Chinese Grand Prix: Hamilton Hattrick

Once again Mercedes dominated in tonight’s race, and for the third time this season, Hamilton took the top step of the podium ahead of Nico Rosberg and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. It was another thrilling start from Massa, as the Williams made up four places running down the inside into turn 1. The move was met with some contact from former Ferrari team mate, Fernando Alonso as the Spaniard appeared to move a touch too far to the right. Though both emerged unscathed, the contact caused Rosberg to brake, leaving him caught off guard as the remaining Williams attempted to sneak through. Bottas however didn’t have the cleanest line through, making contact with the Mercedes. Ricciardo was on the defence from Alonso as soon as Massa passed them both, forcing the Red Bull to hold his line through the opening corners. Further back in the field, Vergne was defending hard against McLaren’s Jensen Button.

Hamilton cruised to the victory from pole position, not once having to defend from his team mate, or anyone else for that matter. Rosberg had a very different race, battling hard to regain positions lost on the opening lap, and having to communicate all of his race data back to the pit wall. On the sprint down to turn 1, Rosberg was somewhat caught off guard to Bottas, touching his front left tyre against the Williams. The Mercedes didn’t have the quickest getaway, and the contact saw Rosberg run back in P7. Rising to the challenge, Rosberg immediately laid an attack on Nico Hulkenberg for P6, before hunting down Massa and the rest of the front runners.

It was Ferrari’s best race of the season with Fernando Alonso taking the final step on the podium. It was a quick start from the Spaniard, though possibly turning into Massa too much on the sprint down to turn 1, resulting the former team mates making contact. In the final stint of the race, Alonso responded to the threat of a fast approaching Ricciardo, getting out of DRS within a lap. It was the first time this season that the F14 T and Alonso really seemed to mesh well, making his podium finish more than deserved. The same cannot be said for the other side of the garage as Kimi Raikkonen continued to struggle with his set up. It’s hard to believe that Kimi and Alonso are in the same car after such an incredible race from Alonso. Though the Finn made light work of both the McLarens, Kimi was lapping nearly 4 seconds slower in his F14 T eventually finishing P8.

It was another incredible drive for Daniel Ricciardo, after again out-qualifying, and out-racing his team mate. Ricciardo managed his tyres better than Vettel, resulting in lap times more than 2 seconds faster than the other RB10. The Red Bull ran out of laps in closing the gap to Alonso, finally settling for P4. Sebastian Vettel had a clean getaway off the line, though almost immediately struggled with graining of the front tyres. The Red Bull driver held his P3 position until his first pit stop, where he emerged P5 behind Alonso. Vettel did manage to get within DRS range of the Ferrari, though didn’t have the straight line speed to pass him, and was told to back off by his pit wall. The German was clearly in very feisty mood, ignoring team orders to let Ricciardo passed. “Tough luck” was the response from Vettel, when told to move aside, the battle for position was short lived however as Ricciardo made his way through in turn 1 on lap 29. When Kobayashi, on fresh tyres, unlapped himself from the Red Bull, Vettel didn’t quite remain calm. Resulting in a very annoyed and amusing rant from the reigning world champion. Perhaps the world champ was kept out for possibly too long on medium tyres. Shortly after, he was told to box, and cheered up… Slightly. Vettel eventually finished 24 seconds behind his team mate in P5.

Both Force India drivers finished in the points. Hulkenberg suffered from a number of lock ups throughout the race, first in the hairpin and then again when coming in to pit. Luckily the German, running on a two stop strategy, managed to keep his VJM07 under control and crossed the line P6 after holding the Williams of Valtteri Bottas at bay. Perez put in an impressive race after a poor qualifying. Starting from P16, Perez initially battled for position with Button into the hairpin on lap 15, moving up the P14 as the Mexican made the move stick against the McLaren. The race became more difficult for Perez, who despite being on the same tyre strategy as Hulkenberg, appeared to struggle for grip, running wide at turn 14. After pitting for new medium tyres, Perez was told to bring the car home, which he adhered to, not before making up additional places to finish P9.

