- Sam Bird's ESPN column
Bird's eye view of BahrainSam Bird April 17, 2013
Welcome to the first instalment of my new ESPN column, bringing you track guides for all the circuits on which I'll be racing in GP2 this season, all of which F1 will also be racing on the same weekends. My drive with RUSSIAN TIME was only confirmed in the final days leading up to the season-opener in Malaysia, so I'm sorry we couldn't do a column for Sepang but here we go with Bahrain.
At the beginning of the weekend you get quite a lot of sand and dust on the circuit in Bahrain so there might be a lot of graining in the first session, but once the track has cleaned up, there are some high-energy braking zones, specifically Turn 1, Turn 4 and the last corner. There are also a couple of high-speed sweeping corners and one corner, Turn 10, that requires a really decent braking technique. You're braking and turning for a long time and it's easy to lock up the front left which would be very difficult to control, especially on the option tyre if you flat-spot it.
In general, you need a car that will sustain the amount of grip for the whole lap; you don't want a car where the rear will go off halfway through the lap. You need a stable car under braking and you do need to get that Turn 10 right because there's a lot of time to be lost there.
Looking at the lap turn-by-turn, with the long pit straight you do get a slip stream in to Turn 1 and you do have an opportunity to overtake in to that corner, so it does make for good racing. In terms of enjoyment factor I prefer the high-speed sweeping corners myself but when you do get the first corner right you do feel like you've set the lap up already.
In qualifying you can push quite hard through Turns 2 and 3 but they are done on high revs and there's no braking through there, so it does really heat up the tyres quite a lot because there is potential for some oversteer and some spin time. It's an area of the track where F1 and GP2 will be looking to look after their tyres, and if you start sliding around through 2 and 3 you will soon be down to the canvas and running out of tyre.
Turn 4 has changed since 2010 when I raced there and got my first GP2 podium with the extra little bit of track. It was very bumpy and I'm glad we're back to the standard track because I do prefer this configuration. It's still a hard brake but probably at about 70/75 metres before the corner from sixth down to second (or third depending on your gear ratios) and a 90-ish degree right hander. Again on the exit you've got to be careful of not overheat the rear tyres.
While the corners from Turn 5 onwards do require you to go in hard and fast in qualifying, in the race you will be far more conservative. We do see some side-by-side action through here which is normally due to people's tyre wear going in to Turn 4. You can line someone up down the straight in to 4, then cut back on the inside and try to overtake into the next high-speed sweeping section.
Through here it's downhill, which makes braking quite difficult into Turn 8. Traction is very tricky, especially on the exit of that tight right-hander. You've then got to change your brake bias to the rear in-between gear changes for the next one - the long, braking, turning left corner - otherwise you'll lock up and it'll destroy your front left tyre.
This section of the track is especially tricky - even more so than most other tracks - because Turn 10 is one of the easiest corners to lock up on the F1 calendar. The length of the braking, the undulation and the angle at which you're braking makes it very tricky. In GP2 we don't have a quick-shift brake bias adjustor; we just have a little plastic dial that we have to change and we have to change it with our right hand, which is our upshift hand. So in between gears we're having to try and push this lever which doesn't give us a reading on the dash as to where we are, so it's more like a feel factor.
You then have just got four corners to go, but they're very, very important corners. You need to brake as late as you dare in to Turn 11 but not compromise the long left-hander uphill. You use all the circuit on the outside of Turn 11 and then sweep it back for 12 which should be flat out in qualifying. Then the car just has time to settle as you open the steering angle and unload the left hand side before braking for 13. You change down a couple of gears, can take a little of the kerb on the inside but use all the kerb on the exit and get onto full throttle as early as possible down to the final corner.
You need a good stable car for braking into the final corner and must be aggressive on exit in qualifying but it's one of many traction zones that you need to be wary of in the race. You don't want to use too much of the kerb on the outside of the last corner because it is very high and you run the risk of damaging the underside of the car; run too wide there and you can struggle to get off the kerb again, compromising your speed to the line.
If you manage to get all of that right then you are in good shape for to start race 1 at the front of the grid.
Despite Bahrain being only my second race with RUSSIAN TIME I feel like we're already in a position to fight for top honours. If you look at the first race in Malaysia we were quicker than the leaders for the last 20 laps of the race, so there's no reason that we can't qualify at the front and race at the front. We're a new team but we're quick enough.