Lewis Hamilton seals his first Bahrain pole but Vettel poses the menace to Mercedes' hopes
Lewis Hamilton broke his Sakhir Circuit qualifying duck to claim pole position for tomorrow’s Bahrain Grand, the defending champion finishing 0.
Lewis Hamilton broke his Sakhir Circuit qualifying duck to claim pole position for tomorrow’s Bahrain Grand, the defending champion finishing 0.411s clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and more than half a second in front of his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg.
It was his fourth pole from the first four races, only the second time that's been done in F1, after Vettel's run in 2011. It was also one of the most dominant over team mate Nico Rosberg, with six tenths margin between them. Rosberg blamed himself for getting side-tracked into thinking too much about the race and not enough about qualifying, describing it as "very very bad management" on his part.
In contrast his team mate carries an air of great confidence, despite having Vettel breathing down his neck. The Ferrari was closer today than Mercedes expected on a single lap and their race pace in practice means that they carry a real menace in what is likely to be a tightly fought strategic battle tomorrow.
"I feel very happy," said Hamilton of his first Bahrain pole. "Obviously coming into the weekend that was the target – to really try and kind of master this track and get the car into an area I’m really comfortable with and that’s generally how the weekend’s gone. You know the laps were pretty good; you can always improve. I’m obviously really grateful to have this beast underneath me, which I can really attack these corners with. I think last year I wasn’t comfortable with the car to be able to do so, so it’s a great feeling."
The key to the race will be whether Ferrari can run longer on the soft tyres than Mercedes, as they did in Malaysia. If they can tempt Mercedes into stopping earlier than is ideal on their first two stints on soft then they may be able to beat them. Vettel should be able to keep Rosberg behind him, but he and the new Ferrari team at Ferrari will need to be on their A game, as they were in Sepang, to beat Hamilton for a second time in four races.
Q1 got underway in slightly calmer conditions than blustery FP3 and Raikkonen was the first to take to the track, with Bottas joining the fray soon after. The Williams driver quickly took P1 but was then eclipsed by Rosberg, who set a time of 1: 35.657 on the medium tyres.
The Mercedes man was soon joined in the top five by soft-tyre runners Nico Hulkenberg and Felipe Nasr. However, immediately prior to their runs, the session had its first retirement when Jenson Button pulled over at the side of the track for the third time in four sessions this weekend in Sakhir.
In the closing stages of the session those in the danger zone were Max Verstappen, Pastor Maldonado and Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi.
Verstappen found the required pace and scraped into Q2 with a time of 1:35.611. Maldonado, however, failed to make it through, his best lap of 1:35.677 only being good enough for P16.
Verstappen’s leap to safety also pushed out Daniil Kvyat, with the Russian putting in a disappointing final lap that netted him P17 behind the Lotus driver. Hulkenberg was the last man through to Q2, the Force India driver’s 1:35.653 seeing him safely through with just two hundredths of a second in hand over Maldonado, who was told over team radio that something had “gone wrong with the engine and power delivery.” In FP3 Maldonado had taken a useful seventh with his quali sim, a repeat of the position he filled in the second practice session.
At the top of the order, Hamilton was quickest, finishing a tenth in front of Bottas. Rosberg was third, though he finished the session close on half a second down on his team-mate.
Felipe Massa was fourth for Williams, ahead of Raikkonen, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel, who completed just three laps in the opening session. All drivers set their best times on the soft tyre.
In the second session, Rosberg initially set the pace but Hamilton quickly worked his way back to the top of the order, his first run netting a time of 1:32.669. Rosberg was also again eclipsed by Massa who set a time three tenths of a second quicker than Rosberg’s.
The last to set an opening time were the Ferraris of Raikkonen and Vettel, though both rapidly staked a claim on a Q3 berth with the Finn in P2 and the German in P4.
Most of the front runners opted to rely on their first run to see them through and in the closing stages those in the drop zone were Hulkenberg, Force India team-mate Sergio Perez, Nasr, Sauber team-mate Ericsson and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.
Hulkenberg was the man to make the big move, claiming ninth place in Q2 with a time of 1:34.613. Behind him Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz scraped through in P10, six hundredths of a second clear of 11th-placed Sergio Perez. The Mexican was followed by Nasr and Ericsson. Alonso claimed P14, while 15th place went to the unfortunate Verstappen, who early in the session had reported that he was down on power.
The first runs in Q3 saw Hamilton in charge again, with the champion setting a time of 1:33.552 on used softs to take P1 three tenths of a second ahead of Red Bull’s Ricciardo, who prior to Hamilton’s lap had claimed the fastest S3 time of the session using new soft tyres.
Rosberg, also on used softs, was third, four thousandths of a second down on the Australian’s time. Hulkenberg, with just one new set of softs at his disposal, opted to sit out the first run.
In the final runs, Vettel was the first of the likely front-row men across the line and with purple times in S1 and S2, the German set a provisional pole time of 1:32.982. It was a superb lap but Hamilton was already running faster, stealing the S1 purple time from the German.
Ahead of the champion on track, Rosberg had similarly taken the best S2 time but he could not find more pace and when he crossed the line he slotted into third, four hundredths of a second behind Vettel.
Afterwards Rosberg admitted that he had got his qualifying strategy wrong.
"I was thinking too much about the race and I underestimated Sebastian’s speed and also how much it would cost me, and what I mean is that taking it easy in Q2 on the race set of tyres that we start the race with," he said. "I just lacked the rhythm as a result. I didn’t into the rhythm and I just had one shot at it at the end with a new set, starting Q3 with a used set. So that’s where I went wrong today. Disappointed, because Sebastian beat me. If I was second it would have been, still, damage limitation, but being third, that’s realty not ideal."
With Raikkonen already fourth and the Williams cars of Bottas and Massa in fifth and sixth the pole was Hamilton’s to take, and he did so in imperious style, blasting across the line 0.4s ahead of Vettel and, perhaps most significantly more than half a second clear of Rosberg.
Behind the Williams pair, Ricciardo was seventh for Red Bull ahead of the excellent Hulkenberg. Sainz was similarly effective for Toro Rosso in claiming ninth, while Romain Grosjean took the final top 10 place for Lotus.
With Ferrari's long-run pace looking very good tomorrow's race could be a very close affair and Hamilton admitted that the threat from Vettel is clear to see.
"They are very quick this weekend and they are going to be very hard to beat tomorrow, they have great race pace," he said. "Hopefully, with our positioning, hopefully that does help and we’ll be taking all measure to make the tyres go as long as they do, but I think we’re in a good position. Looking forward to the fight."
Bahrain Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:33.928 1:32.669 1:32.571 16
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:34.919 1:33.623 1:32.982 12
3 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:34.398 1:33.878 1:33.129 16
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:34.568 1:33.540 1:33.227 15
5 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:34.161 1:33.897 1:33.381 16
6 Felipe Massa Williams 1:34.488 1:33.551 1:33.744 16
7 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:34.691 1:34.403 1:33.832 15
8 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:35.653 1:34.613 1:34.450 15
9 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:35.371 1:34.641 1:34.462 18
10 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:35.007 1:34.123 1:34.484 20
11 Sergio Perez Force India 1:35.451 1:34.704 12
12 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:35.310 1:34.737 9
13 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:35.438 1:35.034 9
14 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:35.205 1:35.039 10
15 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso 1:35.611 1:35.103 14
16 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:35.677 7
17 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull Racing 1:35.800 6
18 Will Stevens Marussia 1:38.713 6
19 Roberto Merhi Marussia 1:39.722 6
- 22 Jenson Button McLaren No time 1
Bahrain GP: Provisional starting grid
Bahrain GP: The two Sauber drivers missed out on making it into Q3