Double World Champion Sebastian Vettel signalled his intent to take a third world title today by securing pole position for tomorrow’s controversial Bahrain Grand Prix.
The Red Bull driver blitzed the desert track in Sakhir to return to the top spot for the first time since December.
Ahead of qualifying, Mercedes had looked the team to beat with Nico Rosberg setting fastest times in both FP2 on Friday and FP3 on Saturday morning just two hours before qualifying started. However, things began to go wrong for the outfit that dominated so convincingly in Shanghai last weekend when 7-time World Champion Michael Schumacher was eliminated in the first round of qualifying. He starts the race in 18th just ahead of Jean Eric Vergne in his Toro Rosso, both of them remarkably outqualified by the flying Caterham of Finland’s Heikki Kovalainen. The jovial Finn didn’t set a time in Q2 to save tyres for the race on Sunday, likewise Williams’ Pastor Maldonado who slips back five places on the grid thanks to a gearbox change.
Q2 once again proved the undoing of Felipe Massa, the Brazilian at one point looking like beating team-mate Fernando Alonso, but the 2005/2006 World Champion manhandled his underperforming Ferrari round to make the cut whilst Massa didn’t make it in time and has to settle for 14th on the grid. Joining him in the midfield is Kimi Raikkonen who was disappointed to wind up 11th ahead of Kamui Kobayashi and Nico Hulkenberg in the Force India. Force India had missed FP2 on Friday as a consequence of leaving the circuit early to avoid clashes between Police and protestors that had nearly injured four team members earlier in the week after they were caught in a bomb attack. Despite this, Britain’s Paul Di Resta safely made it through to the final top ten of qualifying, but was content to start 10th after setting no time to save tyres for the race. Bruno Senna ended a frustrating day for Williams when he failed to make it into the top ten and lined up 15th.
Into the final shootout, Rosberg still appeared to have an edge over close rivals Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and the Red Bull duo of Vettel and Mark Webber. Mclaren initially set the pace as they and the Red Bulls elected to set a lap time on a set of used soft Pirelli tyres, with Hamilton shading Button by less than a tenth of a second to take the provisional front row. Vettel failed to make the most of his early run and was at first 4th behind Webber. In the dying minutes, track temperatures began to fall dramatically and whilst Hamilton and Vettel made it across the line on fresh tyres to take the front row, Button and Webber were crippled by the sudden lack of grip. Both locked brakes into the notoriously tight turns 9 and 10 which effectively ended their chances of challenging, and although Webber clung on for 3rd on the grid, Button abandoned his lap and headed for the pits. Shanghai winner Nico Rosberg faded to 5th, only just ahead of the stunning Daniel Ricciardo and Lotus’ Romain Grosjean, both of whom start ahead of Sergio Perez and Fernando Alonso who elected not to set a lap time. Vettel’s time of 1:32:422 was just 0.098 faster than Hamilton, but it was enough to give him the pole position both he and his team badly needed.
The real test will be on Sunday as he bids to win his first Grand Prix since India in October last year.
Bahrain GP Provisional Grid
- Sebastian Vettel DEU Red Bull Renault 1:32:422
- Lewis Hamilton GBR Mclaren Mercedes 1:32:520
- Mark Webber AUS Red Bull Renault 1:32:637
- Jenson Button GBR Mclaren Mercedes 1:32:711
- Nico Rosberg DEU Mercedes Petronas AMG 1:32:821
- Daniel Ricciardo AUS Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:32:912
- Romain Grosjean FRA Lotus Renault 1:33.008
- Sergio Perez MEX Sauber Ferrari 1:33:394
- Fernando Alonso ESP Ferrari No Time
- Paul Di Resta GBR Force India Mercedes No Time
- Kimi Raikkonen FIN Lotus Renault 1:33:789
- Kamui Kobayashi JAP Sauber Ferrari 1:33:806
- Nico Hulkenberg DEU Force India Mercedes 1:33:807
- Felipe Massa BRA Ferrari 1:33:912
- Bruno Senna BRA Williams Renault 1:34:017
- Heikki Kovalainen FIN Caterham Renault 1:36:312
- Pastor Maldonado VEN Williams Renault No Time*
- Michael Schumacher DEU Mercedes Petronas AMG 1:34:865
- Jean-Eric Vergne FRA Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:35:014
- Vitaly Petrov RUS Caterham Renault 1:35:823
- Charles Pic FRA Marussia Cosworth 1:37:683
- Pedro De La Rosa ESP HRT Cosworth 1:37:883
- Timo Glock DEU Marussia Cosworth 1:37:905
- Narain Karthikeyan IND HRT Cosworth 1:38:314
*Maldonado 5-place grid penalty for gearbox change. Starts 22nd.
Race Starts 13:00 GMT on Sunday 22nd April. Live coverage available on TV via Sky Sports F1 HD and highlights on BBC One at 17:20. Live radio coverage available from BBC radio 5 Live.