Bottas had contact with Rosberg into turn 1 on the opening lap, which seemed to affect his race pace. The Finn did manage to recover some pace towards the end of the race, closing the gap on the Force India. Bottas ran out of laps however, to finish P7, half a second behind Hulkenberg. It was a phenomenal start from Felipe Massa, giving him the strongest chance for a podium until disastrous pit stop cost him the race. It was a stubborn left rear wheel nut*, which had to be removed manually, which sent him very uncomfortably to the back of the field. The Brazilian put in a lot of fight to make up places from dead last, however the Williams ran out of laps, finally coming home P15. A real shame considering the strength of Massa’s drive.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat picked up the final point of the race coming home with P10. The Russian driver out performed his team mate on his first visit to the Shanghai International Circuit. Jean-Eric Vergne drove without incident. While he couldn’t quite match his qualifying pace, Vergne showed that the Toro Rosso package is reliable if anything with the Frenchman eventually finishing P12.

Neither McLaren picked up points during the Chinese Grand Prix. The MP4-29 was clearly running with the middle range teams. While Button did make an early move on Vergne stick for P13, it would be expected that a McLaren with a Mercedes power unit would have the advantage over a Renault powered Toro Rosso. Though once against another Mercedes power unit, it is painfully clear how inferior the McLaren package is. Button was easily passed by the Force India of Perez on lap 15, before tyre graining would have been an issue for the Brit. Button eventually finished just outside of the points in P11. While a positive race for a rookie driver, Magnussen has still not able to deliver the same overall race performance seen in Australia. Starting on medium compound tyres from P15, the Dane initially made up places with the strategy as others pit. However, by lap 18 the advantage had worn off and after conceding P9 to Raikkonen, the McLaren came in to pit for softs. Admittedly, the Dane suffer from front wing damage from early on in the race, affecting his performance, eventually finishing P13.

The stewards decided to let Maldonado drive in today’s Grand Prix. Starting from the back of the grid, Maldonado kept out of trouble throughout the race to eventually finish P14. Romain Grosjean was not as fortunate as his team mate, in what was a truly disappointing race for the team after such a strong qualifying. The Frenchman lost fourth gear around lap 25, making it impossible to keep on the track through the middle sector. On lap 29 the E22 went off at turn 11, and the team chose to retire him.

Esteban Gutierrez would no doubt have been a little nervous when he saw the E22 of Maldonado in his mirrors. The Sauber held him off for a few corners, though preferring to remain upright, moved aside for the Venezuelan on lap 38. Though lapping in the low 1:44s, the Sauber wasn’t as competitive as previously seen. In an attempt to pick up the pace, the Mexican was forced to run with four stops, coming in for fresh soft tyres and a new front wing on lap 42. The best Gutierrez could manage was P16 for the team. Adrian Sutil was the first retirement of the race, suffering from a failing power unit from the opening laps. The German pitted to retire on lap 6.

It was a double finish for Caterham, and a minor victory, with Kamui Kobayashi finishing ahead of both Marussias**. After pitting for medium compound tyres on lap 12, Kobayashi was lapping very quickly on his second stint, much to the disgust of Vettel, as he unlapped himself on lap 34 on the fresher tyres. The Caterham finished ahead of his team mate in P17. Marcus Ericsson seemed to lose steam in the race, allowing both the Marussia’s passed him to take last place usually reserved for Chilton.

Marussia split the two Caterham with Jules Bianchi finishing P18. The Frenchman had contact at the start, though settled down as the race progressed. Max Chilton finished P19. It would appear that Chilton may slightly be improving, as this is now the second race that the Brit has managed to finish somewhere other than last. The Marussia is definitely taking baby steps with the concept of over taking in Formula 1.

