TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Bahrain Grand Prix entered Formula 1 in 2004, introducing fans worldwide to the Bahrain International Circuit. Eventually, the Bahrain GP became the second Formula 1 race to be held at night following in the footsteps of the Abu Dhabi GP. Prior to that, drivers had to endure the extreme desert heat with temperatures reaching insane highs of forty degrees.
Formula 1 and the FIA have faced heavy scrutiny for allowing Bahrain to host races due to their numerous alleged rights violations. In 2011 the GP was canceled due to mass protests in the country only to return the following year.
Amidst all the controversy, racing continued on the track and has offered some great battles that have produced seven different winners in seventeen races. Here is the history of the Bahrain Grand Prix in Formula 1.
SCHUMACHER STARTS THE PARTY
The Bahrain Grand Prix hosted its first race in 2004 and it began with Ferrari leading the way to victory from Pole Position. Germany’s Michael Schumacher with La Scuderia not only achieved pole but also scored the fastest lap on race day.
His fastest lap remains a record until today because of the realignment of the track that took place in 2005, shortening the track. Schumacher won the race easily followed by his Brazilian teammate Rubens Barrichello in second and with Britain’s Jenson Button in third driving for BAR.
ALONSO CAN STAND THE HEAT
In 2005 a record was broken without the race even being started. This edition of the Bahrain GP hit air temperatures surpassing forty degrees and track temperatures over fifty. In what turned out to be a very sweaty affair for drivers was never an issue for Spain’s Fernando Alonso. Alonso took pole position on Saturday driving for Renault. His biggest threat was Ferrari’s Schumacher who sat in second place on the grid.
Alonso on Sunday had a clean start and led the entire race from start to finish. Schumacher did apply pressure on the Spaniard before bowing out of the race on lap 12 due to hydraulic problems.
Alonso crossed the finish line with a fourteen-second lead over Italy’s Jarno Trulli driving in a Toyota in second place. Third place was more than thirty seconds with Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren trailing Alonso. Renault set a personal benchmark earning their one-hundredth Formula 1 victory with a Renault-powered engine.
Schumacher’s final year with Ferrari began in Bahrain in 2006 with the hope of victory to kick off the season the right way. Schumacher took pole position followed by his teammate Felipe Massa and Jenson Button in third. On race day Schumacher had no issues at the start but it was Fernando Alonso who made the most of it, jumping from fourth to second and nearly colliding with Massa.
All eyes were now set on the battle for first place between the German and the Spaniard overshadowing another splendid performance by Raikkonen. Raikkonen, who started last, also made huge leaps and bounds at the start of the race, moving up nearly ten spots. Raikkonen would eventually finish the race in third place for McLaren. Raikkonen’s great feat was not the story of the day because of the great battle ahead of him.
Schumacher led most of the race and during his second pitstop Alonso stayed out longer than his rival placing him in striking distance to pass the German. Side by side, the duo went into turn one with fans holding their breath until Alonso took the lead away from Schumacher. Alonso had to hold off the German until the end of the race, pleasing fans worldwide. It was back-to-back victories for Alonso and Renault in Bahrain.
In the last two races Ferrari was always in contention to win the Bahrain GP but unfortunately for them, Renault and Alonso got in the way. In 2007, Felipe Massa took on the lead role in Ferrari replacing the legendary Schumacher who retired after the 2006 season. Massa had a solid weekend taking pole position and scoring the fastest lap on race day.
Massa led the entire race, but it was no smooth ride because a young Lewis Hamilton driving for McLaren kept him in check staying close to the race leader. Hamilton finished the race in second place and became the first rookie driver to achieve three podiums in his first three races. Raikkonen, now driving with Ferrari, stepped onto the podium for a second time, finishing in third place.
MASSA MAKES IT TWO IN THE DESERT
IN 2008 Massa repeated his strong performance from the previous without taking pole position. He started on the grid in second place behind Poland’s Robert Kubica driving with BMW Sauber. Hamilton was in third followed by Raikkonen. Both Ferrari’s had great starts to the race as Massa had no difficulty passing Kubica in turn one and Raikkonen flew past a stalled Hamilton taking third place away from him.
