After playing second fiddle to Lewis Hamilton in all three practice sessions, Nico Rosberg trumped his Mercedes teammate against the odds in Qualifying to take pole position for the tenth Bahrain Grand Prix.
The two Silver Arrows sparkled as they powered around under the 5,000 lamps which floodlit the venue, with Rosberg going fastest in his first run in Q3 with a best lap time of 1:33.185 which was 0.279 better than Hamilton.
The two, immersed in their own private war, and almost oblivious to the others, decided to have another go but to no avail as both aborted when they realised that they would not go any faster. No one else was in their zone on the night – they were half a second better than the best of their rivals.
An anti-climatic ending, but nevertheless very much an unexpected result which only serves to fuel the the rivalry between Rosberg and Hamilton which is starting to look like the headline story of the season, and a juicy one at that. Right now the Qualifying score is 2-1 in favour of Hamilton, with a victory apiece – the race will be interesting.
Rosberg summed up his evening at Sakhir, “It has just worked well through the weekend, finding my way, making progress and getting through some issues. The challenge this weekend is that Free Practice was in such hot conditions, and you have to guess, sort of, for the cold conditions [for Qualifying]. It worked out well. I felt comfortable and got my laps together. I’m very happy. I have good memories of this track, winning the GP2 championship and starting my first race in F1. I enjoy coming here and again today, it’s suited me.”
Hamilton said, “I am not disappointed, congratulations to Nico and he has done a great job this weekend, he is improving and picking up the pace. I locked up in the last lap but generally I am happy for the team.”
It was a bittersweet session for Red Bull, although more bitter than sweet for the world champions, as once again Daniel Ricciardo showed pretty remarkable pace in the Red Bull during Qualifying. He set the third best time, but alas he will drop down ten places due to the penalty for the pitstop shenanigans in Malaysia.
Ricciardo spoke afterwards, “Really pleased with the performance. At moment it’s the best anyone else can do behind the two guys alongside me. Still got ground to make up, but I’m pleased with how well Qualifying went tonight. It’s been tricky with the temperature dropping a lot for the evening sessions – as you saw in P3 we were a long way off and we turned it around this evening – it’s nice to close the gap.”
“Tomorrow of course I don’t stay at the front from here, so there’s work to do. We’ve got top guys in the office to get me back up there. It’s close between two and three stops and a bit of room to get back from there,” concluded the Australian.
It was even worse for teammate Sebastian Vettel who failed to make it beyond Q2, ending that segment of the session 0.393 down on Ricciardo. The world champion has now so far this season failed twice, out of three tries, to make it into Q3.
He said over the team radio, “The downshifts were really bad.”
He reflected later, “They [Mercedes] are out of reach – this track suits them here. Hopefully we can do a good job at the moment and rescue some points this weekend. Things are going on in the background which haven’t helped and we haven’t done many laps here. You can have days where it’s quite tight to get into Q3.”
After showing glimpses of potential in practice Williams finally revealed their hand in Qualifying with Valtteri Bottas ending fourth fastest and Felipe Massa eighth, suggesting that the Martini boys might have a say on who ends up on the podium in the grand prix.
Sergio Perez finally enjoyed a hassle free session and rose to the occasion, to set the fifth best time and with it beat his Force India teammate Nico Hulkenberg for the first time this season. The German knocked out of proceedings in Q2 after a lap which he admitted, “The lap wasn’t good enough. There’s a bit of a nasty tailwind, but I just got it up on kerb, which is probably where I lost it.”
Also beating his teammate for the first time in Qualifying this year was Kimi Raikkonen who, despite his discomfort in the F14T, was best of the Ferrari duo with the sixth best lap time on the night, while Fernando Alonso was unusually out of sorrts and could only manage the tenth best time.
The Spaniard explained, “Not an easy Qualifying – we were losing power and the car seemed slower on the straights. I did a 1:34.5 in Q2 and a 1:34.9 in Q3 with less fuel, so we need to check what’s happening – maybe the floor is damaged because we are losing a lot of time on the straights. We are nearly out of the points already in ninth – we have nothing to lose. We know that the Mercedes engines are good here and we have a threat from behind from Vettel and Hulkenberg, so it will not be easy.”
Jenson Button was the better of the McLaren drivers with the seventh best time, with Kevin Magnussen ninth on the timing screens.
Although the Silver Arrows were on another planet, the next eight cars were within a second of one another, suggesting a big scrap for the final podium step, presuming the Mercedes run trouble free and don’t trip over one another.
Both Lotus drivers were again way out of contention, with both Saubers unimpressive, and rookie Daniil Kvyat getting the better of Toro Rosso teammate Jean Eric Vergne.
Final word to pole winner Rosberg, “Starting from pole is a great thing but it’s a whole different story tomorrow. The challenge awaiting us is tyre degradation but I’m confident. I had some good runs yesterday so I’m confident that I can stay ahead in tomorrow’s race.”
Subbed by AJN.
Bahrain Grand Prix, Qualifying – 5 April 2014
|3||3||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull-Renault||1:36.220||1:34.592||1:34.051|
|5||11||Sergio Pérez||Force India-Mercedes||1:34.998||1:34.747||1:34.346|
|11||1||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull-Renault||1:35.549||1:34.985|
|12||27||Nico Hülkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||1:34.874||1:35.116|
|13||26||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso-Renault||1:35.395||1:35.145|
|14||25||Jean-Éric Vergne||Toro Rosso-Renault||1:35.815||1:35.286|
|107% time: 1:41.515|