Mercedes Still Dominant As Hamilton Claims Pole in Bahrain Qualifying Farce…Déjà Vu?
The new qualifying format seen in Australia bombed. No one had a good thing to say about it. Teams admitted that it was terrible and we should go back to the 2015 format. Everyone was united in this. And so the FIA and FOM in all their wisdom decided to give it a second chance with no changes for Bahrain. Wonderful. Can’t fault that logic. Oh, wait.
The thinking was that it couldn’t be judged on just one outing and people were being overly dramatic in their feedback. One more run through and then we’d be able to make a proper judgement. Judge rules? It’s still terrible. If significant change isn’t made for China then this sport really is a joke and there’s no getting around it.
Q1 – if anything – was even more anticlimactic than it was in Australia. Or it at least felt that way to me. We saw both Saubers and both Manors eliminated which was to be expected but Pascal Wehrlein qualified a very impressive P16 and looked like he might even threaten Q2 at one point. If he can make as good a start as he did in Melbourne, he could very well make an impression in the race. Points might be out of the question but should anything happen in front, there may be a chance.
The Renaults were both knocked out which was something of a surprise and a disappointment. Magnussen will be starting from the pit lane anyway due to failing to pull into the weigh station on Friday but Palmer will undoubtedly be unhappy down in what will be P19. He knows the track well from GP2 and there are chances to overtake so hopefully he will be able to advance in the race.
Probably the biggest surprise was Sergio Perez being eliminated. I don’t think Force India will have been expecting that and it will make life somewhat difficult for them tomorrow.
Q2 was again more of the same. Kvyat once again found himself victim of the elimination process as he ended up being down in P15 when the timer ran out. The Red Bulls have been looking good around this track so he will be hoping to make up a lot of places to get into the points. I will be surprised if he doesn’t succeed, assuming he has no more reliability issues.
The McLarens had shown good pace in FP2 and, while it was unlikely we would see them near Jenson’s third position of that session, they were aiming for Q3 so it’s disappointing to see them fall short. On medical advice, Fernando Alonso has been told he cannot drive in the GP and so McLaren reserve and current GP2 champion Stoffel Vandoorne has been flown in from Japan to take part in his first Formula 1 weekend. And how does he start it? Ahead of his teammate in P12. He’s definitely going to be interesting to watch during the race as he has experience with the track, it would be quite the achievement to potentially score McLaren’s first points of the season.
Both Toro Rossos find themselves in P10 & P11 which they will be happy with, they should be able to race from there and have some fun. The interesting part of Q2 was Hulkenberg. He was sat in P9 but went out again and put in a good lap to get himself up into P8, knocking Grosjean out of the session. But it’s a double-edged sword. Because while he is now further up the grid, he has to start the race on that set of tyres while Grosjean ended up being delighted at his relegation as it gives him free tyre choice at the start. It feels a shame to me that qualifying isn’t about going as fast as you can and getting yourself as far up the grid as possible, instead being tactical because tyres are so important but it will be interesting to see what that Haas can do. We saw Romain hold off the Force India on merit last race so it’s understandable that Hulkenberg wouldn’t want to qualify behind him but it’s likely he’ll still end up behind him at some point anyway.
Q3 did at least go on for a few minutes longer than the last time but it was still lacklustre compared to the old format where we saw cars on track right until the chequered flag. Hulkenberg remained P8 which was to be expected, both Williams ahead in P6 & 7. Felipe Massa has the new front wing with the micro nose but as it was only flown in and put on the car Saturday morning, they’re still trying to get to grips with setting it up. As a result, he starts behind his teammate but only by 0.002s. I don’t know how much it will benefit them in this race but at least they should be able to collect a lot of data for it. So long as Felipe doesn’t have the same kind of start as last year.
Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull leap-frogged the Williams to take P5 which seemed a surprise to many but I was half expecting him to get in front of a Ferrari too. The Red Bull looks very good here and I think it is very possible for him to keep that position or maybe even advance as we know both car and driver are very good on their tyres. Williams have a straight-line speed advantage but they have fewer sets of the softer compound tyres available which may well hinder them.
Unlike in Australia, we did at least see Ferrari go out for another lap and try to challenge for pole. As it turned out, we end up with the same top 4 as the first race. The Ferraris looked close on the first lap although Hamilton made a mistake on the last corner which left him down in P4. When everyone went out for their second lap, Hamilton pipped Rosberg to pole position by a mere 0.07s and the Ferraris ended up being about half a second down. But I’m not too concerned by this as their race pace still looks good and if they can get the same kind of start as they did two weeks ago then we should have a good fight on our hands. Both Mercedes and Ferrari also have the same sets of tyres left so it will be interesting to see if they go for different strategies or cover each other off.
Verdict & Predictions
This qualifying format needs to go. At the time of writing, a decision still hasn’t been made on where to take it and so a further meeting is being planned for Thursday. There is talk of an aggregate system being put into place which could work but I am still curious as to why they are so adamant to change it when everyone was happy with the old system. It’s just making the sport look very stupid.
What can we expect from the race? It’s hard to say but Bahrain has delivered good races in the last couple of years and I expect it to be much the same this year. Rosberg will be wanting to get off the grid ahead of his teammate to take an early lead but it won’t be the end of the world if he can’t, a lot can happen in this race. I imagine they will both be looking in their mirrors for the Ferraris and I only hope that reliability doesn’t play a factor in this so we can get a better idea of how close they really are.
I will definitely be interested to see how Grosjean and Vandoorne fair and to see how well the Renaults can make progress from starting so far down the grid. Also keep an eye out for Wehrlein at the start of the race, I think he could have a mega first lap.
I feel like Ferrari could very well win this race. We know that Nico had brake problems near the end of the Australian GP and we also know that the brakes went on both cars at this track last year so there is potential that, if the Ferraris can push them hard, it might put them under mechanical pressure. Sebastian’s won here twice and Kimi has 7 out of 10 podiums so they both know their way around very well. It could be a very good race for them if they get the strategy right.