Sebastian Vettel stormed to pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix with a stunning lap to deny both Ferrari drivers.
The 22-year-old was competitive throughout qualifying, but left it late on his only run in Q3 to snatch pole position by just over a tenth from the Ferrari of Felipe Massa, with Fernando Alonso in third.
As the drivers battled the searing heat around the Sakhir circuit, the new qualifying format proved to be a hit.
With the world watching on, Formula One finally got down to business for the opening qualifying session of the season. With all three of the new teams looking well off the pace, it was believed that only one of the midfield runners would be knocked out in the first segment of qualifying.
Ultimately this consensus would be correct with the drivers of Virgin, Lotus or HRT’s barely being able to dip under a two minute lap time. In the battle between the debutants, Virgin claimed first honours with Timo Glock setting a time only one tenth faster than the Lotus of Jarno Trulli.
Karun Chandhok finally made his F1 debut in qualifying for HRT, using the first segment of qualifying to shake down the car. This was Chandhok’s first taste of driving the HRT in anger, and the Indian driver will be proud of his efforts – finishing only 1.5 seconds behind team-mate Bruno Senna.
The battle to avoid the drop zone proved fascinating, with the Sauber team-mates of Kobayashi and de la Rosa leaving it late to avoid being knocked out. This left the young Jaime Alguersuari to become the first respected casualty of the 2010 session.
The battle at the front was also exciting, with Fernando Alonso setting the benchmark (a time of 1:54.612) which left the Spaniard around four tenths of second ahead of Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull. Petrov, in the Renault was also impressive – the Russian rookie setting a relatively-unnoticed ninth place time. Meanwhile it was not a happy return for Michael Schumacher, as Nico Rosberg continued to outpace his illustrious team-mate by around four or five tenths of a second.
Sebastian Vettel went straight out as Q2 got underway. The German had complained of understeer during the first segment and was banking on alterations to the front flap, of his front wing, to help him find extra speed.
Q2 was surprisingly quiet in the early minutes of the session, but it wouldn’t be that way for long – with Sutil and Buemi breaking the silence with 4 minutes remaining. Whereas the Force India of Sutil was quick enough to creep into the top ten shoot out, Buemi’s Toro Rosso could not do the same.
The man under pressure in the second segment was Jenson Button, who lay in eleventh after his first run. However, the reigning world champion did enough, on his final run, to pip the Williams of Rubens Barrichello for the final spot in Q3. Barrichello will start eleventh tomorrow and will be hoping to use his ability to choose which compound of tyre to start on, to his advantage.
Buemi and Barrichello were joined by Nico Hulkenberg (Williams) and Vitaly Petrov (Renault) in the drop zone. The former’s position will have been a shock to many, with Hulkenberg having been expected to shine in qualifying.
As track temperatures soared to around 42 degrees celcius, the pressure was mounting for the top-ten shootout. Heading into Q3 it appeared that it would be a private battle at the front between Alonso and Vettel – both of whom had topped the two previous segments. The Spaniard would be first to blink, setting provisional pole early on, as the Ferrari’s ran line astern.
Surprisingly, Ferrari was one of only a few teams to do more than one qualifying run in Q3, with Mercedes and Red Bull opting to stay in the garage until the death. McLaren, who also made more than one run, again struggled to find speed over a single lap, with both drivers reportably suffering from ill-handling. Although Hamilton was able to climb to fourth position, Jenson Button could not match his team-mate and will start eighth.
With the clock ticking down, Vettel seized the initiative and stormed to pole position, with a lap which eclipsed Alonso’s previous best by nearly a second. This time Alonso could not respond and although he improved, the Spaniard was forced to for settle third place, behind the Red Bull and his team-mate, Felipe Massa, who pulled a surprise lap out-of-the-bag to finish around a tenth off the top.
Although qualifying gave us some answers, it is still hard to see who will come out on top in tomorrow’s Grand Prix. Will Red Bull be able to sustain their one-lap pace over a race distance? Will Massa be able to fend off Alonso? And how big a part will the dark horses of Rubens Barrichello and Adrian Sutil (who qualified tenth on the harder compound of tyre) play?
Formula One is well and truly back, and as unpredictable as ever.
Pos Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3 1. Vettel Red Bull 1:55.029 1:53.883 1:54.101 2. Massa Ferrari 1:55.313 1:54.331 1:54.242 3. Alonso Ferrari 1:54.612 1:54.172 1:54.608 4. Hamilton McLaren 1:55.341 1:54.707 1:55.217 5. Rosberg Mercedes 1:55.463 1:54.682 1:55.241 6. Webber Red Bull 1:55.298 1:54.318 1:55.284 7. Schumacher Mercedes 1:55.593 1:55.105 1:55.524 8. Button McLaren 1:55.715 1:55.168 1:55.672 9. Kubica Renault 1:55.511 1:54.963 1:55.885 10. Sutil Force India 1:55.213 1:54.996 1:56.309 11. Barrichello Williams 1:55.969 1:55.330 12. Liuzzi Force India 1:55.628 1:55.653 13. Hulkenberg Williams 1:56.375 1:55.857 14. de la Rosa Sauber 1:56.428 1:56.237 15. Buemi Toro Rosso 1:56.189 1:56.265 16. Kobayashi Sauber 1:56.541 1:56.270 17. Petrov Renault 1:56.167 1:56.619 18. Alguersuari Toro Rosso 1:57.071 19. Glock Virgin 1:59.728 20. Trulli Lotus 1:59.852 21. Kovalainen Lotus 2:00.313 22. di Grassi Virgin 2:00.587 23. Senna HRT 2:03.240 24. Chandhok HRT 2:04.904