Bahrain International Circuit: The Ultimate Track Guide

F1 stepped into the Middle East for the first time in 2004, with the Bahrain International Circuit hosting its first race in the Sakhir desert. Since then, the track has become host to one of the sport’s annual night races.


FIRST F1 RACE 2004
TRACK LENGTH 3.363 miles
NUMBER OF LAPS 57
NUMBER OF TURNS 15
MOST POLES Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton (3)
MOST WINS Lewis Hamilton (5)

Situated 30km south-west of the Bahrain capital Manama, the Bahrain International Circuit is built on the site of a former camel farm. Crown Prince of Bahrain, Shaikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, was enthusiastic for the track to be built and for the pinnacle of motorsport to visit the country – so much so that it became a national objective for the country.

Bahrain signed a deal to hold a Grand Prix back in September 2002 and construction began in November 2002, with over 12,000 tonnes of granite being used in the making of the track. Hermann Tilke designed the track, which has six different layouts within the outer perimeter of the track. The track’s surface was shipped from Shropshire in the United Kingdom, and the circuit cost $150 million to build. The width of tarmac changes around the track, allowing multiple racing lines in some parts of the circuit. The circuit was finished just in time – but there were many time concerns throughout its construction and, though the track was finished, many of the surrounding facilities were not.

The first race here, in 2004, was Formula One’s first venture into the Middle East. A few changes have been made to the track over the years. In 2010, the track was extended in a layout named ‘the Endurance Circuit’ in honour of Formula 1’s diamond jubilee. This version of the track was only used once and garnered a negative reaction from fans and drivers.

In order to give the event a new lease of life, the Bahrain Grand Prix became a night race from 2014 onwards. 495 light poles were put up around the track, with 5,000 lights illuminating the circuit.

Formula 1’s presence in Bahrain has regularly been criticised, with criticism coming to a head in 2011 when the event was postponed and then eventually cancelled due to civil unrest in the country. 


?? FAST FACTS

  • The sand around the track is sprayed with a special adhesive so that it doesn’t affect the drivers during a Grand Prix. The track still needs regularly sweeping over the course of a Grand Prix weekend
  • Neel Jani was the first person to drive a Formula One car in Bahrain. He took to the streets of Manama in February 2004 as part of the promotional campaign for the maiden race. 
  • The race was cancelled in 2011 due to the political situation in Bahrain. Plans were made to reschedule the race from March to October that year, but the event never materialised.
  • There is no champagne on the podium here, instead non-alcoholic rosewater is sprayed by the podium placed finishers.
  • Just one corner at this track is named. The first turn was named Schumacher in the seven-time World Champion’s honour in 2014.
  • Although the drivers and fans don’t particularly like the long run-off areas, they do make Bahrain one of the safest race tracks on the F1 calendar. The long run-offs also help to prevent sand from getting on to the circuit.
  • There is capacity for 50,000 fans in the grandstands, with 100,000 visitors expected over Grand Prix weekends.

?? 2021 BAHRAIN GP RECAP

The 2021 Formula 1 season began with the Bahrain Grand Prix. Though Max Verstappen took pole position, it was reigning champion Lewis Hamilton who secured the first victory of the season.

Pre-season testing – held at Bahrain International Circuit two weeks prior to the Bahrain Grand Prix – had suggested that Red Bull would be a real threat to Mercedes’ dominance in 2021. That proved to be the case on Saturday, as Max Verstappen took pole position with an advantage of almost four tenths over Lewis Hamilton. Verstappen’s new team-mate Sergio Perez, who had qualified eleventh, came to a halt on the Formation Lap. He was able to get going again, but as the drivers started another Formation Lap, Perez was consigned to start from the pit lane.

The race finally began, with Verstappen maintaining the lead in the opening corners. Just three turns into his debut Grand Prix appearance, Nikita Mazepin – who had struggled to keep his Haas car pointing in the right direction for most of the weekend – span and crashed out of the race. At the restart, Hamilton challenged Verstappen for the lead, with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc close behind, but the Red Bull again maintained the advantage. While the McLaren pair duelled for position, Mazepin’s team-mate Mick Schumacher suffered a spin of his own and Pierre Gasly lost his front wing following contact with the rear of Daniel Ricciardo. Hamilton pitted for the first time on Lap 14, while Verstappen stayed out for a further four laps. Hamilton took the lead of the race as a result of the undercut – and would stay ahead after the pair’s second stops too. Verstappen set about closing the gap for a tense end to the Grand Prix. A wide moment from Hamilton on Lap 51 allowed Verstappen to close within DRS range of the Mercedes. Verstappen made his move at Turn 4, but ran off track in passing Hamilton and was forced to give the position back. Verstappen did not give up, but his attempts were ultimately futile, and Hamilton claimed victory by 0.745 seconds.

