Bahrain Qualifying: Rosberg delivers perfect lap to take pole

Nico Rosberg
Nico Rosberg on his way to pole in Bahrain

Nico Rosberg delivered a second successive pole for Mercedes in the space of  a week as he put together what he called a perfect lap to claim the top spot starting slot for the Bahrain Grand Prix, with Sebsastian Vettel second best in the Red Bull, making it an all German front row for the race.

Rosberg looked strong throughout the session, and in Q3 he was one of four who did two flying laps, each time good enough for pole but it was his final tour – 1:32.330 – which was error free and about as close to perfect as a lap can be which he acknowledged over the radio, “Yesss! Come on guys, that’s how it’s done. A perfect lap.”

Speaking in the press conference afterwards Rosberg said, “Am I surprised? A little bit. It wasn’t really clear who was the quickest car over one lap. I was a bit happier than yesterday. We worked overnight to improve the car. I’m really, really happy. It’s a fantastic result, it’s great for the race. Of course it will be a tough race with rear degradation especially.”

Pole sitter Nico Rosberg
Pole winner Nico Rosberg celebrates in Bahrain parc ferme

“I really want to kickstart my season. It has been a rough ride in the first three races. This was my first real qualifying. I’m OK for the race. For sure the competition will be tough definitely. It’s difficult to say if we have enough pace to win the race but for sure we’ll try hard to win,” added Rosberg who last time he started from pole, last year in China, he scored his one and as yet only grand prix win.

A quarter second down on the best time was reigning champion and current championship leader Vettel, who topped Q2 in the Red Bull, but in the end had no answer to the blisteringly quick one lap pace of the Silver Arrows.

Vettel reflected, “Congratulations to Nico, it was all his today. When I crossed the line I saw I didn’t go first. I didn’t know how much was missing. The lap was fine but it was clear even with a perfect lap [Nico] was unbeatable. We managed to save tyres for the race. For sure it’s good to start on the front.”

Sebastian Vettel was second quickest
Sebastian Vettel was second quickest

Fernando Alonso was third for Ferrari, aborting his final run in Q3 as he settled for the second row and, perhaps crucially, will start on the cleaner side of the track.

Two time winner Alonso summed up his afternoon, “We tried to complete the second lap and it was similar until the last corner. On exit, I saw I was one tenth slower so we decided to come in and save one lap on those tyres. You never know if you have to use them again. Normally in qualifying we struggle a lot and the car is very competitive in the race. We start with the leaders and fight for the podium.”

For the first time this season, in his new team, Lewis Hamilton had to play second fiddle to his teammate in qualifying. The 2008 world champion was fourth fastest, but will drop five places on the grid for the race.

Mark Webber was fifth fastest in the Red Bull, but due to a penalty incurred in China, will drop three places.

Fernando Alonso
Fernando Alonso will start from third on the grid

The penalties, for Webber and Hamilton, played into the hand of Ferrari, particularly Felipe Massa who inherits fourth place the grid to make it an all red second row – Alonso on the medium tyre and Massa on the hard Pirelli option which he alone chose to run in Q3.

Force India continued to impress and perform way above expectations with what is clearly a handy piece of kit in the VJM06. Paul di Resta was seventh fastest, 0.11 seconds up on his teammate Adrian Sutil. The pair will share the third row thanks to the penalties for the two drivers ahead.

After the free practice sessions in Bahrain one would have expected Lotus, especially Kimi Raikkonen, to be front of the grid contenders but when it mattered in qualifying the E21 simply did not have the legs with Raikkonen only able to set the ninth best time, which was a full second off the pole winning effort. Teammate Romain Grosjean continued to struggle, failing to make it beyond Q2.

Job well done by the Force India duo
Job well done by the Force India duo

Seldom do we witness drivers yelping for joy making it into Q3, and it is an indication of how McLaren are really suffering when Jenson Button blurted out,  “Yaaaay. Did what you said, Dave. Good job.”

The satisfaction and relief audible from the 2009 world champion.

Button elected not to run a lap in Q3 to give himself choice of tyre compound which could end up being an inspired strategy decision – or not make a difference at all – time will tell.

Williams woes continued and now four races into the season it is no longer a surprise to see Pastor Maldonado and Valterri Bottas struggling at the wrong end of the timing screens. Maldonado failed to make it beyond Q1, while rookie Bottas managed to do so, ending 15th fastest.

At the back of the field Charles Pic was best of the minnows in 19th, Caterham out-qualifying Marussia for the first time this season.

At the sharp end, Rosberg celebrated what is only the second pole position in 132 F1 starts, but turning it into victory again as he did in Shanghai a year ago will be a tough ask – Mercedes appear to lack race pace, while Ferrari, Red Bull and even Lotus are pretty handy at the desert venue in race mode.

Qualifying Result, Bahrain International Circuit – Saturday, 20 April 2013

19Nico RosbergMercedes1:33.3641:32.8671:32.33014
21Sebastian VettelRed Bull Racing-Renault1:33.3271:32.7461:32.58412
33Fernando AlonsoFerrari1:32.8781:33.3161:32.66711
410Lewis HamiltonMercedes1:33.4981:33.3461:32.76213
52Mark WebberRed Bull Racing-Renault1:33.9661:33.0981:33.07813
64Felipe MassaFerrari1:33.7801:33.3581:33.20713
714Paul di RestaForce India-Mercedes1:33.7621:33.3351:33.23514
815Adrian SutilForce India-Mercedes1:34.0481:33.3781:33.24616
97Kimi RäikkönenLotus-Renault1:33.8271:33.1461:33.32713
105Jenson ButtonMcLaren-Mercedes1:34.0711:33.70211
118Romain GrosjeanLotus-Renault1:33.4981:33.7627
126Sergio PerezMcLaren-Mercedes1:34.3101:33.9149
1319Daniel RicciardoSTR-Ferrari1:34.1201:33.97414
1411Nico HulkenbergSauber-Ferrari1:34.4091:33.97614
1517Valtteri BottasWilliams-Renault1:34.4251:34.10513
1618Jean-Eric VergneSTR-Ferrari1:34.3141:34.28413
1716Pastor MaldonadoWilliams-Renault1:34.4256
1812Esteban GutierrezSauber-Ferrari1:34.7309
1920Charles PicCaterham-Renault1:35.2836
2022Jules BianchiMarussia-Cosworth1:36.1786
2121Giedo van der GardeCaterham-Renault1:36.3047
2223Max ChiltonMarussia-Cosworth1:36.4766
Q1 107% Time1:39.379

Note – Webber, Gutierrez dropped 3 and 5 grid places respectively for collisions at previous round. Hamilton dropped 5 for unscheduled gearbox change