The Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas will start on pole for the Bahrain Grand Prix after he beat team mate Lewis Hamilton to the top spot.
Having seemingly not looked to have the edge over his team mate, especially in the first two qualifying sessions, Bottas will start on pole tomorrow for the first time in his career after a spectacular final Q3 lap. After the first of the Q3 runs Bottas was still marginally down on his team mate Hamilton, who then set a new personal best at the start of his own final flying lap but made a mistake through the middle sector that cost him. Sensing his chance, Bottas saved his tyres up for a final push in the final sector where he did just enough to beat Hamilton by over two hundredths of a second.
“I’m really happy,” said Bottas. It’s the first pole of my career in my fifth season. It took a few races but I’ve got it and hopefully it’s the first of many.”
Joint-championship leader Sebastian Vettel was third, almost half a second behind the Mercedes drivers. It was rather disappointing for Ferrari, who seemed to have the edge over the Mercedes in Free Practice on Friday. Even in Q2 there was only a few hundredths separating the top three. But the Ferrari was unable to respond when Mercedes turned up their power for the top-ten shoot-out, reminiscent of the qualifying we saw from the last three seasons of the turbo hybrid era. But the Ferrari is at least expected to be a far tougher proposition on race day than it was over a single lap, with many feeling the Ferrari has the underlying race pace to take the fight to and possibly beat the Mercedes.
One of the big surprises of the session was the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo scoring the teams highest start position this season, with a fourth place alongside former team mate Vettel. Ricciardo had a quiet weekend, especially on Saturday where it appeared his team mate Max Verstappen had the edge over him. However, when it came to it Ricciardo pulled out the lap he needed to not just beat his team mate, but leapfrog the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen as well. The Australian seemed happy with his starting position, and glad that once again he can boast a team mate has never outqualified him in Bahrain.
Raikkonen will start fifth in his Ferrari after admitting he’s been struggling to get to grips with the 2017 Ferrari car, especially it seems over a flying lap needed for Qualifying. He’s described that he has been “struggling like crazy with understeer,” which was apparent after his opening Q3 run. The Red Bull of Max Verstappen will line up sixth alongside Raikkonen.
It was a promising day for the Renault team as well. After failing to reach the top-10 shoot-out of qualifying in the whole of 2016, both Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer reached Q3. Hulkenberg was then able to shine in the car, and muscle the Renault to seventh ahead of Williams’ Felipe Massa and the Haas of Romain Grosjean. And while Palmer was a second adrift almost of his team mate in his first ever Q3 session, it appeared it was down to being in an incorrect engine mode setting for his final flying lap of the session.
“I’m pleased, I saw the full hour of qualifying for the first time,” Palmer said after the session. “We’ve had such a tough weekend but we found something in the set-up before qualifying so we can build on that.”
The Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat just missed out on the top ten, but will be in a good position tomorrow as he gets to start the race on fresh tyres unlike those in the top ten. Many suspect that while their qualifying pace is good, the race pace of the Renault is a lot less to be desired. Meaning Kvyat and Lance Stroll in 12th for the Williams stand the best chance of capitalising on any drop in performance.
After missing the opening two races due to a back issue sustained at the Race of Champions in January, Pascal Wehrlein silenced his critics today by driving his Sauber to 13th on the grid. His team mate Marcus Ericsson could only manage 19th in the sister car, prompting many to question why there was such a disparaging difference in the time. Many people have praised Wehrlein’s return though.
It was however a tough day for the Force India team, with Esteban Ocon 14th and Sergio Perez failing to make it out of Q1. He lines up in 18th. The team did not seem to have a reason to explain their baffling lack of pace bar lack of pace in both cars. And blaming the double waved yellows for Sainz on who Perez was so down. They were not the only team lacking when it came to an excuse for their drivers poor qualifying, as the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz qualified 16th and stopped out on track. The team tried to apologies to him for making him abort his final flying lap, which he looked set to get through on considering he had a purple first sector, though Sainz seemed unwilling to hear it. Many have suggested that the team insufficiently fuelled his car, resulting in Sainz having to pull over, though the team have not confirmed this.
As was to be expected there was yet more misery for McLaren, with Fernando Alonso unable to take part in Q2 due to a broken MGU-H unit in the back of his McLaren Honda. Baring any penalties he may receive, he provisionally starts the race in 15th position. His team mate Stoffel Vandoorne did not fair much better, and for the third time in succession he failed to make it out of Q1, finishing the session 17th.
The race is expected to be a one stop tomorrow, though for those further back, the opportunity to do something different with strategy to catapult themselves up the order is surely very tempting.
Bahrain GP Qualifying Timesheet
1. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, + 0.023
3. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, + 0.478
4. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, + 0.776
5. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, + 0.798
6. Max Verstappen, Red Bull, + 0.918
7. Nico Hulkenberg, Renault, + 1.073
8. Felipe Massa, Williams, + 1.305
9. Romain Grosjean, + 1.994
10. Jolyon Palmer, Renault, + 2.305
11. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso
12. Lance Stroll, Williams
13. Pascal Wehrlein, Sauber
14. Esteban Ocon, Force India
15. Fernando Alonso, McLaren
16. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso
17. Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren
18. Sergio Perez, Force India
19. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber
20. Kevin Magnussen, Haas
Feature Image Credit: Mercedes AMG Petronas Press Release