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix may be raced at the same Bahrain International Circuit, but it will run on a different track – the high-speed outer loop – on which lap times are forecast to be around 55 seconds in qualifying and below 60 in the race.
After a fast-moving few days that has seen Grosjean understandably ruled out by his Haas team as he heals and rests and joint-record seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton placed in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19, F1 offers an intriguing spectacle here.
There will be much interest in how Haas reserve Pietro Fittipaldi, 24, fares on his debut in the Frenchman’s place and perhaps more in studying George Russell’s progress in Hamilton’s Mercedes after stepping up from strugglers Williams.
Britain’s Russell has two seasons’ worth of experience but has yet to score a point.
However, his opportunity to run alongside Valtteri Bottas in the Silver Arrows is expected to end that barren sequence and he hopes to impress team boss Toto Wolff.
“Obviously, nobody can replace Lewis, but I’ll give my all for the team in his absence from the moment I step in the car,” said Russell, 22.
Bottas will be seeking his first win in six races, while aiming for pole along the way.
Only one driver, Niki Lauda at the 1974 French Grand Prix, has previously recorded a sub-60sec pole position lap and his 58.79sec time came on the outer track at Dijon, which had fewer corners than its alternative layout.
The Finn will hope to emulate that feat on a circuit dubbed “an almost oval track” by F1’s motorsports chief Ross Brawn.
While the inner track at Bahrain has 15 corners, the outer loop has only 11 and is almost 1km shorter, making it a novel challenge. It has never been used previously for an international race weekend and, to add drama, both qualifying and the 87-lap race will take place at night under lights.
Additional intrigue will come from Mick Schumacher, who Haas earlier this week confirmed would join the team next term with Nikita Mazepin and is bidding to seal the Formula Two title.
He is also poised to make an early F1 appearance in practice at next week’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and, if Grosjean fails in his bid to recover for a personal F1 finale at the Yas Marina circuit, in the final race of the season.
“Obviously, it would be a challenge, but definitely, I would be able to get to know the car more to be even better prepared for next year,” said Schumacher, the son of seven-time champion Michael.