Prixview – Sakhir Pre–Season Test

Features Prixview

Formula One heads to the Sakhir Circuit in Bahrain for three days of pre-season testing ahead of the opening race of the season. The test was originally due to take place in Barcelona before the Melbourne weekend was postponed and the move to Bahrain.

The current layout has been used for a but two of the Grand Prix’s held in the country, the sixteen corner Grand Prix Circuit dates to 2005. Featuring three straights and a tight infield section, the straights mean drivers need to be on it through the braking zones.

The circuit has a mixture of long straights and a tight infield section which creates opportunities for overtaking. But its high speed that matters on the three straights and that means that good downforce and speed are very important, as well as breaking at the end of the straights.

This means that it looks again very difficult to see Mercedes being beaten. They have only been beaten twice in the hybrid era, the long straights last year in Barcelona showed the world champions had in terms of straight-line speed. They will try and hold back slightly in terms of outright pace and develop the aero package.

The teams know this is about developing the cars with the ‘B-specs’ 2020 cars being developed over the winter. Last year we saw the beginning of what the theme for would be 2020, with McLaren, Aston Martin and Alpine (as they are now), all being very competitive throughout the season.

Large parts of the cars have been frozen, but the key thing I think we will start to see but not fully understand is how the cut in downforce has affected the cars when it comes to allowing them to follow more closely on track. This freeze is going to be interesting to see whether teams have spent their tokens and whether any have made gains

As always, we need to be cautious with testing, Mercedes tend not to show there full hand and tend to focus on reliability which has been key to their seven world champions success in the turbo-hybrid era. Last year they started to set the theme with around two to five seconds advantage they had over Ferrari and Red Bull.

Eyes are very much back on Ferrari following their difficult 2020, testing last year exposed the settlement which broke on the last day of testing, which saw the team, as well as Alfa Romeo and Haas, lose performance from the power unit. But we were still surprised when we returned to the circuit five and a half months later how far Ferrari was behind Mercedes.

We will be looking to see whether the new engine and power train has allowed Ferrari to recover whatever the technical regulations took away on the final day of testing to try and understand the progress the teams have made over the short winter.

Mercedes also has technical changes, the DAS system which first emerged in testing last year has been outlawed. Testing is a time where you need to look beyond the headline lap times and at the run as a whole, you need to see the handling and long-run data to understand where they have the performance.

We have also had a shakeup in drivers for the first time in a long time over half the teams go into this season with a changed driver line up. This test is very important for the drivers and teams who have switched drivers to start to understand how their new cars and teams work.

The midfield teams Aston Martin, Alpine, McLaren and Alpha Tauri were all very close in testing which continued into the season. We should watch them to find out whether any of them are going to get closer to each other, or if one team can pull away and get closer to the midfield.

We had a pattern in Barcelona last year which continued into the season, of Aston Martin been the team to beat through the majority of 2020 although McLaren had a strong race in Abu Dhabi allowing them to move seven points ahead in the final race of last year.

Facts and figures

Test Formula 1 Aramco Pre-Season Testing 2021
Venue Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain
Configuration 2005 Grand Prix
Circuit Length 5.412 km (3.363 mi)
Lap record Race 01:31.447 Pedro de la Rosa, McLaren – Mercedes, 2005
Qualifying 01:27.264 Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, 2019

Fast facts

  • F1 has used three different layouts of the Sakhir Circuit the only Hermann Tilke circuit which has seen this many different configurations. The 2005 Grand Prix Circuit has held most of the races, expect the 2010 race which ran on the Endurance Circuit and last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix, run on the Outer Circuit.
  • The track surface at Bahrain International Circuit is made from a special aggregate that was shipped from a quarry in England at great expense and offers very high levels of grip
  • Bahrain testing had to be abandoned for the first time because of a sandstorm in 2009 after just 90 minutes into the session, the first time a day off running in an official test not caused by rain or snow. The 2019 test was abandoned because Pirelli didn’t bring wet tyres.
  • The conversion to allow night racing in Bahrain in 2014 cost £15m and saw the installation of 495 lighting poles and 4500 light fittings, immediately paid off as the first night race featured a memorable wheel-to-wheel “duel in the desert” between the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

Event timetable




All days

Morning 09:00-13:00 07:00-11:00
Afternoon 14:00-18:00 12:00-16:00

Driver Line Up



Mercedes Valtteri Bottas Sir Lewis Hamilton
Red Bull – Honda Max Verstappen Max Verstappen
McLaren – Mercedes Daniel Ricciardo Lando Norris
Aston Martin – Mercedes Sebastian Vettel Lance Stroll
Alpine Esteban Ocon Esteban Ocon
Ferrari Charles Leclerc Carlos Sainz Jr
Alpha Tauri – Honda Pierre Gasly Yuki Tsunoda
Alfa Romeo – Ferrari Kimi Räikkönen Antonio Giovinazzi
Haas – Ferrari Mick Schumacher Nikita Mazepin
Williams – Mercedes Roy Nissany Roy Nissany


Mercedes Sir Lewis Hamilton Valtteri Bottas
Red Bull – Honda Sergio Perez Sergio Perez
McLaren – Mercedes Daniel Ricciardo Lando Norris
Aston Martin – Mercedes Sebastian Vettel Lance Stroll
Alpine Fernando Alonso  Fernando Alonso
Ferrari Charles Leclerc Carlos Sainz Jr
Alpha Tauri – Honda Yuki Tsunoda Pierre Gasly
Alfa Romeo – Ferrari Antonio Giovinazzi Antonio Giovinazzi
Haas – Ferrari Nikita Mazepin Mick Schumacher


Red Bull – Honda
McLaren – Mercedes
Aston Martin – Mercedes
Alpha Tauri – Honda
Alfa Romeo – Ferrari
Haas – Ferrari
Williams – Mercedes

What we will be looking for

The three days of testing are very important as we begin to understand which teams have made gains and how all the drivers are adapting to these revised cars. Some drivers will be driving cars for the first time with their new teams, so expect mistakes as they are learning.

Three days of testing is half what the teams had in Barcelona last year, but the stable conditions should allow the teams to maximise running and it means reliability is going to be a key factor. Most drivers will have twelve hours maximum in the car if teams spilt the running 50:50 but some will also be using the reserve drivers.

The limited regulation changes are going to be a thing we need to look at, the cars have had a 20% cut in downforce over the winter. But some are expecting that to be recovered of that, but the big unknown we can’t answer until we get into the race is how much that allows cars to be close on track.

The thing teams need to find a balance between long-run data gathering as that is what they need to progress, high speed runs, at what point does the car break or become undrivable. The aerodynamic performance is the most important thing for the team, they will also not be running the final spec.

Remember from FP1 onwards the cars enter parc ferme a change in this years sporting regulations, it means the work done in testing could be very important when it comes to the race weekend.

Mercedes is likely to be the team to beat, we need to look at the mileage and not speed as that has been the case for a while now. Often, we see them manage two race distances each day between Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, with them doing a session each.

McLaren is one team to watch they have switched to Mercedes power this season; it should give them a bit of a boost. But that depends whether they have got the seating and modifications needed to suit the Mercedes. We know the manufacture has been hinting at some issues with its power unit, we will see if this is a serious issue. McLaren, I think should be closer to Aston Martin given they now have the Mercedes engine.

You need to expect that these teams will remain close again, the gaps tend to be not a 100% accurate this is because all the teams run different programmes. So patience is the what word as we try to understand what the teams are doing, obviously they are not going to tell us what they are doing, but F1TV normally provides us with comparisons visually but we won’t fully under until a few races into the season.

Eyes are going to be on Ferrari, last year in Barcelona we saw a big drop in power and performance, which continued when we got racing with their customer teams, Alfa Romeo and Haas. This test will see if the new power unit has allowed them to recover what was lost in the technical directive, we had on the final day of testing last year.

The other headache is it’s not as easy to get parts out to Bahrain, we know the distance is further away from Europe but we also have Covid restrictions but a seven-hour flight and quarantine restrictions are going to make it even more difficult to move parts out.

2020 vs 2019 Race Data

Race laps 57
Race distance 308.405 km (191.634 mi)

P1 Fastest

P2 Fastest

P3 Fastest

Q1 Fastest

Q2 Fastest

Q3 Fastest

Race Time

Fastest Lap

2020 01:29.033 01:28.971 01:28.355 01:28.343 01:27.586 01:27.264 02:59:47.515 01:32.014
Diff -1.321 -0.598 -1.124 -0.125 -0.460 -0.602 -01:25:26.380
2019 01:30.354 01:29.569 01:29.569 01:28.495 01:28.046 01:27.866 01:34:21.295 01:33.411

Note – 2020 Race was suspended after Romain Grosjean’s crash on the opening lap

A lap of …

Valtteri Bottas comes out of the last corner builds speed and opens the DRS, then he crosses the start-finish line. Stays on the outside all the way along the straight before breaking in-between 150m and 100m boards. Turns in and get close to the kerb and then heads to the outside for two. He then runs to the inside kerb, building speed which he carry’s through three. Builds speed along the straight, before breaking at the 100m board for four. Hits the apex and runs the car to the exit.

Breaks slightly into five before building speed through the corner. Good through six and seven, breaks going into turn eight, hits the apex then runs to the outside. Crosses the track on entry to nine, goes through the centre and then begins to break. Hits both the outside and inside kerbs, before running to the inside. Runs along the support pits, breaks at 50ish metres running through the corner close to the apex then to the inside.

To the outside for thirteen, runs close to the kerb and then to the outside where he stays all the way along the strait. Breaks a 100m before fourteen where he takes the inside apex and then back to the outside where he stays until he crosses the line with a 1:28.789.


All six tyre compounds are available for testing, numbered C1, C2, C3, C4 and C5, plus the intermediates, wet and extreme wet. with C1 being the hardest and C5 being the softest. Last year for the race Pirelli brought the C2 (hard), C3 (medium), C4 (soft)


Jack is responsible for the day-to-day running of Formula One Vault. He brings you all the brilliant content. Has an obsession with all things Formula One and anything with an engine.