Nico Rosberg headed Lewis Hamilton to give Mercedes its first front-row lock out of 2014 by dominating qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix, eclipsing the remainder of the field by 0.9s. Daniel Ricciardo came closest to the Mercedes pair but will drop to 13th for tomorrow’s race due the penalty received in Malaysia for an unsafe release.
On the weekend of his 150th Grand Prix start, it was Rosberg’s fifth career pole, the German equalling the tally of his 1982 World Championship winning father, Keke.
After establishing a comfortable margin throughout the weekend, qualifying saw little change as the duo completed the first phase of qualifying without using a set of the soft option tyres before showing their true pace in Q2.
Rosberg’s benchmark time was a tenth of a second faster than Hamilton could manage, with the rest of the field 0.8s adrift, and it set up a fascinating in-team battle between the two childhood friends.
As the final 12-minute session began Rosberg was once again able to hold the provisional bragging rights, setting a time of 1:33.185 to hold a 0.3s margin over Hamilton. When the cars emerged for their second effort, a slow first sector by Rosberg all but ended his chances and the pressure was now on Hamilton to maintain his 100 per cent pole record of 2014.
However, entering the Michael Schumacher turn, Hamilton suffered a huge lock-up. The mistake put an end to his pole attempt at the earliest point and thus Rosberg took his second consecutive pole at the Sakhir circuit.
The third place start had a number of challengers, with the Williams, Force India and Ferrari pairs joining Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo as contenders for best of the rest. Ricciardo, after setting the third quickest time in Q2 was able to hold his position, starting in the top three for the second time this year and leading Vettel, who was unable to reach the top-10 shootout, in the team-qualifying battle.
The Australian will take a 10-place grid penalty tomorrow for his botched pit-stop last time out in Malaysia and will therefore hand the second row to Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez.
Bottas, enjoying a dry qualifying session for the first time this year, was able to make the most of his Mercedes-powered machine to take the second highest start of his career.
Perez has had a difficult start to his Force India career, due in part to Nico Hulkenberg’s impressive form. However, Perez was the quicker man today, taking fourth place with Hulkenberg only managing 12th.
It was a similar story at Ferrari, where Kimi Raikkonen has laboured in the shadow of Fernando Alonso in the first two races of the season but today he was able to take sixth place, fifth with Ricciardo’s penalty, whilst Alonso could only manage 10th, to become ninth. He said afterwards that he was losing power as the session went on. He set his fastest speed trap time in Q1, which was only 16th fastest, albeit only 1km/h slower than Raikkonen.
But unlike the Finn who improved by 6/10ths from Q2 to Q3, Alonso was 2/10ths slower. This will be a disappointment for Ferrari; they had a quick car in similar conditions on Friday night.
Raikkonen will be joined on the third row by Jenson Button, the McLaren driver celebrating his 250th Grand Prix start by getting within 0.15s of third placed Bottas.
Bahrain Grand Prix, Sakhir, Qualifying
1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m33.185s
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m33.464s +0.279s
3. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1m34.051s +0.866s
4. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1m34.247s +1.062s
5. Sergio Perez Force India 1m34.346s +1.161s
6. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m34.368s +1.183s
7. Jenson Button McLaren 1m34.387s +1.202s
8. Felipe Massa Williams 1m34.511s +1.326s
9. Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1m34.712s +1.527s
10. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1m34.992s +1.807s
11. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1m34.985s +1.277s
12. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1m35.116s +1.408s
13. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1m35.145s +1.437s
14. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1m35.286s +1.578s
15. Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1m35.891s +2.183s
16. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1m35.908s +2.200s
17. Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1m36.663s +1.789s
18. Adrian Sutil Sauber 1m36.840s +1.966s
19. Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1m37.085s +2.211s
20. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1m37.310s +2.436s
21. Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1m37.875s +3.001s
22. Max Chilton Marussia 1m37.913s +3.039s