Raikkonen was able to hunt down Kubica passing him on lap three. The two Ferrari’s led the rest of the way with a 1-2 finish with Massa on top of the podium. Kubica who was forced to follow the Ferrari for most of the race finished in third.
JENSON AND BRAWN FLEX
Team Brawn seemingly came out of nowhere in 2009 and became instant championship contenders with Jenson Button leading the way for the team. In this edition of the Bahrain GP, Button started the race in fourth place and had a solid start passing Sebastien Vettel who was ahead of him with more fuel onboard.
During his melee, Hamilton passed both of them only to concede his gains to Button on lap 2. Button benefitted from an excellent pit strategy that put him into first place ahead of Jaron Trull after his pit stop. Button went on to lead the rest of the race claiming his first and only victory in Bahrain. Vettel managed to pass Trulli leaving him in second place driving for Red Bull and Trulli finished his slide from first to third by race end.
ALONSO REPAYS FERRARI
Alonso was certainly a thorn in Ferrari’s side in the 2005 and 2006 seasons but in 2010 Alonso was now a member of La Scuderia. Alonso gave the team their fourth victory in Bahrain in 2010 with the race taking place on a different layout.
The Sakhir Endurance Circuit was used which featured more turns creating longer laps. Vettel took pole and led for thirty-three of the forty-nine laps until his gearbox got in the way of what was sure to be a victory.
Alonso did not complain about the German’s misfortune of taking the lead and his first win with Ferrari. Felipe Massa completed yet another 1-2 finish for the team. Lewis Hamilton rounds off the podium in third place driving for McLaren.
In 2011 the Grand Prix was canceled after massive protests by Bahrain citizens took place all over the country. Human rights were at the center of the matter and Formula 1 was accused of enabling or ignoring the crimes against humanity the government was perpetuating.
Formula 1 decided that the race would not be secure and canceled the race. It was not clear if the race would ever return at this point but eventually, all the teams agreed the GP should continue the following year.
VETTEL TAKES A STEP HIGHER
Sebastien Vettel and Red Bull were certainly pleased with their past performances at Bahrain but lacked that ultimate goal of victory to their names. In 2012 Vettel hit a grand slam at the GP taking pole, achieving the fastest lap, leading the entire race, and winning.
Kimi Raikkonen and his Lotus provided the only threat to the German, staying within five seconds of the race leader. Raikkonen had the performance of the day, jumping from eleventh to second place. His teammate Romain Grosjean also had a great race finishing in third place giving his the first podium of his career.
THE SUNSETS AS VETTEL REPEATS
The 2013 edition of the race was the last race to take place in the afternoon in Bahrain. Nico Rosberg and Mercedes took charge of the weekend taking pole position and starting the race cleanly with the lead. Vettel, who sat in second place, kept close to his countryman and surpassed him on lap 2.
Much to the chagrin of Rosberg he kept sliding down the standings and ended up finishing the race in ninth place. Vettel went on to lead the rest of the race with a comfortable lead over the two Lotus drivers behind him. Raikkonen and Grosjean repeated their performance from 2012, finishing once again in second and in third place.
MERCEDES AND HAMILTON WANT THEIR FIRST
Hamilton, who had already had an incredible career up until 2014 never won the Bahrain GP with McLaren. Now driving with Mercedes, his luck would turn in 2014 but not without a fight with his teammate Nico Rosberg.
Rosberg had achieved his second consecutive pole position in Bahrain only to lose his position to Hamilton at the start of the race. From there began the battle that lasted the entire race between the two teammates. Hamilton did manage to pull away from Rosberg, but a safety car pulled the two together again for another round of battles.
Rosberg was unable to pass his British counterpart and finished in second place. Lewis Hamilton won his first of five wins in Bahrain that year. Sergio Perez finished in third place driving for Force India.
Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton are never satisfied with having just one win on any racetrack, so in 2015 the duo got the job done once again. Hamilton added another pole position to his stats book. Tensions were rising in the Mercedes garage between their two drivers but in this Bahrain GP, no incidents would occur between Rosberg and Hamilton.
