Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari teammate Kimi Räikkönen combined to give the Prancing Horse its first front-row lockout in qualifying for the Bahrain Formula 1 Grand Prix since 2006.
With Räikkönen having shown excellent pace on both Friday and Saturday’s practice sessions, the Finn led the way in the opening exchanges of Q3 to claim provisional pole after Vettel ran wide at the final corner on his first flying lap.
A three-time winner in Bahrain, Vettel – who makes his 200th Grand Prix start this weekend – regrouped ahead of his second and final run to clock a 1.27.958 time, edging Räikkönen by just one-tenth of a second to secure an all-red front row for Sunday night’s 57-lap race.
Their celebrations were in stark contrast to Mercedes. The reigning champions have not been able to get the F1W09 hooked up all weekend, with Valtteri Bottas leading the team’s charge by claiming third-fastest overall.
Teammate Lewis Hamilton, who carries a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change, could only manage fourth-fastest but will be bumped down to ninth on the grid for the start of the race.
Trailing Vettel by seven points in the Drivers’ Championship standings after losing out to the German thanks to a Virtual Safety Car miscue in the preceding Australian Grand Prix, the Englishman is likely to be further behind when the field heads to next weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix. No one has ever won the Bahrain Grand Prix starting outside the first two rows of the grid.
While Hamilton’s final Q3 effort was barely a quarter of a second slower than Vettel’s pole-winning lap, the Mercedes’ have been further off the pace on longer, higher-fuel runs. Sunday’s race will be a damage limitation exercise at best.
Once Hamilton’s grid penalty was confirmed, Mercedes made the right strategic calls to set up the Englishman for a recovery drive on Sunday night. His fastest Q2 time was set on the Soft Pirelli tyres, setting him up for a longer first stint than the Supersoft-shod runners who start ahead of him on the grid.
Hamilton has twice pulled good results in the face of adversity at the Sakhir circuit. In 2013 he finished fifth from ninth on the grid, and in 2016 he recovered to finish third after being hit by Bottas – then driving for Williams – on the opening lap.
Daniel Ricciardo claimed fifth-fastest in the sole Red Bull Racing entry in Q3 after teammate Max Verstappen had a bizarre crash into the Turn 2 barriers during Q1. The Dutch youngster looked set to comfortably sail into Q2, only to suffer a sudden surge of power that saw him lose rear end traction and slither helplessly into the tyre wall.
The junior Red Bull team, Toro Rosso, enjoyed a surprisingly strong qualifying session despite the perceived power disadvantage its Honda engines were giving away to their rivals. Pierre Gasly, who was quick in all three practice sessions, put in a stunning display to qualify sixth-fastest. Teammate Brendon Hartley also secured his best qualifying result and narrowly missed out on a Q3 berth; the New Zealander will start from P11.
Sandwiched between the duo are Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, and the two Renaults of Nico Hülkenberg and Carlos Sainz Jr who were split by Esteban Ocon’s Force India.
McLaren was underwhelming in qualifying, with Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne the two slowest runners in Q2. With Verstappen not setting a time after his Q1 accident, the duo will line up behind the second Force India of Sergio Pérez.
Alonso scraped into Q2 and denied the second Haas of Romain Grosjean a berth in the top-fifteen in the frantic final moments of Q1. The former teammates set an identical time, but with Alonso’s being posted earlier he was given the final spot in the next session.
The back two rows of the grid were occupied by the Alfa Romeo Sauber and Williams teams. The quartet was headed by Marcus Ericsson in 17th, who lines up two spots ahead of teammate Charles Leclerc after the Monégasque driver threw away a better grid slot with a clumsy spin at the final corner.
The reigning Formula 2 champion splits the Mercedes-powered Williams cars, neither of which has shown any decent pace this weekend. Sergey Sirotkin qualified 18th-fastest, while teammate Lance Stroll was slowest of all.
Sunday’s 57-lap Bahrain Grand Prix gets underway under floodlights at 18:10 local time (GMT +3).
|FORMULA 1 2018 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX – QUALIFYING RESULTS|
|Q3 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap|
|1.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||1:27.958|
|2.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||1:28.101||+ 0.143|
|3.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||1:28.124||+ 0.166|
|4.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||1:28.220||+ 0.262|
|5.||Daniel Ricciardo||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14||1:28.398||+ 0.440|
|6.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||1:29.329||+ 1.371|
|7.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||1:29.358||+ 1.400|
|8.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||1:29.570||+ 1.612|
|9.||Esteban Ocon||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||1:29.874||+ 1.916|
|10.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||1:29.986||+ 2.028|
|Q2 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap**|
|11.||Brendon Hartley||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||1:30.105||+ 1.764|
|12.||Sergio Pérez||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||1:30.156||+ 1.815|
|13.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:30.212||+ 1.871|
|14.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:30.525||+ 2.184|
|15.||Max Verstappen||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB14||no time|
|Q1 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap*|
|16.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||1:30.530||+ 1.579|
|17.||Marcus Ericsson||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:31.063||+ 2.112|
|8.||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:31.414||+ 2.463|
|19.||Charles Leclerc||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:31.420||+ 2.469|
|20.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:31.503||+ 2.552|
* Denotes gap to fastest Q1 time of 1:28.951 posted by Kimi Räikkönen
** Denotes gap to fastest Q2 time of 1:28.341 posted by Sebastian Vettel
Lewis Hamilton (4th) will serve a 5-place grid penalty for breaching Article 23.5 (a) of the F1 Sporting Regulations – unscheduled gearbox change.
Image via Scuderia Ferrari