Hannah Taylor, F1 correspondent
Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel appears to have found his feet at last in the FIA Formula One 2012 season, as he pipped his rivals to take pole position ahead of the controversial Bahrain Grand Prix on Sunday. After what appears to have been an unsteady start to the new season for Vettel, the double and reigning world champion proved to be the best today as he secured his 31st career pole position.
“It feels great and I completely owe this one to the team. It wasn’t an easy start to the season for us and there was a lot of expectation, but I think more than anything it was about what we expected from ourselves and we didn’t match it”. Vettel continued “The car felt better all weekend, it wasn’t the smoothest qualifying session, I nearly went out in Q1, but it’s good to get the pole” commented Vettel.
However, true to form the German pounced when it mattered, and the initial leader particularly in Q2, McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton failed to make the grade to take the top spot in Q3. The 2008 World Champion had to settle for the second place grid slot and will start in a Red Bull sandwich as a result.
Meanwhile, Vettel’s Australian team mate, Mark Webber was also pipped to the post by Vettel which means he will start from third place.
Although the usual front runners settled into their normal slots by the end of qualifying, they all appeared to have ups and downs as the session went on. Even in the latter stages of Q1 the likes of Hamilton and his team mate Jenson Button initially appeared off the pace but picked themselves up for Q3. On the other hand, Button had a slight wobble as he completed his final flying lap in Q3, which led him to be fourth fastest in the end. The 2009 World Champion will begin the race ahead of Mercedes driver, Nico Rosberg who also suffered a similar fate in the all-important Q3 session.
Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo proved that he can work well under pressure, as he quietly climbed his way towards the front of the field in Q3. On the other hand, it was a different story in Q1 as the Australian found himself in the danger zone as the clock was ticking down for the final part of that stage. Fortunately, Ricciardo pulled himself together and found enough pace to get into seventh place at the time. Sadly despite showing good form in the middle of Q2 as well, Ricciardo once again slipped into the danger zone. A nail biting battle then unfolded which saw Ricciardo promote himself into the top 10 and through to Q3. Consequently, the 22 year old will begin the race from a solid sixth place.
In addition to Ricciardo spending time in the drop zone during Q1, Lotus Renault’s Romain Grosjean also had this unfortunate experience. Initially though he appeared on good form as he topped the timesheets in first place with a 1:34.041secs. The Frenchman then had a battle on his hands as he fought to get into Q2, and went from the drop zone into third place with less than 20 seconds remaining on the clock. During Q2 though the 26 year old driver ended up in the danger zone, but made it through to Q3 by the skin of his teeth. Once there, Grosjean appeared to be in a more comfortable situation and as a result will start the race from seventh place.
Although the attention falls particularly on the front of the field in qualifying, it appeared that the drop out zone had much of the limelight today. Not only did it unusually feature some of the top drivers at first, but some close battles between the midfield runners unfolded there too. As the latter stages of Q1 approached, Sauber’s Sergio Perez appeared to experience some mixed fortune. The Mexican promoted himself from 17th place to first position at one stage, and then the tables turned against him. Perez suddenly fell into the danger zone and went head to head with Ricciardo as the pair fought to get into Q2. Fortunately, both drivers did get through to the next stage and Perez in particular was running well as he got into first place again at one point. Throughout and as Q3 came to a close though Perez appeared to keep a fairly low profile and will begin the race from an impressive eighth position.
As today’s qualifying shootout surrounded tyre wear which led to some midfield drivers out performing some usually leading ones, it appeared that Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso was in a good place as he opted for the soft compound in Q1. This decision paid off initially as the former double World Champion got into first place at one stage. On the other hand, the Spaniard did drop down the field to 13th place, but managed to get out of the sticky situation into fourth place. At one stage in Q2, Alonso had a moment of déjà vu as he landed in the danger zone again. Although Alonso was able to recover from this situation and got into Q3, he appeared to lack the pace of his closest competitors. Consequently, Alonso will start tomorrow’s Grand Prix from ninth place.
While Alonso’s Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa will be a little further down the field. From the outset as Q1 got underway Massa appeared to struggle with his tyres. This was confirmed when he locked up at Turn eight of the Sakhir International Circuit. After deciding to follow suit with his team mate, Massa switched to the soft compound of tyre and he got into second place at one point. As a result of the track conditions improving more so for the midfield runners, this led to a shakeup in the usual track positions where the front runners are found. Inevitably, Massa slipped down the field to 12th place at one stage of Q1. Sadly, as Q2 came to a close Massa fell at the second hurdle and will start the race from 14th place.
Due to the fact that some of the midfield drivers were muscling in on the action nearer to the front, this led to the likes of the appearance of Force India’s Paul Di Resta unsettling the usual front runners’ spots. The Scotsman topped the timesheets first before the rest of the field completed their initial run in Q1. However, he did fall slightly down the pack as more drivers joined him on the track to set their laps. As a result of Di Resta and his German team mate Nico Hulkenberg making it through to Q2, the pair emerged from the pits ahead of the rest as this part of the proceedings got underway. However, a controversial situation unfolded when Di Resta and Hulkenberg ended up in the drop out zone. Unfortunately one of the two drivers had to lose out and Hulkenberg was the one who missed out on Q3. Meanwhile, Di Resta made it through to the third and final stage as a result of a last minute effort in Q2. Di Resta completed the last part of the session and will start from 10th position, but his team mate Hulkenberg will have to climb his way through from 13th place.
Where some of the other key midfield runners were concerned, Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi appeared to perform well as Q1 began. The Japanese driver was one of the first of the field to set the pace, and at one part in the early stages he found himself in first place. Although Kobayashi made it through to Q2 and failed to progress into Q3, he showed good form nonetheless and will begin from 12th place on the grid. Lotus Renault’s Kimi Raikkonen shared a similar experience during his qualifying session, as he found himself near the top of the field during Q2. However, with Di Resta making it through to Q3 in the dying seconds of Q2 it meant the Raikkonen had to lose out. The “Iceman” will begin the race just behind Di Resta in 11th position.
While some drivers appeared to struggle for pace and with their tyres, Williams’ driver Bruno Senna was also one of the victims. The Brazilian appeared to struggle during Q1 when he had a minor blip and suffered understeer. In his attempts to improve from his track position of 14th place at the time, his following run meant that he stayed in the same position. Consequently, as Q2 was edging ever closer to the finishing line, Senna joined the minority who missed out on a place in Q3. As a result of this, he will begin tomorrow’s Grand Prix from 15th place.
Even though many midfield drivers and some towards the front appeared to struggle, today’s qualifying session ended more positively for others. Caterham’s Heikki Kovalainen in particular was running well and after his first run in Q1 he was in 16th place. Impressively, the Finnish driver made it through to Q2 but could not manage to secure a place in the top 10 shootout. As a result of bowing out at the end of Q2, Kovalainen still begins the race ahead of his closest competitors and will be in 16th place.
During Q1 it was announced that Williams’ driver Pastor Maldonado would incur a five place grid penalty following a gearbox change out of sequence. However, the Venezuelan did not let this hamper the rest of his session and he made it through to Q2. When Q2 got underway it was reported that Maldonado also had a suspected KERS problem. It then appeared that he would not emerge from the pits to set a lap. This proved to be the case and with the five place grid penalty, Maldonado will begin the race from 22nd place.
In a surprising turn of events at the end of Q1, Mercedes’ driver Michael Schumacher suddenly dropped out at the end of that session. The seven time World Champion appeared to struggle as the action unfolded, and after running wide at Turn four the situation looked bleak for the German. Inevitably, the unfortunate and early result came but with Maldonado’s penalty Schumacher will be promoted into 17th place. Alongside Schumacher will be one of the Formula One rookies this season, in the form of Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne. The Frenchman also appeared to have trouble staying on the track in Q1, and as he entered the pits after bowing out of Q1 he reportedly ignored the red light at the weighbridge. Consequently, as Q2 began for the rest of the field and Vergne was not among those, he was soon under investigation by the stewards for the incident in the pits. Whilst it has not yet been confirmed whether Vergne will have to face the consequences of his actions, he will as it stands begin the race from 18th place.
As the drivers near the back of the field line up, Caterham’s Vitaly Petrov was one who finished Q1 quietly. The Russian driver will start tomorrow’s Grand Prix just behind Vergne in 19th place. While another Frenchman and rookie in the field in the form of Marussia’s Charles Pic will line up on the grid in 20th position. The shakeup in the grid positions with Maldonado’s penalty, also promotes Hispania Racing’s Pedro de la Rosa and he will be running from 21st position. Meanwhile, Maldonado faces up to his penalty from 22nd on the grid. Initially, the second Marussia driver, Timo Glock was outside of the 107% ruling of the fastest time set, but the German managed to improve in time and will start from 23rd place. In doing so, Glock managed to pip the second Hispania Racing car to the higher grid slot. Therefore, Narain Karthikeyan had to settle for the 24th and final position to line up for the race tomorrow.
Despite the political issues off the track going on in Bahrain that initially may have overshadowed the race weekend, it appeared that as qualifying unfolded today that the drivers and F1 fraternity as a whole were treating the day as business as usual and to make the best of the situation. As long as the situation remains the same and the race still gets the green light for tomorrow, Vettel will appear once again the leading man but it is certain that his followers will not want him at the front when the chequered flag falls.