If it wasn’t for the fact that the points accrued in Melbourne are vital to a sustained challenge, the season-opener at Albert Park often has the feel of a one-of – a ‘phoney war’ in a festival atmosphere, after which F1 goes home, does a spot of thinking and resets for the real thing.
That ‘real thing’ arrives this weekend in the shape of the Bahrain Grand Prix, a tough race at a difficult to read track where the realisation that we’re heading into a long, ulta-competitive championships season really begins to take hold.
Not that it feels like a hardship. This weekend takes us to one of the season’s nicest paddocks, a perfectly proportioned oasis in the desert, which is at its best under the twinkling lights of the evening in which the weekend’s crucial sessions occur.
On track it’s a different story, however. Here it is most definitely a war of attrition, thanks to high daytime temperatures that stress engines, a highly abrasive surface that shreds tyres and dust and sand that clog air intakes.
In that regard, it’s a race that’s only intermittently been kind to us – just three podiums – and which has often been downright cruel (last year’s heartbreaking double DNF, the team’s first since 2010).
So, what can we expect this time out? Let’s get the answers from Max and Pierre…
The Bahrain Grand Prix is a tricky one for teams, with changing conditions from day sessions to night racing. How does that affect drivers?
"Personally I enjoy the track and the transition from day to night is a challenge in terms of car balance, so that always makes it an interesting weekend.
"You never really know where you stand when you start qualifying because you haven’t had the optimal preparation, as the track conditions aren't the same during practice. The middle sector, which is quite technical, is the best part of the Bahrain circuit and I hope it’s good for racing again this year."
You’re heading to the circuit at Sakhir with one podium finish already under your belt. What are you expecting from the Bahrain Grand Prix?
"Starting the season with a podium in Australia is really positive but Melbourne is not a typical circuit, so we can’t get carried away, and I don’t think we will really know where we stand until after China."
You scored the best result of your career to date in Bahrain with a brilliant fourth place last year for Toro Rosso. That’s got to give you a good feeling heading into this year’s race weekend?
"Bahrain is one of my favourite races. Recalling last year’s result brings back a lot of emotion and it has a real positive energy. Not only that, but I also had my best qualifying there with sixth, and I started the race from fifth so I have good memories. Naturally, you relate to places with the emotions you’ve experienced there, so Bahrain sits top of my list as one of the best."
What are you expecting from the race this year, as an Aston Martin Red Bull Racing driver?
"I’m really looking forward to going back, especially after a tricky weekend in Melbourne last time out. We’ve seen our car is competitive and I like the track in Bahrain so I can’t wait to jump back in the car and get to work."