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The weather is not a popular topic for small talk. However, in advance of the second Formula 1 race of the season at the Bahrain International Circuit, the weather conditions in the desert at the Persian Gulf are the hot topic among the staff of the racing teams.
The desert atmosphere in the small kingdom in the Persian Gulf impacts everybody without exception: the dry dust in the air, the heat haze on the horizon… In recent years, temperatures of up to 38 degrees Celsius were recorded at race weekend in Bahrain. The asphalt on the track was measured at over 50 degrees. In the evenings, however, at race time, it can get quite cool. Sometimes, you have to reach for a jacket. All of this naturally has an influence on the set-up of our two Mercedes-AMG F1 W10 EQ Power+ cars.
Whereas the first and third training sessions take place during the day, the second training session and qualifying – like the race itself – are set to take place with significantly cooler conditions at 6 p.m. local time. As a result, when looking at their race set-ups, the teams are focusing on Friday evening, with the goal of obtaining pole position on Saturday.
Cool, but at a cost
According to the rules, the F1 teams must start the race with the same cooling configuration that they have used in qualifying. Therefore, the air intakes can no longer be adjusted in the parc fermé. However, the bodywork can be opened during a pit stop if the sensors on the car indicate that certain components are overheating. It is also relatively easy to open the cooling plate under the driver’s head protection in the cockpit. The air vents can also be covered for qualifying and the first stint and then opened again during a pit stop. This can contribute an additional cooling effect of three to five percent for the second stint.
In general, with hot temperatures, we have to consider whether additional cooling is worth it as it usually goes hand in hand with a deterioration in aerodynamic performance. If the team opens the bodywork of the W10 and installs increased cooling, the additional air vents mean greater air resistance and they disrupt the airflow around the car. This in turn negatively impacts the efficiency of the rear wing and the diffuser. Depending on which aerodynamic configuration the team deploys, the result can be significant in terms of lap times. A fully enclosed car would be several tenths of a second quicker per lap than a vehicle that is set up for maximum cooling.
No sand in the transmission
The desert means not only hot temperatures but also sand. Lots of sand. And in Bahrain, this is compounded by strong winds. These winds hit the island state either from the north-west or from the Rub’ al Khali section of the Arabian Desert, bringing dry and very hot southerly winds. And since the Bahrain International Circuit is located on the site of a former camel farm in a rural and flat region, the wind blows without obstruction. It frequently blows the sand from the desert directly on to the track.
The problem here is not so much how it affects the vehicle systems – that is, whether sand gets into the transmission – but rather, the abrasion caused by the coarse grains of sand on the aerodynamic surfaces. Once the 20 cars take to the circuit, however, they quickly clear the sand off the asphalt. It is noticeable during the training sessions that the teams attempt to wait as long as possible before starting so that the other teams will have cleared away most of the sand.
As we attempt to repeat our fantastic one-two success from Melbourne this weekend, the forecast is fortunately for slightly lower temperatures than we have had during previous races in Bahrain. There are even some predictions for light rain – and that in the desert! That will certainly be a topic for small talk.