It’s “Lights out, and away we go!” on the 2023 Formula One season this weekend as the 20 cars will race 57 laps around the Bahrain International Circuit just outside Sakhir. This is the 18th running of the Bahrain GP and the fourth time it has hosted the season opener. Since 2014 the Bahrain GP has been Formula One’s second night race and this year will be no different, with the race scheduled for a 6PM start local time.
What time are the practices, qualifying and race for UK viewers?
The sessions take place over the weekend of Friday the 3rd of March to Sunday the 5th of March. All times below listed in GMT.
Practice 1: Friday at 11.30am
Practice 2: Friday at 3.00pm
Practice 3: Saturday at 11.30am
Qualifying: Saturday at 3.00pm
Race: Sunday at 3.00pm.
What to expect
The Bahrain International Circuit is a fast track with lots of long straights and intense braking zones that usually provide ample amounts of overtaking. With three DRS zones again this year we can expect much of the same overtaking-wise with three of the four main straights covered with a DRS zone. Drivers usually have to contend with high winds and large amounts of desert sand being deposited on the circuit.
The cars always look spectacular under the lights around the fast turn 11 to turn 12 section, but the real challenge is the tricky hairpin at turn 10. Turn 10 is left handed, off camber, downhill corner and arrives very quickly after turn 9. This is a common spot to see people run wide and compromise their run on the straight (and DRS zone) between turns 10 and 11.
What did testing tell us?
It’s usually a dangerous game to point to the top of the testing timesheet and say “that car is fastest”. I say usually as that looks to be a pretty safe bet after Sergio Perez and his Red Bull RB19 topped the times on Saturday with a time that would have put him on pole position in 2022 iteration of the race.
The Red Bull looked a fine continuation from last year’s title dominating car. Not only was their one lap pace good, the long run pace shown by Sergio on Friday morning was very promising and the car looked switched on and easy to handle. The drivers didn’t have a problem on attack laps, they were happy to take it over the kerbs and suffered little to no porpoising.
Ferrari’s SF-23 wasn’t far back from what Red Bull offered, especially on it’s long runs. The attitude within the Ferrari team, however, may me more telling, with their confidence seemingly unbroken. Just how much sandbagging was occurring is something we can’t help but wonder.
Some brave pundits have been putting the Aston Martin ahead of Mercedes’ offering this year, with an incredibly impressive long run on Saturday turning a fair few heads in the paddock. Aston team principle, Mike Krack, has tried to play down expectations after a similarly strong test in 2022 caused disappointment at the first race of the season, but new star driver Fernando Alonso has today thrown fuel to the fire saying during a televised interview:
The last day we did a race simulation, we put fuel for 57 laps. Ferrari was doing the same program as us and we were faster.
In the midfield Haas and Alfa Romeo seem most happy with their packages and improvements from last year, whilst the McLaren and Alpine teams looked to struggle. According to pitlane reporter Will Buxton, Lando Norris was seen punching a wall following the end of the third day of testing. Norris and new teammate Piastri only managed to complete 312 laps over the course of the three days and was by far the lowest of the ten teams. The car looked unwieldy and difficult to control and the team are hoping to address these aerodynamical issues with a major upgrade coming at race four in Baku.
So where is the value bet?
Given the strong showing from Red Bull in last week’s pre-season test, we’d be foolish to look anywhere else for a bet on this weekend’s race. Sergio Perez to win the race at 9/1 looks to be a more attractive prospect than the 5/6 offered on Max Verstappen, given that Sergio had the best of the running on the quicker track on Saturday and went fastest overall. That being said there are always lots of unknown quantities when looking at the first race of the season and because of this we’ll be pricing up some fun special bets closer to the time. As the late, great Murray Walker once said:
in Formula One anything can happen, and it usually does!