F1 – Bahrain GP – Qualifying
Marhabaan, MiniFans! The wait is finally over and we have arrived at the first race of the 2021 season. Despite next year being the one when the big changes will come along, there have been a few implementations regarding aero and free practices, all of which are now sixty minutes long. Max Verstappen became the favourite after topping the timesheets in the three free practices that preceded qualifying. However, it has never been uncommon for Mercedes to withhold their real pace and power, something which would be revealed at the end of the day.
Q1 kicked off in the same fashion we are used to. The four cars that were almost assured to be eliminated in this session, Williams and Haas, went out first to try and define their placement at the back of the grid, but only Schumacher set a lap time. After one spin by Mazepin and a third of the session gone, the rest of the teams started to file out of the pit lane. Once times started being set, Verstappen was comfortably settled in first but the big surprise was Tsunoda in second, pushing Hamilton to third. The track improved massively before the last rush and times dropped for everyone that came out, but one yellow flag caused by yet another spin by Mazepin and a second yellow flag caused by a sudden stop of Sainz’s engine made it so times would be investigated after qualifying. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Ocon (P16), Latifi (P17), Vettel (P18), Schumacher (P19) and Mazepin (P20).
Q2 started nice and slow, with a big chunk of teams giving medium tyres a chance, but not Ferrari, maybe fearful of them not being quick enough to go through with the yellows. One first stint and two deleted laps for Pérez and Ricciardo due to exceeding the track limits in turn 4 later, Hamilton was set at the top of the timing tower, but Verstappen was closely following him, splitting the silver arrows. Alonso, far from the disappointment caused by his teammate by being eliminated in Q1, settled in between the Ferraris before mayhem came around.
In their second outing, Alpha Tauri decided to stick to mediums, which was successful for Gasly but not Tsunoda, while McLaren didn’t chance it and gave both drivers softs, with which they made it comfortably into the fight for pole position. Ferrari, who had done softs for the first try, used a new set of them for the second, being rewarded with first and second place, their drivers separated by a mere thousandth of a second. Red Bull gave mediums to Pérez as well, another risky choice given that he didn’t have a set time, and it was his downfall. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Pérez (P11), Giovinazzi (P12), Tsunoda (P13), Raikkonen (P14) and Russell (P15).
Soft tyres were the norm across the board for those who came out since the beginning, the main difference being whether they had two sets of new tyres or just one. Verstappen snatched provisional pole from under Hamilton’s nose and Gasly divided the Mercedes. The second outing saw all cars except Stroll, who had decided to do a lap on his own and no risk of traffic, going out at the same time. Hamilton improved his time, but it wasn’t enough, as Verstappen came through and lowered that time by almost four whole tenths, earning his third career pole. Gasly was relegated to fifth, as both Bottas and Leclerc improved, getting the best of the rest title, while McLaren managed to slot both cars in sixth and seventh. Sainz’s first qualifying session with Ferrari didn’t end as sweetly as Q2 foresaw, yet he still made it into Q3 after a scare with the engine shutting itself off, and Alonso’s first qualifying back into F1 awarded him a ninth place.
It seems as if Mercedes’ weakness is more real than we all thought, due to them never really showing their cards in preseason testing or the first free practices, but Verstappen not only stole pole position but also introduced a pretty decently sized gap between him and the German cars. However, we have yet to see whether this pace will translate into the race, where the variables are more and also depend on the rest, not just the driver and his car. Both Mercedes and Verstappen will start on medium tyres, meaning possibly similar strategies, but Ferrari and McLaren starting on softs means we will have to place out eyes in more than one place at once. Here’s to the first race of the season giving us a great time.