Elsewhere, Sebastian Vettel’s debut weekend with Aston Martin did not go to plan. After a Q1 exit and a grid penalty, a collision with Esteban Ocon in the race saw him pick up a further penalty and more penalty points. After dicing with Fernando Alonso during the race, Yuki Tsunoda scored points on his F1 debut, becoming the first Japanese driver to do so. While Valtteri Bottas completed the podium positions, Perez was awarded Driver of the Day for his fine comeback drive from the pit lane to fifth.

?? 2020 SAKHIR GP RECAP

After 190 Grand Prix starts, Sergio Perez took his maiden Grand Prix victory at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, as George Russell impressed on his Mercedes debut.

There was a driver shuffle ahead of the Sakhir Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton was out of action after testing positive for coronavirus. His seat was taken by regular Williams driver George Russell. Following Romain Grosjean’s crash at the Bahrain Grand Prix, the Haas seat was filled by Pietro Fittipaldi, while Russell’s vacant Williams cockpit was taken by F2 racer Jack Aitken. Russell impressed throughout practice, topping both sessions on the first day of running on the shorter and quicker layout of Bahrain International Circuit. While Max Verstappen topped the timesheet for Red Bull in final practice, Valtteri Bottas pipped his new team-mate to pole position by just 0.026 seconds.

Russell made the perfect start, overtaking his team-mate into Turn 1. Further round the first lap, Charles Leclerc made contact with Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen. Leclerc and Verstappen were out on the spot, while Perez dropped to the back of the field – but was able to return to the pits, rejoining in eighteenth. The Safety Car period ended on Lap 7, where Carlos Sainz challenged Bottas for second place, briefly getting ahead. Perez began his climb back through the field, and was back into the points-paying positions by Lap 21. A Virtual Safety Car period was called as Nicholas Latifi’s Williams came to a halt trackside. Sainz pitted – but the timing didn’t work out for him, with the caution period ending just as he entered the pit lane. The timing did help Perez, who was soon passing his team-mate for fourth place, before moving by Esteban Ocon for third. Debutant Aitken was responsible for the race’s final – and decisive – Safety Car outing. The Williams driver lost his front wing on the main straight, and promptly pulled into the pits. Mercedes double stacked their cars, but the stops went dramatically wrong. Russell was sent out on a mixed set of tyres, while Bottas suffered a slow stop and left the pits on the tyres on which he came in. Russell pitted next time around to enable the pit crew to fix their mistake. This promoted Perez into the lead of the race, followed by Ocon and Lance Stroll, with the Mercedes behind. Russell pulled off a bold move on Bottas for fourth place and continued his charge up the order. The Mercedes driver was within two seconds of race leader Perez, but then picked up a puncture, necessitating yet another trip to the pits. From there, Perez was unchallenged for the victory, winning the first Grand Prix of his career. Esteban Ocon finished on the podium for the first time, while Stroll made this the first race since the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix to feature both of Team Silverstone’s cars on the podium. Russell was left to rue what could have been, but still picked up the first points of his career with ninth place and the Fastest Lap.

?? 2020 BAHRAIN GP RECAP

The 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix will be remembered for Romain Grosjean’s fiery crash, from which he was lucky to escape relatively unscathed.

As the startling lights went out at Formula 1’s first night race of 2020, polesitter Lewis Hamilton led his team-mate away from the line in the ordinary fashion. But this was to be no ordinary start to a Grand Prix. At the rear of the field, Romain Grosjean clipped Daniil Kvyat’s AlphaTauri, sending the Haas driver spearing into the barriers at high speed. As the car sheared in two and penetrated the metal barriers, the French driver was engulfed in flames. Thankfully, with quick response from the FIA medical team, Grosjean escaped relatively unharmed for such a huge impact. Nevertheless, burns to his hands would bring a premature end to the Frenchman’s F1 career. The race was red flagged, with a long delay as necessary repairs were made to the barriers.

The race resumed with a standing start. Hamilton re-took pole position, but this time was joined by Max Verstappen on the front row. Valtteri Bottas had made a poor start the first time around, so restarted from fourth. Sergio Perez challenged Verstappen for second at the opening turn, but there was more trouble further back. Lance Stroll’s car was flipped over by Kvyat, with the Safety Car called out as a result. Bottas picked up a puncture which dropped him to the back of the field. The rest of the race was a less dramatic affair, that was aside from Perez. After running in the podium positions, the Racing Point’s engine expired, costing the Mexican a top three finish. The race ended under Safety Car conditions, with Hamilton taking the win, Verstappen second, and Alex Albon inheriting the final podium position. It proved to be Hamilton’s final win in his seventh title winning season.