Despite the drastically different track conditions from qualifying, the Chinese Grand Prix was somewhat predictable. The season is beginning to unfold with an imminent Mercedes 1-2 finish, where we are left wondering who will fill the final podium position. The rest of the field hasn’t quite caught up to the advantage of the Mercedes package, and with Hamilton’s performance over a single qualifying lap, it’s almost up to Rosberg to catch Hamilton at turn 1 before he walks away with the victory. Red Bull are the closest competitor now to Mercedes, having sorted out their reliability issues. Daniel Ricciardo is more than comfortable in his seat at Red Bull, consistently out performing Vettel. There is a short break in the calendar before Formula 1 moves to Europe for the first time in 2014 for the Spanish Grand Prix, until then, wǎnān.

– Alex

* And the crew not having any rear tyres ready

** As the chequered flag was shown two laps early to Lewis Hamilton, the results were decided on Lap 54 when Kobayashi was P18 behind Bianchi in P17.

Qualifying Pole Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Podium Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
Fastest Lap 1:40.402 Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)

Chinese Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Dâka-hô! Formula 1 returns to the Shanghai Circuit in 2014 for the fourth round of the championship season. The 5.451km runs clockwise is the first circuit on the calendar where tyre temperatures lower tyre deterioration. Despite the cooler temperatures, the Shanghai Circuit is still considerably aggressive in the second sector, a highlight of the track being turns 11 through 13, where drivers flick quickly left before doing an almost complete right hander. Qualifying was greeted with rain today, with teams opting for full wet tyres in the opening session. The wet track conditions were difficult for some drivers, though ultimately meant slippy white bits, and slippy black bits for that matter*. Slight but persistent rain throughout the rest of the sessions saw the field switch to intermediates as a slight drive line appeared. Mercedes unsurprisingly impressive, with Lewis Hamilton comfortably securing pole position. Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo will line up along side the Mercedes in P2, more than half a second ahead of Sebastian Vettel in P3.

The Mercedes package continued to dominate throughout all three qualifying sessions, despite wet conditions. Both cars ventured out on wets for Q1, before swapping to intermediates in Q2 and Q3 with the rest of the field. Hamilton remained mostly on top of the timesheet, showing the rest of the field how to set a qualifying lap in the wet. Rosberg followed suit with a similar performance throughout the qualifying, right up until the final minutes of Q3. On his second to last flying lap, Rosberg locked left front tyre into the first corner, choosing to abandon lap for one last run. There was no luck for Rosberg on his final attempt, forgetting the golden rule of a wet track, keep off the white lines. The Mercedes driver sent his F1 W05 into a spin on the final corner on what would have been a perfect lap. Despite the difficulties in the final minutes of the session, Rosberg still lines up on the second row of the grid just behind the reigning world champion in P4.

Wet track conditions undoubtedly favoured both the Red Bulls, though not taking away from Daniel Ricciardo’s P2. The Australian was off to a difficult start, felt the grip from the extreme wet tyres wasn’t good enough during Q1 and Q2. This didn’t seem to interfere too much with his performance, going on to set a Q3 lap time of more than half a second ahead of his teammate. Vettel joined the list of drivers to run wide at the final turn, though on this particular lap in Q2 he remained second fastest. As the session wore on, the Red Bull looked strongest in the middle sector, as expected. Sebastian Vettel’s penultimate flying lap in Q3 was enough to briefly hold P1, until Hamilton snatched that away. Shortly after, Ricciardo would set his P2 lap time, leaving Vettel to beat Ricciardo’s 1:54.455. In the end, Vettel was left 0.505s short and settles for P3. 

