F1 Bahrain GP Preview: The championship is won, but it’s not over yet

Image: Alfa Romeo F1

You may be forgiven for only getting your breath back after the terrific Turkish Grand Prix two weeks ago, but the 2020 Bahrain GP is now upon us and here’s your preview for what you need to know.

Both championships are now wrapped up. Turkey saw Lewis Hamilton claim his seventh career world title with Mercedes having their seventh consecutive crown one race earlier. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to play for in the fourth and final triple-header event of the 2020 season.

Bahrain GP 2020: At the sharp end

Hamilton may have as many titles as Schumacher and more wins than anyone, but there are still records he doesn’t hold. You may or may not believe Lewis when he says he doesn’t race for stats. Whatever your thoughts, the prospect of being the first man to hit 100 Grand Prix wins must have entered the Brits mind.

Image: AMG Mercedes F1

With 2021 mostly looking the same as 2020 thanks to the delayed regulation changes, you can be forgiven for thinking we’ll have a repeat of this season next year. That’s not necessarily so, as this week’s Tech Tuesday details on F1.com. With no guarantee of dominance next year, if Hamilton is to reach a century, taking the final three race wins this season could prove pivotal.

Aside from targeting 100 victories, Hamilton could also take 76.4% of all wins in a season if he collects a trio of victories in the next three rounds, starting with Sunday’s Bahrain GP. That would see him surpass Alberto Ascari in 1952 who won 6 of the 8 rounds (75%) back then.

Additionally, if Hamilton were to be victorious at all these Middle Eastern Grand Prix, he’d hit seven consecutive race wins. His own record is five (achieved in 2014). Making it to seven would see him equal Ascari, Schumacher and Rosberg but would still “only” be in second place. Sebastian Vettel’s final championship season in 2013 saw the German take the last nine races in succession. It’s a big ask, but Hamilton could start next season on a high should he start with seven wins behind him.

P2 in the drivers’ championship is also undecided. Bottas does hold a 27 point advantage over Verstappen so should be able to seal another second-place championship finish as in 2019. But, it only takes one non-points finish and a Verstappen victory at the Bahrain GP (like what we saw at Silverstone #2) for that deficit to be sliced down to two points.

Bahrain GP 2020: In the midfield

It’s more all to play for ahead of the Bahrain GP as you could possibly imagine. Ricciardo had looked favourite to take fourth place following his second podium finish of 2020 at Imola. The madness at Turkey shook him down the standings and it is instead the Istanbul podium sitter of Sergio Perez now leading the midfield.

Image: Racing Point F1

The Mexican driver may have missed two rounds thanks to Covid-19, but his sterling efforts at all the Grand Prix he has raced have thrust him to such a lofty height. Perez has finished in the top ten at every single race he’s started. The only other man to do that (aside from super-sub Hulkenberg) is Lewis Hamilton. Checo must be asking what more he can do to justify a drive for 2021.

The other man in the hunt for P4 is the driver who finished P4 last time out. Charles Leclerc has made it six consecutive points finishes since his high-speed crash at Monza. After Ferrari’s dire early season, the Scuderia have seemingly made much progress especially with Leclerc’s SF1000. Leclerc boasts 97 points, one better than Ricciardo, and three fewer than Perez.

Bahrain GP 2020: Points mean prizes

If three men fighting for pride doesn’t tickle your fancy, how about four constructors battling for money? Racing Point are currently in third place thanks to their terrific outing in Turkey where they claimed a podium after qualifying on pole. McLaren, meanwhile, have stuttered a little after their strong mid-season. However, they are still very much in the hunt too with the Woking team just five points adrift from their Silverstone rivals.

Renault and Ferrari currently occupy 5th and 6th in the championship. Both will feel hard done by if they were to finish 2020 in their current positions. Ferrari now have three top-three appearances throughout 2020 thanks to Vettel’s P3 at Istanbul Park. Their double-DNF’s in Italy and Styria really have hurt their championship campaign.

For Renault, the unreliability of Esteban Ocon’s RS20 has scuppered their season. Still, both Renault and Ferrari could see a P4-P5 finish rocket them up the standings. That would mean millions more dollars in prize money. After the regular HAM-BOT-VER top three, fourth and fifth are very achievable for any of the midfield contenders.

Image: Scuderia Ferrari

Bahrain GP 2020: Last time out

Hamilton may have been the victor when we raced the Bahrain GP in 2019, but it was Charles Leclerc who was the winner for many. In only his second race driving a Prancing Horse, the Monegasque put his car on pole. What’s more, despite a shaky start which saw him slip down to third, Leclerc overtook not only a Mercedes in the shape of Bottas but also his then-number-one teammate, Vettel, to regain the lead.

Leclerc, of course, has an affinity for the track after his unbelievable F2 drive in 2017. His strength at the circuit was showing as he extended and extended his lead before cruel heartbreak hit. One of the cylinders in his Ferrari 064 power unit failed. With no way to fix the problem, Leclerc limped around in the closing stages and fell to third, behind Hamilton and Bottas.

If not for a late-race bizarre double engine failure for both Renaults, Leclerc would’ve slipped further back. The safety car was his saving grace. Leclerc made it to the F1 podium for the first time. Be he might’ve been one of the only disappointed maiden podium attendees in the history of the sport.

Image: Scuderia Ferrari

Bahrain GP 2020: Session times

Now you’re all set for the first of two events at Bahrain. The only thing left to mention is the session start times, oh, and the bombshell that there is a 40% chance of rain in the desert for the Bahrain GP on Sunday…

Originally published at GPGrandstand.com, where the entire open-wheel weekend is in focus.

27th November

FP1–11:00 UTC
FP2–15:00 UTC

28th November

FP3–11:00 UTC
Qualifying — 14:00 UTC

29th November

Race — 14:10 UTC

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