2014 Bahrain Grand Prix: Saturday Analysis

Rosberg Snatches Pole Position From Hamilton

After Lewis Hamilton grabbed Pole Position in the previous two races, we would be forgiven for predicting another Hamilton masterclass in qualifying. However, it was his teammate, Nico Rosberg, who snatched P1 under the floodlights as Hamilton faltered on his final Q3 run. Regardless, the Brit sealed a front row lockout for a Mercedes team who look in complete control. Only Mercedes can beat Mercedes in Sunday’s race.

Check out Sky Sports F1’s photo gallery, depicting all of today’s events

Nico Nick’s It

Heading into qualifying, it looked as though Hamilton had a clear edge over his teammate. He had topped all three practice sessions, despite always having Rosberg in close company. The two were ready for a Q3 shoot-out for Pole, yet the session reached an anticlimax, as on his final run, Lewis suffered a significant lock-up into Turn 1, running straight on and ruining the lap. Rosberg’s initial attempt, (which was 0.25 seconds clear of Lewis) was good enough for Pole. The Mercedes control was so significant, that Nico’s race engineer, Tony Ross, told his driver to abort the final attempt, with his only competition having made a mistake. Perhaps a touch disrespectful to the opposition, but an ominous sign of the Mercedes dominance. 
With both Lewis and Nico on the front row, the fight for the victory tomorrow could be a fierce one. However, the race distance in Bahrain always brings new challenges, especially this year. Nico acknowledged; “It’s so difficult to get everything completely right with all the new technology and set-up requirements on the car but I felt really comfortable this evening and was able to put some great laps together. I’m looking forward to the race as I had a good run on high fuel but we’re going to need to be careful with tyre degradation.” It is still very early in the season, but this fight appears to be the battle for the 2014 title. Rosberg vs Hamilton is being compared with Prost vs Senna, so Turn 1 should be a tasty affair tomorrow is the parallel’s are to continue. 

Ricciardo, Bottas, Perez and Kobayashi Shine

While the Mercedes duo stole the headlines, there were a number of impressive performances all the way down the field. Daniel Ricciardo’s mindset was evidently not effected by his admittedly harsh 10 place grid-drop, as he once again eclipsed Sebastian Vettel in emphatic fashion, finishing in a strong P3. Unfortunately for Daniel, this becomes P13 tomorrow, yet this does not detract from another impressive session. He is certainly proving to be a sublime qualifier.
Inheriting P3 will be Valtteri Bottas, as he finally had the chance to prove the outright pace of the FW36 in the dry conditions. Bottas proved his qualifying credentials in Montreal and Austin last season, but to finally qualify strongly in 2014 will fill the team with confidence. Meanwhile, Felipe Massa perhaps underperformed in P8. After a difficult week, Felipe does not need further set-backs. He acknowledged; “That was not a very easy qualifying. I made a few mistakes on my lap in Q3 as I had a bit of oversteer, so lost some time and I really should have been quicker.”
Similarly to Bottas, Sergio Perez enjoyed his best qualifying of 2014 and a much needed turn of fortunes. The Mexican was in danger of being written off against Nico Hulkenberg, as a series of unfortunate events has placed Sergio in the shadow of his acclaimed teammate. However, his P5, on a circuit which Sergio appears to enjoy, will give him a great opportunity to finally record a victory over his teammate. “It was definitely a great qualifying session and the team did a fantastic job to give me such a competitive car. After the problems we had in the first two races I feel this has been the first real opportunity to show the potential of the car. I believe we could have been even closer to the front, but I couldn’t warm up my brakes enough on the out lap of my final run in Q3 and so I didn’t improve.” If I was Bob Fernley, I would be very impressed by Checo’s reaction after qualifying. Not content with a P4 starting position for the race, he was lamenting his failure to snatch P3 from Valtteri Bottas. The kind of determination that a midfield team looking to make strides to the front needs.
Further down the field, Kamui Kobayashi deserves a mention for another spectacular performance today. The Japanese driver was supposedly signed to directly race Marussia’s Jules Bianchi and has once again placed the Frenchman in the shadow. While Kamui failed to progress to Q2, he came frustratingly close, missing out by 0.4 seconds, despite being well into the top 16 for a large portion of the session. “That’s the first time this season we’ve really had a chance to extract maximum performance from the car,” Kamui stated. “It’s clear what we need to do to improve. We saw last week in Malaysia we have good race pace, but we need to bridge that gap to be able to fight in quali with teams like Lotus and Sauber, and that’s the target.”

Vettel and Alonso Falter

You don’t read that every day. Both Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso were simply outclassed by their teammate’s today and will share the fifth row of the grid tomorrow. Vettel dropped out of qualifying in Q2, failing to nail his final attempt and put together a typically perfect lap. His poor display may have been a hangover from FP3, where he uncharacteristically made an unforced mistake, spinning into the gravel on the exit of Turn 2. Consequently, he could not complete a quali simulation run. While Fernando managed to progress to Q3, he could only manage P10, while teammate Raikkonen finally managed to beat Alonso with a pleasing P6. The Finn will obviously hope to retain his advantage tomorrow. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the race will be the battle between Vettel and Ricciardo. The champion starts P10 and the new kid on the block starts in P13, yet if yesterday’s session was representative of their respective pace, Ricciardo could hassle his teammate throughout the race.

FP3 Timesheet
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:35.324

2 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:35.439 +0.115
3 Sergio Perez Force India 1:35.868 +0.544
4 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:36.116 +0.792
5 Felipe Massa Williams 1:36.364 +1.040
6 Jenson Button McLaren 1:36.394 +1.070
7 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:36.454 +1.130
8 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:36.455 +1.131
9 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:36.680 +1.356
10 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:36.772 +1.448
11 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:36.822 +1.498
12 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:37.030 +1.706
13 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:37.119 +1.795
14 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:37.325 +2.001
15 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1:38.089 +2.765
16 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1:38.400 +3.076
17 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:38.736 +3.412
18 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:38.880 +3.556
19 Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1:38.971 +3.647
20 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:39.208 +3.884
21 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:39.225 +3.901

22 Max Chilton Marussia 1:39.597 +4.273

Qualifying Results

Q3
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:33.185
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:33.464 0.279
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:34.051 0.866
4 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:34.247 1.062
5 Sergio Perez Force India 1:34.346 1.161
6 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:34.368 1.183
7 Jenson Button McLaren 1:34.387 1.202
8 Felipe Massa Williams 1:34.511 1.326
9 Kevin Magnussen McLaren 1:34.712 1.527
10 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:34.992 1.807
Q2
11 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:34.985
12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:35.116
13 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:35.145
14 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:35.286
15 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber 1:35.891
16 Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:35.908
Q3
17 Pastor Maldonado Lotus 1:36.663
18 Adrian Sutil Sauber 1:36.840
19 Kamui Kobayashi Caterham 1:37.085
20 Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:37.310
21 Marcus Ericsson Caterham 1:37.875
22 Max Chilton Marussia 1:37.913
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