Its been a rocky week for the Italian team, though Fernando Alonso gave the team some reason for celebration qualifying next in line from the Mercedes and Red Bulls in P5. The Spaniard was strong throughout all three qualifying and practice sessions, sitting second fastest with 1:57.030 for a stint in Q1. The F14 T’s package definitely favours the seasoned Ferrari driver compared to returning Raikkonen. We’re still waiting to see the team mate battle between two world champions unfold, at this point its all a bit of an anticlimax as Raikkonen continues to struggle with the set up of his car. The Finn had appeared to not to have any grip through the twisty second sector, and almost no control through turns 11 and 12. That being said, Raikkonen is still delivering exceptional drives in a car he clearly isn’t comfortable in. Unluckily, the Finn was pushed down to the drop zone at the end of Q2 as the Williams and Grosjean made their way through. The Finn put in a personal best for his final lap, though still more than a second behind his team mate, it wasn’t enough to get both the Ferraris through. Raikkonen will therefore start P11.

Both Williams made it through to Q3 with Massa out qualifying Bottas. Both the FW36s looked comfortable of the slippy and at times twisty Shanghai Circuit. Massa just pulled himself out of Q2, backing off in Q2 to create a clean track ahead, possibly backing off too much, with Raikkonen slipping passed so he could set his own lap. In Q3, like the rest of the field, Massa made a late dash back to the pits for fresh intermediates for his final Q3 laps. Despite cutting it rather fine, the Brazilian got the most out of his FW36 to line up P6. Bottas delivered a consistent performance throughout the sessions, lining up just behind his team mate in P7.

Grosjean delivered for Lotus today, in difficult track conditions getting the E22 through to Q3. In a slight off moment in Q2, Grosjean touched the white lines in the second sector, flicking the back on the exit of the corner. In a skilled recovery, the Frenchman kept control and continued with his lap. Eventually qualifying in P10 with 1:57.079 on the intermediate tyres. Maldonado didn’t run in qualifying today. With the Lotus failing to set a time, he automatically fails to qualify within the 107% rule and will therefore race at the steward’s discretion. Let him race I think, whats the worst that can happen?

Force India had a rather quiet qualifying, with Hulkenberg once again delivering a strong performance, qualifying in P8. The only real incidents for the German driver came when Hulkenberg out braked himself at turn 11, and then ran wide on the final corner of his final lap in Q2. Despite this little off moment for P10 in Q2, Hulkenberg secured  a spot in the final qualifying session. After 10 minutes on intermediate tyres, the Force India driver delivered a lap time in the 1:56s, good enough for P8. Team mate Sergio Perez had a less impressive qualifying. Though not appearing to suffer from any major incident, the Mexican couldn’t deliver the same pace from the VJM07 as Hulkenberg, eventually qualifying P16. 

The MP4-29 isn’t that much better than the MP4-28, with the McLaren’s still not living up to their season opening performance. Jensen Button’s qualifying wasn’t anything extraordinary, leaving him scraping to get out of Q2. However failing to make it through, forcing the veteran to settle for P12. Magnussen’s drive however should be noted as a positive performance. The Dane didn’t run much in P3,  and being his first visit to Shanghai Circuit, ran reasonably well in the wet conditions. The lap times coming from the rookie driver were strong, and Magnussen scrapped a good timed lap to come in for fresh intermediate tyres for his final flying lap. He got what he could from the Mp4-29, though still only enough for P15 with 1:57.675.

The Toro Rossos both made it through to Q2, with Vergne making an appearance in Q3, opting for the same strategy as the back half of the field. Both Vergne and Kvyat ventured out in Q1 on the intermediate tyres, despite rain still present. Along with Sauber, Toro Rosso were the only team to benefit, with Vergne qualifying in P9, ahead of Kvyat back in P13.

Sauber only made it as far as Q2 in todays session as both ventured out late on intermediate tyres as well in an attempt to leapfrog out of the drop out zone of Q1. Adrian Sutil made it through, though noticeably lacked downforce. In a scrap at the end of Q1, Gutierrez just missed out on going through to the next session, pushing a little too hard on the last lap and losing it on the inters, qualifying P17. 

Caterham were the first team to run on intermediates in Q1, setting the trend to take advantage on any dry line that may have developed on the circuit. Kobayashi set personal bests on the strategy, though it wasn’t enough once the rest of the back markers caught on, eventually qualifying P15. Ericsson also ran on intermediates to line up P20.

