History, highlights, and controversies of the Bahrain GP

History, highlights, and controversies of the Bahrain GP

The season opener for the 2023 season is right around the corner, and it will be held in Bahrain. Here's the history of the circuit, and some of its past most famous highlights.

Where it all started

Back in 2002, the construction of the Bahrain international circuit officially started. However, it was not until two years later, in 2004, that Bahrain finally hosted its first Formula 1 Grand Prix. Since then, the sport has raced there every single year, except 2011 - we'll explain the reason shortly -. Moreover, the Bahrain GP usually hosted the third race of the year, but in 2006, 2010, 2021, and 2022 it became the season opener. It will be the case this year, too.

Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher won the inaugural race with Ferrari. Then, Fernando Alonso and Renault showed their supremacy in 2005 and 2006. Ferrari went back to the highest step of the podium once again thanks to Felipe Massa, who won both in 2007 and 2008. Jenson Button won in 2009 with Brawn GP, while Alonso recorded his third win one year later with the Prancing Horse. Sebastian Vettel won the 2012 and 2013 editions with Red Bull, while Mercedes won from 2014 to 2016, twice with Lewis Hamilton and once with Nico Rosberg. Then, Vettel and Ferrari won again in 2017 and 2018, followed by three consecutive wins for Hamilton. Last season, Ferrari recorded its seventh win with Charles Leclerc.

A race of controversies

So, you might be asking what happened in 2011 since the race was called off before the start of the season. Hereafter is what many people don't know.

It was February 21st, and it was announced that the Bahrain GP, scheduled for March 13th, was canceled. The reason being the 2011 Bahraini protests against the government were characterized by a lot of violence. The FIA planned to reschedule the race for October 30th of the same year, but following the disagreement of Damon Hill and Mark Webber (just to mention some), Bernie Ecclestone confirmed that the race would not take place.

Sadly, the controversy continued the following year as well. News reported that the authorities were still using violence against the protestants. Therefore, many asked for the cancellation or at least postponement of the race. Despite that, the race was held as scheduled on April 22nd. These kinds of issues regarding human rights, especially in the Middle East, are still ongoing issues that surround Formula 1. The sport has been adding races in countries where these problems are ordinary, thus raising the concern of many people around the world. However, money rules, and – sadly – there seems to be nothing more powerful than that.

Fancy a new look?

Another interesting occasion regarding the Bahrain GP, this time less cruel and less sad, was the 2010 edition. That year, the layout of the track switched from the usual one (5.412 km or 3.363 miles) to a longer one (6.299 km or 3.914 mi) called the “Endurance Circuit” to celebrate F1's diamond jubilee (60 years since the foundation of the sport).

From scare to joy

A special year for Bahrain was surely 2020 when the country hosted not one, but two races in fifteen days. At the start of the season, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the entire world, Formula 1 announced that the race would be postponed until further notice. The Grand Prix was then rescheduled to November 29th, with the second race, the Sakhir Grand Prix, taking place around a shorter layout of the track on December 6th. The winner of the Sakhir GP was Sergio Perez, who made an incredible comeback from last place to winning the race.

However, that was not the only event to remember that year, as just one week before Perez's win, one of the scariest crashes in the recent history of Formula 1 scared the entire world.

It was lap one of the 2020 Bahrain GP, Romain Grosjean hit another car on the exit of turn three, and his car swerved to the right, hitting the metal barrier at high speed. Then, the unthinkable happened, a fireball exploded, and his Haas split in half, leaving everybody speechless. Nothing was shown on TV for what seemed an eternity. Then, the Frenchman appeared inside the fire, trying to escape from hell. He was walking on his legs and was alive. Grosjean survived a 67g impact. He only had burns and bruises, which forced him to miss the last two races of the season. He was replaced by Pietro Fittipaldi.

A battle of champions

Another big controversy regarding the Bahrain GP, this time related to the track, happened in 2021. It was the first of many races that saw Max Verstappen and Hamilton battle for victory. The Brit was in front, with the Red Bull driver just behind, pushing hard to get the better of his rival. Verstappen tried to overtake Hamilton around the outside of turn 4 and managed to get the position. However, he exceeded the track limits to do so. Therefore, he had to give the position back and lost the win to his rival.

Now, where does the controversy lie? After reviewing the images of the race, Hamilton did the same thing as Verstappen at turn 4, which means going off track 29 times, way more than what the rules allow. Therefore, many argued that Lewis had to be penalized too, but the race's result remained the same. The topic of track limits has always been difficult to deal with in Formula 1, and it will always be.

What does the future hold?

Let's see if the 2023 Bahrain GP will also leave us with another controversy, or if it will gift us a new or unexpected winner, considering Aston Martin's form at the pre-season testing. You can follow the weekend's analysis here on our website in the following days.

Written by Davide Bini.