For most of the race, it seemed like Mercedes would score a 1-2 finish only to have those hopes dashed when Rosberg suffered from some brake issues late in the race. Rosberg could not hold second place, losing it to Ferrari and Kimi Raikkonen. Hamilton won the race clean giving him his thirty-sixth win in Formula 1.
ROSBERG SMILES AGAIN
In 2016 Hamilton took pole position again but would suffer at the start of the race after Valtteri Bottas hit the Brit, dropping him back to ninth place. Rosberg drove past the melee unscathed and went on to lead for the rest of the race without issue.
Raikkonen and Ferrari had a solid performance despite losing multiple positions at the start of the race and finished in second place once again. Hamilton with a damaged car managed to finish in third place, giving Mercedes yet another dominant weekend in Bahrain.
VETTEL AND FERRARI STIFLE MERCEDES
Ferrari had finished in second place at the last two GP’s in Bahrain with Raikkonen behind the wheel while Vettel lagged behind in the top ten. Vettel’s fortunes changed in 2017 becoming a championship contender against Hamilton.
Vettel passed his rival at the start of the race jumping from third to second place chasing polesitter Bottas. Vettel benefited from an early pitstop placing him in first place ahead of the two Mercedes. Hamilton, who had the faster car, could not catch Vettel because he was handed a five-second penalty for a pitstop infringement making the gap between them too large to make up. Vettel won his third race in Bahrain as Hamilton finished second and Bottas in third.
In 2018 Vettel and Ferrari took pole positions and on race day led the race from the very start. His teammate Raikkonen was in second place and would exit the race after a disastrous pit stop that had him hitting one of the pit crew, breaking his leg. He was forced to retire from a race where Ferrari could have finished in the 1-2 position.
Mercedes benefited most from the incident. Bottas jumped from third to second place and Hamilton, who sat in fourth, was given a trip to the podium in third. It was now four wins for Vettel, the most in Bahrain F1 history.
HAMILTON IS TOO QUICK
In what seemed to be a promising weekend for Ferrari and possibly a third victory in a row in Bahrain with young Charles Leclerc taking pole position in 2019. On race day things would change and Ferrari could not stop the powerful Mercedes from overtaking both their drivers.
Leclerc lost the lead at the start of the race to Vettel who eventually got overtaken by a quicker Hamilton. Vettel spun out and lost any chance of a podium. Lewis won the race with Bottas in second and Charles Leclerc in third. Hamilton now had three race wins in Bahrain under his belt.
With the driver’s championship secured once again, Hamilton entered the 2020 GP without much pressure to win, taking pole position and leading the entire race. Hamilton won his fourth race in Bahrain, tying him with Sebastien Vettel for the most wins.
The story of the day was not Hamilton’s win but rather the incredibly lucky Romain Grosjean who survived a nightmare crash. Grosjean, driving for HAAS lost control of his car flying into the barriers at nearly 200km/h. He split the barriers and his car in two and was stuck in what was a flaming wreck. In what felt like an eternity, marshals attempted to put out the flames and amazingly Grosjean managed to pull himself out of the car.
He was saved by the safety halo on his car and only suffered burns to his hands. The race was delayed over an hour and resumed once the track was cleared and safe to proceed. Max Verstappen finished in second place and Alexander Albon in third, both driving for Red Bull.
ANOTHER HAMILTON RECORD
IN 2021 Max Verstappen and Hamilton became rivals for the championship, which would include numerous controversies. Bahrain would be no exception as Verstappen took pole position only to the stop during a pit stop. Verstappen trailed Hamilton and eventually passed his rival only to run wide off the track without losing his gained position.
Verstappen was forced to give back first place to Hamilton who did not relinquish the lead for the rest of the race. Questions about track limits were rampant because Hamilton had exceeded them on multiple laps at turn 4 without facing any penalties.
In any case, Hamilton won his fifth race giving him the most wins in Bahrain. Verstappen finished in second place once again with Bottas finishing in third.