Marussia’s Jules Bianchi looked twitchy through the middle sector on the intermediate tyres, while improving his time, he ran wide on the final corner to spoil his final flying lap, qualifying P19. Chilton qualified behind his team mate in P21, no surprises there.

A wet qualifying usually acts as an equaliser between teams, and can shake up the grid a little. It’s reasonably clear that the Shanghai International Circuit really favours high downforce package for the middle sector, one that Red Bull seem to have down pact. With tomorrow’s race still forecast to be dry, Mercedes may again walk away with a win. However, if conditions dampen it will most likely be a Red Bull versus Mercedes race. It would be refreshing, despite only four races in, if someone could challenge Hamilton for the lead. Personally, I’d like to see Rosberg leap frog his team mate early on in the race. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

– Alex

* Not a euphasmism

Bahrain Grand Prix: Perez on Podium

Lewis Hamilton took the top step of the podium, but only just from team mate Nico Rosberg in what was easily the most thrilling Grand Prix of the season. Though the celebrations came from a bit further down pit from the Force India garage as Sergio Perez climbed to third place after a spectacular race from the Mexican. From lights out Hamilton had the lead, though had to work hard to defend his position from an eager Rosberg. Massa undoubtedly had the best start, making up four places before the entry into turn 1 to challenge Rosberg for second. Further back on the grid, Magnussen and Raikkonen made contact, as well as Bottas and Vergne.

Early on it the race, it became apparent that Mercedes intended to split their drivers strategies, with Rosberg going for a longer stint on the soft tyres. Unusually though, the split made no difference to either cars pace, despite Hamilton complaining of “no power” immediately before setting fastest lap… Yes Lewis, your car is obviously very slow. Hamilton went on to set more fastest laps, and was steadily increasing his lead over the rest of the field until the appearance of the safety car brought the grid back together. From this point, the battle between the Mercedes cars really got underway. Both Hamilton and Rosberg were instructed over team radio to bring the cars home safely, which was interpreted by both drivers as “lets race each other wheel-to-wheel”. The battle that ensued was some of the most thrilling and skilled driving I’ve seen. Rosberg would briefly take the lead, sneaking through the inside of a turn, before Hamilton would regain his position in the next corner. In the end, it was Hamilton who crossed the line first, so Rosberg was forced to settle for second, for now at least.

Sergio Perez had a rocky start off the grid, suffering from a major front left lock up into turn 1, luckily the Force India emerged unscathed and went on to deliver one of his best Formula 1 performances to date. The Mexican engaged in several battles for position, first with Massa in the early stages of the race, then Alonso following his first pit stop, and finally his own team mate. In previous races, an overtaking attempt from Perez would most likely have ended in contact. In Bahrain Perez was focussed, finally showing teams the drive he is capable of. Though the limelight shone mostly for Perez, Hulkenberg delivered a good performance making up six positions before the first round of pit stops. To the German’s advantage, the Force India’s soft tyres held their grip for a slightly longer first stint, putting the VJM07 on a strong footing for the rest of the race. Hulkenberg’s most notable battle for position came against Perez, who held his ground forcing Hulkenberg off the track at turn 9. Eventually the two were split by a Red Bull for Perez to finish on the podium in P3, and Hulkenberg in P5.

Third time was the charm for Ricciardo to finally pick up some (much deserved) points for the 2014 season. After qualifying P3, the grid penalty from Malaysia saw him start from P13. The Red Bull driver more than rose to the challenge, putting in an impressive first stint on the soft tyres, making up several positions before a late first pit stop for the medium compound tyres. Ricciardo continued to make his way back through the field, taking his time behind Raikkonen before making the move for P7 stick at turn 9 on lap 24. When he caught the back of his team mate, the order came over the radio for Vettel to move aside for (the faster) Ricciardo, Vettel obliged, and The Australian would eventually finish P4. Sebastian Vettel had a less thrilling race, suffering from DRS issues in the early stages of the race. Despite this, Vettel managed to match his team mate for pace in the later stages. In the final stint of the race, Vettel had caught up to Ricciardo (with the assistance of the safety car), but was unable to make it passed his team mate, who then passed Hulkenberg, so the German settled for P6.

