There may still be British MPs asking F1 teams not to go and race in Bahrain, but the Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir is less contentious in 2013 even though the protests haven't gone away. Last year the Force India team had a petrol bomb bounce across the top of their hire car, but with a well-equipped and vigilant security force at the ready, F1 teams have been assured they are not at risk.
The race this weekend will be another exercise in tyre management. With predicted ambient temperatures of around 34C and the track considerably more sandy and dusty than anywhere else, the wear rates will be high. Pirelli have adjusted their supply to the Hard and the Medium whereas before they were suggesting the Hard and the Soft.
Depending on who you're listening to, the percentage of ultimate speed the drivers can drive at varies by 20%. Mark Webber suggested in Malaysia that they were driving at 80%, Martin Whitmarsh of McLaren thinks it's 90% and the acutely critical Christian Horner said after China that drivers were driving at 70%.
The long-running on Friday afternoon, FP2, should be an indication of how long the tyres are going to last, Pirelli's Paul Hembery is predicting three stops, although he is hedging his bets:
"We expect about three stops per car, although we'll have to wait to get some running in on Friday before we can look at the data and make a more accurate prediction. One of the main challenges of racing in Bahrain is that the track evolution is very hard to predict, depending on how much sand is blown onto the circuit. From what we saw last year though, there will be plenty of scope for different race strategies, which can even allow drivers who have not qualified as well as they hoped to recover during the grand prix."
That may be so, but the longer the medium tyres last, the less of a bonus it will be to start on the alternative tyre. Even with the marginal Softs in Malaysia, the front-runners were able to keep an advantage over the other tyre users despite dashing in for tyres from Lap 5.
KIMI QUOTE: "It's a little bit different from others we visit and it's quite nice to be out there in the sand! Wherever you look around the track you can just see sand in the distance and you notice it in the paddock too.
It will be interesting to see how the teams cope with the hard tyre. Both Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa have been mega successful in Bahrain in the past with three wins for Fernando and two for Massa. Last week Massa struggled badly on the medium tyre in China and it maybe that teams down the grid save up quite a few sets for the race.
Like Alonso, Raikkonen will be on a roll after finishing second in China despite a less than optimal front wing set-up. Kimi has finished on the podium five times in the desert state but never reached the top step. He will be thankful not to endure the screaming fans that followed him everywhere in the Shanghai paddock and get on with the serious business of being gloomy about his chances.
Bahrain is a race that McLaren have never won and they don't look like correcting that record any time soon. So it's very likely that they'll adopt a contrary strategy to the other front runners given that Jenson Button has established himself as Mr. Kindly Tyres. Perez just needs to get himself in the points. Jenson is aware that wind plays a big part in set-up in Bahrain: "It's a place where the grip levels can be quite hard to anticipate, and where the wind direction can play quite an important part in determining the car's balance. The wind can affect top speed and cornering performance, so practice will be more important than ever."
Across at Mercedes Lewis Hamilton will be looking to continue his strong start to the year and Mercedes will want to have both cars finish. The wave of euphoria that Lewis experienced when he first joined the team won't last if the car doesn't. He may have had failures at Mclaren in the past, but those were failures from the lead - not from way back as Nico Rosberg has experienced.
Rosberg's often gone well in Bahrain. He started his first grand prix here in 2006 and in the same race put in the fastest lap, becoming the youngest driver in Formula One history to do so. That's one that Sebastian Vettel will never have. Last year Rosberg pushed Hamilton off the circuit in a controversial bit of driving that should make all the preview tapes - who'd have thought that a year later he'll be doing it again but in the same car.
The Bahrain Grand Prix has been won from pole position four times in its eight-race history which Sebastian Vettel achieved last year. It's normally a tight race, though, and with wide areas of tarmac run-off the Safety Car is unlikely to be racking up too high a mileage. Webber and Gutierrez take three- and five grid-place penalties with them from Chinese misdemeanours. Webber's was harsh, Gutierrez's was light.
Adrian Sutil had no official censure other than his team wagging a finger for his first lap collision with Paul Di Rersta, but exactly where the two Force India drivers qualify and how they race each other will be under the microscope. They are conclusively winning the mid-grid battle over Sauber, Williams and Toro Rosso - and at least they've got their wheelnuts sorted now.
Caterham have given us the best news of the weekend announcing that Heikki Kovalainen will be running in Free Practice 1 from now on, to help sort out the upgrades to the car and give them experienced feedback. Comparing his times to the two main drivers will be interesting, although a green track in FP1 is not going to flatter him so much. Not that he's going to be too worried.
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