F1 – Bahrain GP – Qualifying
Marhabaan, MiniFans! The wait is over and a brand new F1 season has kicked off! The free practices in Bahrain left more questions than answers, so the qualifying session was needed to uncover the teams and drivers’ real intentions. Let’s get to it once again, shall we?
The first cars to step out in Q1 were the Alpha Tauris, but they were soon joined by a Haas and both Ferraris, who, in their usual fashion, started off by losing pieces off of Leclerc’s car. This event prompted the first red flag, so that the carbon fibre elements could be removed from the track. The Italian team used the brief intermission to fix Leclerc’s car and the drivers, fitted with softs, lined up in the pitlane to get back to the track as soon as possible.
The first time to beat was set by Verstappen, but it lasted only a couple of seconds, with Alonso leading a pack of hungry drivers who would all lower the previous time, with Sainz being the last and the one who settled at the very top for the moment. Further back, McLaren was left with just one chance at making the cut, due to both drivers being in 17th and 18th. After a brief visit to their boxes to get new tyres, Hulkenberg climbed up to sixth, showing the track improvement. However, this wasn’t enough for a handful of people, who couldn’t make the cut among a few deleted laps due to exceeding the track limits. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Sargeant (P16), Magnussen (P17), Piastri (P18), De Vries (P19) and Gasly (P20).
Q2 took its time to kick off, as it was clear that the times that would determine the cut would be made at the end. Used softs were the norm, except for Verstappen, who chose brand new ones. Mercedes commanded the session until the Red Bulls got serious and the current world champion opened a gap of four tenths to the silver arrows and two to his teammate.
The second stint saw many more new tyres, but it was also witness to only the Red Bulls remaining in the garage. As cars crossed under the checkered flag, there were many ups and downs in the positions, as the times had gone down thanks to fresh rubber and a better track surface, with the most notable being Hulkenberg, who managed to climb up to third before he was knocked down a few steps. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Norris (P11), Bottas (P12), Zhou (P13), Tsunoda (P14) and Albon (P15).
Red Bull and Ferrari didn’t wait much to get out on track at the beginning of Q3, slowly but surely doing their out lap in order not to mess up their tyres for their timed lap. Verstappen led the group on track and on the timing tower, leading from Leclerc by barely a tenth. Alonso and the Mercedes followed, going out when the others came back in, looking for an empty track. The Spaniard’s strategy paid off and settled in third as he waited for the last attempts from the grid.
Leclerc getting out of his car with two minutes to go without a clear explanation helped Red Bull to score a front row, while Sainz managed to overtake his childhood hero to join Leclerc in the second row. Alonso’s fifth place could hint at Aston Martin being the third team of the year, but Mercedes, even if it didn’t seem to work out for them this once, cannot be forgotten.
In this first qualifying session of the year, there wasn’t a clear cut favourite from how the free practices had gone, even if Red Bull hinted at having that little extra needed to come out on top. Ferrari apparently managed to solve their problems and put up a fight, despite one of their drivers not making it to the end of Q3, and Alonso set the hopes of his fans up, managing a fifth place that didn’t seem hard to get to for the Spaniard. But, as always, the points are only decided on Sunday and we need to wait to see if the qualifying order will remain or be shaken up.
MiniDrivers – F1
2023 Bahrain GP – Qualifying