After weeks of waiting, it finally happened, the Williams cars delivered what the FW36 is capable of, though admittedly both drivers lost steam in the final stint. Felipe Massa’s start was incredible, moving from P7 to P3 before the rest of the grid had got going. Initial thoughts were that he may have jumped the start, but review showed that he just had the perfect launch. As the race progressed, Massa engaged in a battle for P3 with Perez, though he later fell back down the order during pit stops. Bottas had more of a quiet race, falling back through the field after making contact with Vergne. The appearance of the safety car was most unfortunate for Williams as it took away their advantage from their tyre strategy, so Massa’s P7 and Bottas’ P8 are somewhat out of place.

Ferrari were less than impressive during the race, with neither Alonso or Raikkonen placing particularly high up in the order. Alonso struggled to hold his qualifying position, as his F14 T lost power during the race. Notwithstanding this, Alonso didn’t race poorly by any means, just the Ferrari didn’t deliver. Kimi Raikkonen struggled with similar issues throughout the race, and suffered from a particularly bad lock up before his first pit, resulting in a flat spot on his tyre. The Finn got what he could out of the Ferrari, but contact with Magnussen hurt him, and he conceded places to Button before fending back the Red Bull of Ricciardo, which he eventually lost as well. The result was a less than thrilled Ferrari garage, and Alonso and Raikkonen finishing P9 and P10 respectively.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat seems to be another rookie driver who’s performance has calmed down since the season opener in Australia. Kvyat’s race, while quiet, was controlled and he suffered no major incidences. The Russian eventually finished P11. Team mate, Jean-Eric Vergne however never quite recovered from his contact with Bottas in the opening laps, retiring on lap 18.

It was a successful race for Lotus in the sense that both cars made it home, and Grosjean even managed to keep the car running well to finish P12. A huge positive for the team considering the difficulties they’ve had so far in the season. It was rather unsurprising however that the first appearance of the safety car was caused by Pastor Maldonado, what was more surprising was that he managed to finish the race. On lap 40, Maldonado was exiting the pit as Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez was approaching turn 1. The Sauber was already well and truly into the turn when Maldonado’s E22 t-boned Gutierrez, flipping the Sauber, and resulting in an instant retirement of the C33 (and some insane pictures of an upside-down Mexican mid-flight). Maldonado claimed Gutierrez gave him nowhere to go*, but luckily neither driver was hurt. The safety car brought the field back together for the final stint of the race, and Maldonado, reasonably unscathed came home in P14. Maldonado was handed a 10-second stop-go penalty, and a 5-place grid penalty for the Chinese Grand Prix, which seems reasonable given that Ricciardo was given a 10-place grid penalty for an unsafe release where nobody flipped a Sauber…

It was a double finish again for Marussia. Max Chilton continued his record of finishing every race, however, Bahrain was the first race where he didn’t finish last. So well done Max. Bianchi got off to a rather scrappy start, making contact with Sutil on lap 13 as he attempted to overtake into turn 1. The incident resulted in a drive through penalty for the Marussia. Chilton eventually crossed the line P13, ahead of Bianchi in P16.

Caterham were another team do race quietly from start to finish. Kobayashi drove well and without incident, to split the two Marussias to eventually finish P15. Ericsson unfortunately retired on lap 33 due to an oil leak.

Jenson Button’s 250th Grand Prix started well for the veteran driver. Button got the most he could out of his MP4-29, and by halfway through the race had only used 37% of his fuel load. Surely it was part of the McLaren strategy to push in the final stint to move Button forward, however this strategy fell apart following the safety car, and clutch issues similar to that of team mate Kevin Magnussen. Magnussen was the final retirement of the race shortly after the safety car on lap 41.

