Drivers competed today for pole position at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir with Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes AMG Petronas taking his second pole position of the year. Teammate Nico Rosberg finished behind him in second, with Scuderia Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in P3.
Sauber’s Felipe Nasr was first to be eliminated, with 2016’s rookie drivers following soon after. Both Renault drivers – Jolyon Palmer – who made his Formula One debut this year – and his teammate Kevin Magnussen, who was with McLaren in 2014 and dropped last year as their reserve driver, both eliminated in Q1.
Force India’s Sergio Perez was unable to set a quick pace in qualifying despite his experience and a powerful Mercedes power unit, and he became the surprising name in the bottom 5.
McLaren, who had a difficult 2015 and saw their woes continue in 2016 with Fernando Alonso’s shunt at the Australian Grand Prix, had a fair showing in the initial qualifying sessions today, with both Button and his teammate, Alonso replacement Stoffel Vandoorne, starting well.
Button’s luck did not appear to last long, however, as he followed Daniil Kvyat of Red Bull early on in Q2.
Several pairs of teammates soon found themselves eliminated in quick succession, with Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr finishing in P10 and P11.
That indicates in the larger picture the obvious hierarchy in terms of aerodynamics, but also that each team is an evenly matched unit.
Verstappen would likely have been disappointed given he qualified in 5th at the Australian Grand Prix, but the two drivers could perhaps succeed with their Ferrari power units.
Ferrari were the only real competition for Mercedes in qualifying, and early on in yesterday’s practice sessions had a significant gap to the German constructors. Today, however, the final qualifying session saw both Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel pushing to the end for a spot on the front row.
It was a slow first sector for Raikkonen on his final lap that looks to have lost him valuable time and a top three qualifying finish.
Vettel, who had had problems in practice yesterday, went fast on the supersofts today and even led qualifying for a time. Rather than the near 2-second gap Ferrari had to Mercedes in practice, the four-time champion finished 0.532s behind Australian Grand Prix winner Rosberg.
The four-time world champion qualified in P3 in Australia, and led the race for a significant time with team strategy losing him the title, so Ferrari will likely not be very disappointed with his qualifying finish today. The team spent practice sessions collecting data rather than setting speeds, so it appears they are addressing the strategy issue head-on.
Williams’ decision to put new supersofts on towards the end of qualifying was described by many as ‘odd’, but the team chose not to directly address those issues.
The standout performance of the day was arguably Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull, who qualified in fifth – but Lewis Hamilton wound up proceedings tonight by setting the record for the fastest lap in history at qualifying in Bahrain, with 1:29.413.
Another strong showing came from F1 debutant Vandoorne, who won the GP2 title last year after a series of consistent, quick performances. Several had called for Vandoorne to have a Formula One seat ahead of the 2016 driver announcements, and given the severity of Alonso’s injuries, he may have one for a longer time.
Should Alonso choose to retire in 2017, Vandoorne could be fielded as the replacement for the double world champion.
Experts and fans alike continued to express disapproval with the new qualifying system, which starts off strongly, but peters out with no contest or attempt to continuously better times. Former world champion Nigel Mansell was among the voices calling for the qualifying system to be done away with; Formula One Management had initially decided the new qualifying format would be scrapped ahead of Bahrain, but a last minute decision saw it remain on the cards.
Full qualifying standings: