After both cars finished in the points in Melbourne, the first time since the team has enjoyed a double-points finish since its 2016 return, focus quickly switches to Bahrain. Chassis Technical Director Nick Chester explains the main challenges of racing on the edge of the Persian Gulf.
Setting the tone
What's the overall verdict from Australia?
The Bahrain International Circuit is a lot smoother than the Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit, so we'll experience less of a problem with bumps. It's got a bit more grip, a slightly different range of corner speeds and longer straights with more scope for overtaking. I'd expect the teams to be very closely matched as in Australia and it will certainly be another tight fight.
What's the outlook for Bahrain?
A solid seventh place in Melbourne for Nico Hülkenberg opens up his points-scoring account for 2018. Now the German is eyeing up another strong weekend in the Bahrain desert.
It was a straightforward race and successful for us. It was a strong weekend and I was pleased by our good race pace. I felt good out there and it's a solid result. Overtaking was very difficult as the cars are aero sensitive and the speeds are so high. Seventh was probably a fair result for us; we would have been higher barring the unfortunately timed virtual safety car. We have to keep working and make sure we beat the teams around us. We've sent out a positive message from Enstone and Viry, but we need to reduce the gap to the front and that's the challenge.
How do you reflect on the season-opener?
The Bahrain International Circuit is a great facility in the middle of the desert. The track itself is quite technical with the natural elements adding a few further challenges, most notably the wind. I really enjoy Bahrain as the heat is guaranteed and the atmosphere is always good to experience.
What do you like about the Bahrain Grand Prix?
You take a smooth and gentle approach to the track in Bahrain, while, of course, being as fast as possible. We joke about it being in the middle of the desert, but sand is a genuine element we have to consider in our preparation. If it's windy it gets blown on to the track, so it can vary a lot from one session to another. You're always adapting to the grip levels as well as the wind direction, which you need to suss out to get that perfect lap. My qualifying lap last season was as close to perfect as possible, even on par with the 2010 Brazil one. Hopefully we can repeat that this season and put ourselves in a good place ahead of next Sunday's race.
What kind of approach do you have to take for a night race in the desert?
The Middle East is always hot, and that used to be a major factor when preparing for this race, but it's not so prevalent these days as we race at night and it's far cooler at that time. Having said that, it makes Free Practice 2 crucial as it's the session that's most representative of race conditions, so we'll be putting a lot of emphasis on that.
What other characteristics do you bear in mind in the build-up to the race?
There's a long straight with hard braking into turn one where you need to lose about 240kph and it's easy to overshoot that corner if you get it wrong. Traction on the exit is limited so you're fighting the rear end. T5-6 is a very fast combination and very satisfying if you nail it. T8 is a tight and slow hairpin and another place where it's easy to out-brake yourself with front-locking, especially if you get off-line. T9-10 is a long left-hander where you're braking deep into it. Trail-braking is always difficult because of the propensity for front-locking as the variability of wind direction is trying to catch you off guard too.
How do you tackle a lap of the Bahrain International Circuit?
Carlos Sainz sealed his second points finish in his new colours in Australia, but the season-opener leaves him thirsty for more in the Middle East.
Having both cars in the points is a very positive start for the team and we can be proud of the weekend. From my side, I felt more confident with the car as the sessions went by and I'm confident there are still many setups to explore. Scoring points at the first Grand Prix of the year is always important and the pace was there, so I can´t wait to jump into the car in Bahrain.
How do you feel after the first race of the season?
It can be tough on the braking system, and some braking points change slightly throughout the weekend due to the timings of the sessions. We take references from Free Practice 2, which is very important as it's the only session representative of the race conditions. It's always cool racing at night and under the lights, which makes this race one of the more unique of the calendar.
What are the main characteristics of the Bahrain International Circuit?
In general, it's quite a standard lap with some flowing corners and long straights, which should bring overtaking opportunities. Turns 9-10 are the trickiest on the circuit. In fact, it might be one of the most challenging sequences of the season, as you have to brake and turn at the same time making it easy to lock-up. Turn 12 is an interesting one, because one lap you can go flat there if the wind is on your side, but then you try the same thing the next lap and it's impossible because of a change in wind direction. Turn 1 is a good overtaking spot on the brakes.
How challenging is a lap?
The adapted schedule to fit in with the evening race start frees up some time to spend mornings relaxing, having a swim or doing some sports, which is nice. There is also a go karting track next to the Formula 1 circuit, which is one of the coolest karting tracks I've ever driven. I also try to play golf before the race weekend starts. Bahrain has a very cool golf course which can be played at night! A bit like racing under the lights which is not very common!
Given the schedule of the event, do you get time to explore Bahrain?