It was a rather dramatic double retirement from Sauber. Sutil retired early on in the race from accident damage after contact with Bianchi, though Gutierrez’s retirement will surely be the flashiest of the season. Gutierrez’s reaction following the somersault in the Sauber was simply; “what was that?!”, the answer, Maldonado, Esteban, that was Maldonado…

For what the Bahrain Grand Prix lacked in engine sound, it certainly made up for in incidents. At one stage of the race, the top eight drivers were paired into their teams; Mercedes, Force India, Red Bull, and Williams. It was interesting to see given that teams had split their drivers strategies only to find that it made no difference to lap times of positions whatsoever. I was most impressed by the absence (or ignoring) of team orders. Mercedes were free to actually battle for their positions, and Red Bull didn’t favour one driver over another. I do feel we have a bit more to see from Sergio Perez. I’d like to see him mature as a driver in the same way Grosjean matured last season. The championship heads back east in a fortnights time for the Chinese Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit. Possibly Alelbuth might make an appearance, but we’ll have to wait and see. Until then, tesbah ala kheir.

– Alex

* Except everywhere else on the track

Qualifying Pole Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Podium Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
Sergio Perez (Force India-Mercedes)
Fastest Lap 1:37.020 Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)

Bahrain Grand Prix: Pre Race Thoughts

Ahlan wa sahlan! This weekend marks the tenth anniversary of Formula 1’s visit to the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, and to celebrate the Bahrain Grand Prix becomes a night night race. The 5.412 km lap distance has quite aggressive asphalt from sand (due to the fact it’s in a desert), and hard braking areas from wind (also due to the fact it’s in a desert). The twisty nature of the circuit and difficult winds favours a downforce package, making it crucial for drivers to hit the apex of turns 5 through at the beginning of the second sector. The Bahrain International Circuit is a very interesting track, hosting elements seen both in Australia and Malaysia. Drivers must focus on fuel saving, as in Australia, but also be concerned with tyre degradation due to heat, as in Malaysia. It would seem that Mercedes are taking it in turns in qualifying on pole. In quickly cooling track conditions, Rosberg steals P1 at Sakhir Circuit tonight, after Hamilton ran wide out of turn 1. Red Bull’s, Daniel Ricciardo followed closely behind the Mercedes to qualify P3 with 1:34.051.

Mercedes strolled through qualifying tonight opting to not even venture out on the soft tyres in Q1. Throughout the sessions, the only issue Mercedes saw was Hamilton running off track at the exit of turn 1 in the final moments of Q3. The incident hardly caused the team worry as the Brit was merely trying to improve on his current (and seemingly unbeatable) P2. Nonetheless, the off track moment took the pressure off pole sitter, Nico Rosberg, confirming the 1-2 Rosberg-Hamilton order of the grid for tomorrow.

The only other driver to save their soft tyres for later in qualifying was Red Bull’s, Daniel Ricciardo. Qualifying meant more for the Australian tonight as he carries a 10-place grid penalty from his unsafe release in Malaysia last week. Ricciardo delivered the best possible result for the team, qualifying right behind the Mercedes in P3 on the soft tyres, dropping back to P13 with the penalty. Vettel once again struggled with the downshifts of his RB10, but by his own admission, just couldn’t get the pace out of the car. For the second time in three rounds, the reigning world champion failed to make it through to Q3, qualifying in P11. Though given his team mate’s grid penalty, Vettel will start P10.

It was all smiles for the Williams garage today as both Bottas and Massa made it all the way through to Q3. The Williams were the first to swap to the grippier soft compound tyre in Q1, which saw Bottas briefly top the timesheet and Massa close behind. The strategy secured both drivers passage into Q2 where the team again set competitive lap times on both the soft and medium compound tyres. Bottas was faster than Massa tonight, finishing up P4, while Massa qualified P8. With Ricciardo’s penalty, Bottas moves to his highest ever F1 grid placing, P3, and Massa to P7.