?? 2019 BAHRAIN GP RECAP

Charles Leclerc took the first pole position of his career and looked set to win the 2019 Bahrain Grand Prix, until a mechanical failure handed the victory to Lewis Hamilton in the closing stages.

After struggling to find the speed in Australia, Ferrari were firmly back on the pace in Bahrain, and Charles Leclerc demonstrated the Scuderia’s pace by taking his maiden pole position. But it was his team-mate Sebastian Vettel who led into Turn 1, while Valtteri Bottas passed Lewis Hamilton for third place. The Finn soon made his way past Leclerc, dropping the Ferrari driver down to third. In the midfield, Lance Stroll made contact with a Haas, resulting in sparks flying on the opening lap. Back at the front, Leclerc re-passed Bottas on the second lap, and Hamilton followed him through. Carlos Sainz suffered front wing damage after colliding with Max Verstappen in a scrap for fifth place, while Antonio Giovinazzi sent Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso into a spin. On the sixth lap, Leclerc found a way past his team-mate at Turn 1 and re-took the lead. After the first round of pit stops, Hamilton closed in on Vettel and passed him. Immediately after the move was made, Vettel spun in his Ferrari and on the following straight lost his front wing. Nine laps from the end, Leclerc began to encounter engine issues and it wasn’t long before Hamilton and Bottas both sailed past. The Renaults had diced for sixth position, but it was ultimately futile – both Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg retired within a few corners of each other. The ensuing Safety Car meant that Leclerc was able to hold on to the first podium finish of his career, while Mercedes scored a 1-2 finish.

?? 2018 BAHRAIN GP RECAP

Sebastian Vettel won from pole position under the floodlights after a tight battle with Valtteri Bottas in the closing stages.

A crash for Max Verstappen in Q1 put him way down the grid, while Lewis Hamilton started down the order due to a gearbox penalty. After the first lap, with Verstappen gaining places and Hamilton losing them, the pair ended up next to each other on track and a wheel-to-wheel battle on the second lap led to Verstappen picking up a puncture. Red Bull’s nightmare continued as Daniel Ricciardo’s car came to a halt on the same lap. Verstappen retired from the race on the third lap, while Hamilton’s fightback continued with a triple overtake into the first turn. A botched pit stop at Ferrari led to Kimi Raikkonen being released early and running over a mechanic, prematurely ending the Finnish driver’s race. At the front, Valtteri Bottas had pitted for Medium tyres, while Sebastian Vettel’s choice had been more aggressive, with the Ferrari running on the Soft tyres. Bottas’ tyres lasted better, leaving Bottas right behind Vettel in the final laps. Despite a valiant effort from the Mercedes driver, Vettel could maintain his lead, to take his second consecutive win of the season. Pierre Gasly had a notable performance at Toro Rosso. Having qualified sixth, he went on to finish fourth in the Grand Prix – Honda’s best result since their return to F1.


?? BAHRAIN GP WINNERS AND POLESITTERS

YearPolesitterTeam On PoleWinnerWinning Team
2004Michael SchumacherFerrariMichael SchumacherFerrari
2005Fernando AlonsoRenaultFernando AlonsoRenault
2006Michael SchumacherFerrariFernando AlonsoRenault
2007Felipe MassaFerrariFelipe MassaFerrari
2008Robert KubicaBMW SauberFelipe MassaFerrari
2009Jarno TrulliToyotaJenson ButtonBrawn GP
2010Sebastian VettelRed BullFernando AlonsoFerrari
2012Sebastian VettelRed BullSebastian VettelRed Bull
2013Nico RosbergMercedesSebastian VettelRed Bull
2014Nico RosbergMercedesLewis HamiltonMercedes
2015Lewis HamiltonMercedesLewis HamiltonMercedes
2016Lewis HamiltonMercedesNico RosbergMercedes
2017Valtteri BottasMercedesSebastian VettelFerrari
2018Sebastian VettelFerrariSebastian VettelFerrari
2019Charles LeclercFerrariLewis HamiltonMercedes
2020 (Bahrain)Lewis HamiltonMercedesLewis HamiltonMercedes
2020 (Sakhir)Valtteri BottasMercedesSergio PerezRacing Point
2021Max VerstappenRed BullLewis HamiltonMercedes