F1 – Bahrain GP – Qualifying

Marhabaan, MiniFans! We’re in Bahrain for the last of the double headers in a same circuit this season, but this time it comes with a twist. Tomorrow they will race around the Sakhir track that we know, but next week will be more of an experiment, using just the outer portion of it. Last year’s event was a mixture of happiness and sadness, as Leclerc reigned during the whole weekend until his car gave out on him and couldn’t keep up with his driving. This year, however, it’s pretty clear that no Ferrari is ready to get even close to last year’s performance.

Q1 started as it usually does, with the drivers who are most likely to not go on out on the track for the first part of the session, who were soon joined by Verstappen and his sparks before everyone went out at the same time. The Dutchman’s FP3 time was soon lowered by Hamilton, while Stroll gambled on the medium tyre, the only driver not using the softs. Leclerc wasn’t in the bet of positions, verging on being eliminated when last year he was achieving his first pole position. Warm up laps became dangerous with twenty cars on track, some of them almost coming into each other while looking for a spot.

Vettel was the first to go out on the second stint, his teammate coming out a few cars behind. Stroll seemed not to trust his bet too much, so he put softs on, while only four cars remained in their boxes, Mercedes not being any of them. Russell went back to his old hunting grounds, getting into Q2 once again. Stroll’s new set paid off beautifully, allowing him to split the Mercedes along with Albon. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Giovinazzi (P16), Raikkonen (P17), Magnussen (P18), Grosjean (P19) and Latifi (P20).

Q2 was extremely quiet at the beginning. The end of the previous session had proven that the track improves quite a bit as time goes on and almost every single car strolled out of the pit lane with medium tyres, the notable exceptions being the Alpha Tauris, dressed in red rimmed tyres, and Russell, who didn’t even leave his box in the first stint. Sainz, unable to start his car, prompted a red flag, as his car was still half in the track in a very strange position due to his rear tyres blocking. The reason could only be speculated about, as there wasn’t a clear sign about what had happened. Once his car was out of the way and the track was cleared, the rest were allowed to go back out. A little bit more spread out than on previous instances, barely a third left the pit lane in the beginning, still clinging on to the medium tyres. The rest, probably waiting for the last couple of minutes, rested in their nests for the time being.

The last stint in Q2 saw a few cars using the medium tyres as well, as the strategy seems favourable when starting on said tyre, but people like Albon and Norris placed their bet on the red rimmed ones, trying to make sure they’d get in the last session. They would eventually abort their fastest lap once they saw they were through with the already set time with mediums. Only four would be dropped, as Sainz couldn’t go out again and it was soon made clear that neither Ferrari would make it through to Q3. Stroll’s bet on mediums didn’t work out yet again, but he didn’t have enough time to make up for it and couldn’t make it through. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Vettel (P11), Leclerc (P12), Stroll (P13), Russell (P14) and Sainz (P15).

Q3 saw all cars out soon after the light turned green. The first one to set a time was Norris, one of the few that had to choose used tyres for their first stint. It seemed clearer than ever that the pole would be fought between both Mercedes and Verstappen, especially after a comment by Verstappen where he complained about overheating tyres on his fastest lap. Shiny new rubber having been put on everyone, they all marched in single file behind Hamilton, who led the whole field and remained in his privileged spot. Bottas managed to pass Verstappen on the timing tower and Albon, unlike the rest of the weekend so far, finally placed himself in the spot expected of him, right behind his teammate.

Verstappen had looked strong all weekend but eventually relented to the now black arrows, yet still being able to maintain his head cold and reminding his team he’d start in the clean side of the grid. Hamilton got his 98th pole, extending his lead in a qualifying practice that has nothing to do with last year’s, which was dominated by Ferrari. Tomorrow’s race is also bound to be different and, thanks to Verstappen’s comment on his cool down lap, we know he won’t back down.