Force India had a bipolar qualifying, but not in the order expected by most. Perez outshone Hulkenberg for the first time in their partnership, making it through to Q3 ahead of Hulkenberg’s P12. The Mexican, in the final moments of Q2 set a time good enough for P6 in the session, and good enough push Vettel down into the drop zone. In Q3, Perez went on to improve on his time on softs to finish up P5. Both Perez and Hulkenberg benefit from Ricciardo’s penalty, starting P4 and P11 respectively.

Ferrari are an interesting team to watch in 2014, the team never particularly do anything wrong, but neither driver can particularly do it right either. Raikkonen is once again struggling with the sheer power of the F14 T, looking rather scrappy throughout the session. Despite feeling very uncomfortable in the car, Raikkonen qualified a comfortable P6, starting P5. Alonso had his usual quiet qualifying, until a sudden loss of power to the car saw him severely lose lap times in Q3. As a result the Spaniard is slightly out of place in P10, starting P9.

Both Button and Magnussen made it through to Q3, though the team had a reasonably quiet session. Button out-qualified his team mate for his 250th Grand Prix weekend, in P7 on the softs. Magnussen seems to have calmed down from his initial success in Australia, consistently running in the middle of the time sheets. The Danish driver eventually qualified P9, to start P8. Despite a quiet qualifying, the McLaren package remains promising for the race, and should favour the circuit conditions.

Despite a strong performance throughout practice, both Kvyat and Vergne were eliminated in Q2. The STR9s were about on pace with each other, with Kvyat just out-qualifying Vergne for P13 and P14 by 0.141s. The two are split however by Ricciardo, as he takes his place in P13, bumping Kvyat up to P12.

While performance wise, Sauber delivered, getting both cars through to Q2. Qualifying P15, Gutierrez pushed his C33 to the limit, though still looked comfortable through the twisty circuit, a good sign for a track less focussed on straight-line speed. Sutil however has been handed a 5-place penalty for the race for blocking Grosjean on a flying lap at the end of Q1. Sutil, who had qualified P18, will now start at the back of the grid in P22.

Lotus appear to be finally finding their footing in the 2014 season, and ironing out their reliability issues. Grosjean delivered what he could from the E22, though the lap times didn’t appear high up in the order. Neither car made it through to Q3, though the Frenchman did once again out-qualify his team mate in the final moments of Q2. Both on the soft tyres, Grosjean pushed Maldonado down to take P16 for himself, settling Maldonado for P17.

Again, the usual suspects were out after the first qualifying session. It was a slight victory for Caterham as Kobayashi was able to qualify P19 ahead of the two Marussias, while Marcus Ericsson split both Bianchi and Chilton for P21. For a brief moment it appeared as Bianchi may have broken out of Q1, however Maldonado quickly pushed the Marussia back down into the drop zone before entering it himself. In the end, there were no real surprises at the end of the pit lane with Bianchi qualifying P20, ahead of team mate Chilton in P22. Following Sutil’s penalty however, the back end of the grid reshuffles to Kob P18, Bia P19, Eri P20, and Chi P21.

It feels rather imminent that Mercedes will take another 1-2 finish, but I’m quietly hoping for a Williams on the final step of the podium. It feels like I’ve been saying since Australia that I’ve been waiting for Williams to break out and really deliver on race day, and I’m really hoping that the Bahrain Grand Prix is finally the race. Red Bull could have a unusually difficult race, with both Vettel and Ricciardo starting from unfavourable grid positions, a rather underwhelming Renault power unit, and a circuit setup that the RB10 isn’t particularly fond of. Though I wouldn’t count either driver out for pulling something out of the bag. The Bahrain International Circuit offers a great race, and going from qualifying this could finally be the race that Maldonado completes all 57 laps*.

– Alex

*But probably not.