Sebastian Vettel claimed his first pole position of 2012 in Bahrain today as he made the most of two runs in the final part of qualifying to beat Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber in an eventful session. It was a day for not making any mistakes, particularly front wheel lock ups under braking and for getting the perfect lap as the soft tyres were only good for one lap.
Vettel is the third different pole sitter in four races. It was his 31st career pole position. Red Bull has led just one racing lap in the first three Grands Prix of the season. At the same stage last year the team had led 127. Tomorrow in the race, Vettel and Webber have the chance to redress the numbers a little and given that they’ve enjoyed a race pace advantage in the first three events, there’s every reason to think they’ll take the honours tomorrow.
“It feels great and I completely owe this one to the team,” said Vettel. “It wasn’t an easy start to the season for us and there was a lot of expectation, but I think more than anything it was about what we expected from ourselves and we didn’t match it. We’ve been working extremely hard on the car, trimming here and there and finding the right way to go forward. The boys haven’t had much sleep the last few races!”
Vettel used a set of scrubbed option tyres to set a banker lap early on in the final phase of qualifying and at this point Hamilton and McLaren team mate Jenson Button occupied the front-row of the grid after using a new set of the soft compound tyre for their first run. During the second round of laps it was a case of leaving it as late as possible, due to the sandy conditions that make Sakhir an ever-evolving circuit. It looked as if Red Bull could have had a clean sweep of the front-row, until Hamilton knocked Webber back to third with a very late lap. But Webber took some satisfaction from seeing Vettel taking his set-up, as he told Australian Network 10 TV this evening.
Button, who’s been outpaced by his team mate all weekend, was unable to beat his first flying lap and ended the session in fourth place.
McLaren had earlier taken a huge risk, by not going out at the end of Q1 as many cars improved and they only just made the cut.
Behind the Red Bull and McLarens was the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg. Last week’s Grand Prix winner was unable to convert his practice pace into consecutive pole positions as he did just one run in the shoot-out and made a mistake with a small lock-up in the middle sector. However, Rosberg will be relatively pleased as he has a new set of soft tyres for what promises to be a race all about tyre life. Michael Schumacher had a problem with his rear-wing during the first part of qualifying which restricted him to just one run and left him down in 18th after a late charge from Heikki Kovalainen. After Pastor Maldonado takes his grid penalty for a forced gearbox change, this will move Schumacher up to 17th.
Daniel Ricciardo had a very strong session throughout, taking sixth position on the grid, the best for Toro Rosso since Jaime Alguersuari in Spa last year. The young Australian had shown good pace from the outset as he claimed second position in the first phase on qualifying. He will line up ahead of Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez. Grosjean put in a very good lap to reach the final shoot-out, however he was unable to find a significant amount of time in the final session to get in amongst the three top teams, as the Lotus was a little disappointing on the soft tyre.
The sister Lotus of Kimi Raikkonen will begin the race in eleventh after setting his flying lap too early in the second phase of qualifying and missing out on the track at its optimum condition at the end of the stint. Completing the top ten are Fernando Alonso and Paul Di Resta, neither of whom set a flying lap during the final session and will therefore have an extra set of options available for tomorrow and free choice of what tyre to start on.
Lining up behind Raikkonen is Kamui Kobayashi and Nico Hulkenberg who could not match the pace of their team mates. They start ahead of Felipe Massa, another victim of setting a flying lap too early. The Ferrari driver had looked like he was going to progress to the shoot-out, however late laps from those behind soon pushed him down the order to fourteenth place.
Bruno Senna is next up, just 0.3 seconds behind eleventh placed Raikkonen. Senna will share the eighth row of the grid with Heikki Kovalainen who put in a stunning lap that was just less than a second faster then team mate Vitaly Petrov. The two Caterham cars sandwich Schumacher and Vergne following Pastor Maldonado’s five place grid-penalty for a gearbox change which drops him back to twenty-second.
Behind Petrov is Charles Pic, the Marussia rookie out-qualifying Timo Glock for the first time. Glock will also start behind Pedro de la Rosa, who once again was the faster of the two HRT cars; Narain Karthikeyan bringing up the rear of the grid.
[Additional reporting: Matt Meadows]
BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX, Sakhir Circuit, Qualifying
1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m32.422s
2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1m32.520s + 0.098
3. Mark Webber Red Bull 1m32.637s + 0.215
4. Jenson Button McLaren 1m32.711s + 0.289
5. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m32.821s + 0.399
6. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1m32.912s + 0.490
7. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m33.008s + 0.586
8. Sergio Perez Sauber 1m33.394s + 0.972
9. Fernando Alonso Ferrari No time
10. Paul di Resta Force India No time
11. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1m33.789s + 1.367
12. Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 1m33.806s + 1.384
13. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m33.807s + 1.385
14. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1m33.912s + 1.490
15. Bruno Senna Williams 1m34.017s + 1.595
16. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1m36.132s + 3.710
17. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1m34.865s + 2.443
18. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m35.014s + 2.592
19. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1m35.823s + 3.401
20. Charles Pic Marussia 1m37.683s + 5.261
21. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1m37.883s + 5.461
22. Pastor Maldonado Williams No time
23. Timo Glock Marussia 1m37.905s + 5.483
24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1m38.314s + 5.892