Renault Sport Formula One Team's Third and Reserve Driver Jack Aitken officially kicks off his FIA Formula 2 Championship campaign next weekend, joining Formula 1 on the event bill. Jack concluded pre-season testing in Bahrain, racking up 232 laps across the three-day test to go along with a solid week at Circuit Paul Ricard earlier in the month. Test and Development Driver Artem Markelov will also make his 2018 bow in Bahrain as he prepares for another season in the Formula 1 support series. Artem, racing for Russian Time, finished runner-up in 2017 and has his eyes set on going one better this season, following a bright testing period, capped off with fifth place on the final day. Jack Aitken:'We had a very decent test in Bahrain last week, so I think we head there cautiously optimistic. A lot of things can change when it gets to proper racing, and we'll ease ourselves back into the rhythm of a race weekend. Formula 2 is a new challenge, but it's one that I relish and I look forward to the buzz of lining up on the grid again.' Artem Markelov:'I'm quite happy to be racing in Formula 2 this year and get some more experience with the new car and new drivers. Pre-season testing has gone well in Paul Ricard and Bahrain and the car has felt good. Hopefully the first weekend in Bahrain will go smoothly and we can meet our targets.'
Renault Sport RacingAitken and Markelov set for Formula 2 season-opener
Sacha Fenestraz began his 2018 season with a testing double-header in Hungary and Austria last week as the French-Argentine teen gets to grips with his new, Renault-liveried European Formula 3 machine. Sacha's season officially begins on the streets of Pau, France, in May for the first round of the FIA European Formula 3 season. Driving for British-based Carlin, Sacha capped off a productive four days of testing by taking second place in the final session at Austria's Red Bull Ring. Sacha Fenestraz: 'Red Bull Ring was positive, I learned a lot together with the team and that was one of our main goals for the test. I was really happy to end in the top five on the second day but every team isn't at one-hundred percent yet! It was a good four days of testing, and now I look forward to going to Misano in two weeks' time, which will be interesting as I've never been there before.'
Fenestraz easing into European Formula 3 life
Sébastien Buemi's hopes of securing a second Formula E Drivers' title took a blow following a collision in the Punta del Este ePrix, Uruguay, a fortnight ago (March 17). Uruguay has proven a happy hunting ground in the past for Séb and the team with wins in Season 1 and 2. But, despite placing first in Free Practice and qualifying his Z.E.17 challenger sixth, the luck had run out for the Swiss in the race. Attempting a pass on Daniel Abt, Séb clipped the wall, breaking the rear suspension in the process, which forced his retirement. Nico Prost, too, left without points, hindered by a 10-second penalty for a battery change, which left him finishing 15th. The team will now refocus during a one-month break before the European segment of the season, featuring Rome and the home ePrix in Paris in April before trips to Berlin and Zurich across May and June.
Frustration for Renault e.dams in Uruguay
The extreme, dry heat used to be a contributing factor in Bahrain, but since the change of timings to the schedule in 2014, and the race being held in the evening, that factor has taken a back seat. Having said that, track temperature just after sunset falls through these sessions, affecting tyre warm-up and grip level. Temperatures are much higher in P1 and P3 Free Practice sessions that are held in the afternoon. Therefore, these sessions are less representative of qualifying and race conditions than normal, which places a greater emphasis on the P2 Free Practice session, the only one of the three that is held in similar conditions to qualifying and the race.
Medium (white) – Hülkenberg 2, Sainz 2 Softs (yellow) – Hülkenberg 3, Sainz 3 Supersofts – (red) - Hülkenberg 8, Sainz 8
Nico Starts: 7 Points: 12 Average Points: 1.71 (F1 career average: 3) KM: 5,002 Laps: 906 KM Raced: 2,142 Laps Raced: 388 Positions Gained 2017 (+/-): -2 Fastest Lap: 1:35.188 (2016) Fastest Qualifying: 1:29.842 (2017) Average Qualifying: 11th Average Finish: 11th Carlos Starts: 3 Points: 0 Average Points: 0 (F1 career average: 1.95) KM: 1,505 Laps: 278 Raced KM: 379 Raced Laps: 70 Positions Gained 2017 (+/-): N/A Fastest Lap: 1:38.026 (2017) Fastest Qualifying: 1:31.716 (2016) Average Qualifying: 12th Average Finish: DNF
Starts: 59 Wins: 4 Podiums: 9 Pole Positions: 3 Fastest Laps: 2 Points: 250
Renault in Bahrain:
Qualifying Palmer – P10 (1:31.074) Hülkenberg – P7 (1:29.842) Race Palmer – P13 Hülkenberg – P9 Unusual fact: 400 palm trees line the 5.4km circuit.
This time last year: