Having utterly wiped the floor with everyone from the moment FP1 started on Friday, Lewis Hamilton seemingly had pole position ahead of Sunday’s grand prix all wrapped up come qualifying. Nico Rosberg, coming off a disappointing showing in Malaysia, decided that did not quite sit with him, and instead stole pole from right under his team-mate’s nose. Dan Paddock runs you through the talking points from qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
If you had the pleasure of watching SkyF1’s qualifying coverage on Saturday evening then you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d been plunged back into a 2007 themed nightmare, when ITV still held the broadcast rights to Formula One in the UK, and a turquoise peak cap was still just a glimmer in Lewis Hamilton’s eye. Unfortunately for Sky and their Hamilton love-in, Nico Rosberg spoiled that party.
Rosberg, the dominant winner in Australia, received quite the battering in some circles, who deemed his inability to keep his Mercedes team-mate in check at last weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix a sign that the much loved, and already over used, TV comparison of the old karting buddies to the Prost and Senna relationship might not be all that appropriate this year.
Going by the absolute whitewash inflicted on the field by the Mercedes pair during the three practice sessions, it is evident that the advantage shared by both Rosberg and Hamilton is not all that far shy of the advantage held by Senna and Prost to the rest of the field in 1988, courtesy of the turbo monster that was the MP4/4.
If you accept this idea, then it is hard to argue that the 2014 drivers’ championship trophy will land in either one of the Mercedes drivers’ trophy cabinets.
Going by Rosberg’s positive reaction to the criticism levelled at him post-Malaysia, bouncing back to snatch pole from under Hamilton’s nose, the outcome of that battle might not be the forgone conclusion that Sky would have you believe. The German, who matched his dad’s record of pole positions in F1 with number five today, still holds the lead in the championship courtesy of his win in Oz, and Mercedes, who have shown that they are unafraid to hand out team orders if they deem them to be appropriate, and in effect owe Rosberg one for Malaysia last year, would be well within their rights to order Hamilton to hold station behind his team-mate if it preserved what seems an almost certain 1-2 for the Brackley-based outfit.
Williams, alongside the all-dominant Mercedes, were the story of the pre-season, with their switch to Mercedes power, their capture of former-Ferrari man Rubens Barrichello, ergh, we mean Felipe Massa, and their extravagant Martini launch. Coupled with their strong testing pace, which culminated in the aforementioned Brazilian (the second one) posting the fastest time in testing in Bahrain, the very same circuit we rocked up to this very weekend.
This all got Williams fans (you know the type, they have moustaches) very excited, and quite rightfully so, especially on the back of a number of barren years, Pastor Maldonado’s ridiculously brilliant win in Barcelona back in 2012 aside.
However, aside from a flash of speed from Valtteri Bottas in Australia, which ended with the Finn three wheeling it back to the pits, having kissing the wall on the run out of turn nine and broken his right rear wheel rim, Williams have flattered to deceive.
As our very own Trent Price, at this stage still in possession of his glasses, summarised following the wet qualifying session in Melbourne, Williams have struggled in the rain. This came back to bite them again in Malaysia. Arriving in Bahrain, where the likelihood of rain arriving is on a par with a long awaited debut podium for Adrian Sutil, Williams finally had a platform to show just what they had to offer.
Bottas, who had been excellent in Australia, broken rim aside, did just that, storming to a fine fourth on the grid, which, in virtue of Ricciardo’s 10-place grid drop will see the Finn start third, equalling his career best grid position achieved in the wet qualifying session in Canada last year. With Vettel and Alonso in the doldrums, and Nico Hulkenberg’s disappointing run to 12th, expect a great battle between the Finn and Sergio Perez, who will start alongside him, after an excellent run to fifth in the Force India.
The Mexican, who had shown good pace in FP2, was impressive throughout qualifying, outshining his team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, who fluffed his lines twice in Q2, with two lock ups into turn 11 on both of his flying laps.
Hulkenberg was not the only big name to miss out on Q1, the German joined by his compatriot Sebastian Vettel. The defending champion, who uncharacteristically threw his car off the road in FP3, complained of gearbox issues, specifically on the downshift. It is the second time in three races that the Red Bull man has been eliminated in Q2.
His team-mate Daniel Ricciardo on the other hand had an excellent session, going all the way to Q3, where he finished as the closest challenger to the dominant Mercedes pair in third, albeit the best part of a second shy of Rosberg’s best lap. It is a major shame that the Australian, who is still without points despite two strong showings, will be relegated to 13th on the grid for Sunday’s race, as a result of his unsafe release last week in Malaysia. It is evident that Ricciardo has brought his fine qualifying form with him from Toro Rosso. His only fear will be that he is has inherited the notoriously foul luck of his Red Bull predecessor Mark Webber.
While Rosberg was spoiling Sky’s collection of VT’s as he went fastest in Q3, Fernando Alonso was busy hustling his Ferrari to 10th fastest, a major disappointment for the Spaniard and the Scuderia, who had hopes of reestablishing themselves ahead of McLaren and Red Bull this weekend. It was an uncharacteristically anonymous day for Alonso, who at no stage looked like being a feature for the fight for the front few rows.
Meanwhile, Kimi Raikkonen, who has looked all at sea all weekend with the F14 T, managed to grab his car by the scruff of the neck and haul himself into Q3, before going on to secure sixth, in classic Kimi fashion. The Finn, his job done, waltzed off to the media scrum with his sunglasses on, despite it quite clearly being dark. You just cannot faze the Iceman.
Images courtesy of Mercedes AMG PETRONAS, Williams F1 Team, and Scuderia Ferrari