Nico Rosberg has delivered a trademark performance to clinch his first pole of the season under floodlights in the glittering sights of the Bahrain International Circuit. After the opening two successful races, Mercedes were getting better and better in the practice sessions topping the timings all the way. It was the matter of who’s the best of the rest with Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Williams and Force India seemingly in the hunt.
Sebastian Vettel spun late in the final practice and was in for a tough Saturday evening as he clearly lacked pace of the front-runners. As the darkness began to loom, the temperatures started getting lower and the tensions rose higher for the qualifying in the middle east. Esteban Gutierrez headed out first followed by Hulkenberg and Grosjean. The German clocked a 1:36.883 and put his Force India six tenths quicker than Romain Grosjean. Looking to ease their way into Q2, Rosberg and Hamilton immediately set about lighting the timing sheets as they swapped quickest laps on medium rubber with Hamilton edging one tenth quicker.
Williams’ raw pace has been hampered by the wet qualifying sessions in Australia and Malaysia but in Bahrain though they got what they wished for. The track was emptied for a quick change of softs as drivers struggled to find grip and locked up in their lap runs on medium tyres. As the soft tyres proved to be the only way forward, the teams were forced to act swiftly in the final few minutes to ensure berth in the next session. Force India looked threatening to their opponents throughout the long straights and speed traps as Nico Hulkenberg relished his chances to top Q1 ahead of Bottas with team-mate Perez in third.
Jules Bianchi was momentarily outside the drop zone with a decent run but later found himself pipped by the experienced Kamui Kobayashi’s Caterham. In the dying moments, Grosjean seized the final spot into Q2 – knocking team-mate Maldonado out in the process. Sutil held up the Frenchman and almost touched the Lotus as he got caught up in traffic.
17. Pastor Maldonado 18. Adrian Sutil 19. Kamui Kobayashi 20. Jules Bianchi 21. Max Chilton 22. Marcus Ericsson
As the second qualifying started the lap times were dipping continuously; Hulkenberg headed the timings with a 1:35.682 momentarily only to be beaten by the front runners with Hamilton’s Mercedes reeling off another seven tenths from Ricciardo ahead of Alonso and Raikkonen. The other Mercedes of Rosberg edged Hamilton by 0.164s on soft rubber on his next flying lap as the Silver Arrows looked untouchable. Grosjean and Vettel were in the drop zone without setting a lap while Button and Magnussen did respectable runs for fourth and sixth.
With three minutes remaining, Vettel set about for his first run and went eight fastest but the chargers behind him left no room for the world champion. Bottas and Massa lapped exactly the same times to go seventh and eighth respectively – 1.134 seconds off the pace. Raikkonen hung on to tenth to eliminate Vettel who complained about downshifting and pulled in without electing for a final run. Hulkenberg was dancing round the circuit suddenly in Q2 to finish a disappointing twelfth, however, team-mate Perez did make the cut with a lap good enough for P6. Ricciardo shone on team-mate Vettel yet again completing Q2 in third.
11. Vettel 12. Hulkenberg 13. Kvyat 14. Vergne 15. Gutierrez 16. Grosjean
The 12 minute decider proved to be a two-horse race as Mercedes were on a different league in comparison to the rest of the field. The rule tweak to the tyre usage – allowing only the tyres on which the fastest Q2 lap for each driver was set to start the race with – meant that all the ten drivers stepped in to fight for pole. With under eight minutes remaining the track was seen busy as all but Raikkonen made their way out.
Bottas clocked a 1:34.247 in his Williams but moments later Rosberg went a second faster with a 1:33:185 leaving a benchmark for Hamilton to beat. But the Briton had only managed the second best time, 0.279 seconds off the pace-setter – Bottas, Perez, Massa, Button, Ricciardo, Magnussen and Alonso followed them up after the initial runs. Raikkonen decided to do a single run and slotted his Ferrari sixth – crucially over-hauling team-mate Alonso who was far off the pace in tenth behind McLaren’s Magnussen.
Rosberg aborted his final run after Hamilton ruined his lap locking-up into Turn 1. It was such a shame as he had been quicker than the German through the practice. Nevertheless, Rosberg could cherish his first pole of the season starting from the cleaner side of the track. Ricciardo drove a stunning lap to slot behind the two Mercedes but unfortunately will have to serve a 10 place grid penalty for the unsafe release in Malaysia. Bottas and Perez finished fourth and fifth respectively after some sublime laps throughout qualifying.
1. Rosberg 2. Hamilton 3. Ricciardo 4. Bottas 5. Perez 6. Raikkonen 7. Button 8. Massa 9. Magnussen 10. Alonso