Brought to you by TheJudge13 ‘on track correspondent’: James Parker
Rosberg Slips Under The Radar
Under the searing heat of the Bahrain sun, the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg has claimed a surprise pole position seemingly under the noses of RedBull, Lotus and Ferrari, and with it set up a very interesting race come Sunday in which thermal rear tyre degradation is set to dominate proceedings. Rosberg’s lap of 1.32.3 was a fantastic achievement given the clear grim faces on the Mercedes pitwall after FP1,2 and 3.
Neither Vettel or Alonso in 2nd and 3rd were able match what was perhaps the “perfect lap” – a cat amongst the pigeons somewhat?
A track temperature of 42c greeted drivers for the Qualifying session, which was somewhat lower than the early morning FP3 session. The big talk from the morning was surrounding Hamilton’s rear tyre delamination, which caused both a gearbox change and a broken wishbone which meant he had to take a 5 place grid drop post Qualifying.
The session was a slow starter, with four minutes passing before both Sauber’s decided to take to the track first, both Hulk and Guttierez looked to be struggling with the stability of the C32. Raikkonen who was tipped as a pole favourite, was having a scruffy day and made an uncharacteristic mistake going into T1 on his first run.
Signs that McLaren were desperately craving that upgrade package in Barcelona were enforced when both Button and Perez went straight on to the faster medium compound tyre, with limited success. RedBull were looking to save the harder compound tyre for the race and followed McLaren’s lead for both Webber’s and Vettel’s runs.
Ferrari enforced their strong practice pace, with Alonso dominating Q1 with a lap of 1.32.8, which 2nd place Vettel could only get 4 tenths close to. Next up in 3th and 4th were Rosberg and a rejuvenated Grosjean, who appeared to be regaining some confidence back in the car.
Webber was struggling down in 9th; some 1.1 seconds off Alonso. The big news came futher down tough as both Williams cars set identical laptimes of 1.34.425. However due to Bottas setting it first, it enabled him to go through ahead of Maldonado, who joined Gutierrez and the two Caterham’s and Marussia’s for company.
Q2 started in quite dramatic fashion, as the eliminated Marussia of Jules Bianchi was doused by fire extinguishers due to some unburnt fuel in the coanda exhaust catching fire. Both Red Bulls continued to run the medium tyre, this time scrubbed sets from Q1 and were quick to set the early running with Vettel topping Webber with a 1.33.4.
But the big surprise was the pace being displayed by Force India. Having looked strong all weekend Di Resta set the fastest time before Alonso once again restored order at the head of the field with a 1.33.2. Raikkonen continued to struggle on his first run in Q2 and could only manage 9th.
The Mercedes duo waited for 5 minutes to emerge for 1 planned run as did Grosjean. While the Frenchman went 7th, Rosberg was starting to look ominous and his intent was clear when he posted a 1.32.8 to go top, once again 4 tenths clear of anyone. Meanwhile Hamilton could only manage 4th.
While the top four remained confident and stayed in their garages, the remaining 12 cars from Vettel downwards went on a second run. Sutil was the first driver to cross the finish line as the chequered flag started to wave, hauling himself up from the drop zone to 6th, while the Sauber of Hulkenberg could only manage 11th.
Button who looked to be dragging every last ounce of potential from his McLaren went 9th. At this point Raikkonen was in trouble, being pushed down to 13th in the mayhem, but a consistent final run saw him claim a top 4 – danger averted.
This did his team-mate Grosjean no favours however, the Frenchman did not emerge for a second run (saving rubber for Q3) and Raikkonen’s time pushed him down to 11th and out of qualifying – to say he looked dejected was a understatement. Vettel on his second run topped the time sheets, displacing the strong Rosberg, who was followed by Webber. Joining Grosjean was the underwhelming Perez, a frustrated Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Bottas and rounding off the top 16 was Vergne, some 3 tenths off his team-mate.
Q3 had a slow start, with some drivers waiting mid session to do only 1 run, whilst others opted to have two stabs at pole. Both Mercedes drivers, Alonso and Di Resta went out first – all on fresh medium compound tyres. Rosberg set the early running however, eclipsing both Alonso and Hamilton in 2nd and 3rd on his way to setting a session fastest 1.32.5. Di Resta meanwhile managed to get his Force India up to 4th.
At the 5 minute mark, success! All ten cars participating in Q3 decided to bolt on a set of fresh tyres which meant we had 10 drivers all out vying for pole. The joker in the pack however was the Ferrari of Felipe Massa who had chosen to go for the hard tyre.
With the difference between both compounds down to 4-5 tenths this weekend, the Brazilian seemingly had one eye on a strong opening stint on Sunday.
Raikkonen, who was tipped as a pole favourite along with both RedBull’s and Ferrari’s, topped off a frustrating Saturday afternoon by only capturing 9th place.
But it was Rosberg who was seriously stealing the limelight. He produced a near perfect 1.32.330 to drop his pole time by 2 tenths – a sensational effort all round. Both Vettel in 2nd and Alonso in 3rd could simply not get close to the German, with Alonso abandoning his final lap due to a couple of mistakes.
Hamilton managed 4th, ahead of an “out of sorts” Webber in 5th. The latter looked like he was not firing on all cylinders this weekend.
A solid 6th for Massa on the harder tyre means he is in a fantastic position to utilise the fast starting Ferrari to catapult him further up the grid on what is supposedly the faster race tyre.
7th and 8th were the Force India pair of Sutil and Di Resta who had converted strong practice pace into a seriously consistent qualifying performance. Button opted not to set a time in 10th giving him free choice of tyres for tomorrow’s Grand Prix.
With penalties for Webber and Hamilton, it means the Aussie will start from 7th, just ahead of the Raikkonen who gains one place thanks to Hamilton who drops to 9th for Sunday’s Grand Prix due to his gearbox change. Gutierrez will also start from the back of the grid due to his penalty from the Chinese Grand Prix for colliding with Adrian Sutil at the hairpin.
The Pirelli mystery strategy predictor:
“The smaller performance gap between the two compounds opens up the possibility of many different strategies, meaning that there is not one way that is obviously quicker than the other. It also doesn’t make a great deal of difference starting on the hard or the medium tyre.
Three stops could be the fastest plan though: start on the hard, change to hard on lap 10, hard again on lap 25, and then medium on lap 41.
A very close second possibility is to start on the medium, change to medium on lap 8, change to another set of mediums on lap 24 and finish with a set of hard tyres on lap 38.
A two-stop race isn’t out of the question either, with two stints on the hard and one on the soft, providing that the driver can keep rear tyre degradation under control during the 57-lap race. Again, keeping a flexible approach to strategy will pay dividends – but with overtaking reasonably feasible, finding a gap in the traffic is less essential.”
|5||DI RESTA||FORCE INDIA|
|20||VAN DER GARDE||CATERHAM|
Stat of the day has to go to Mercedes, who claim their first back to back poles, since 1955 with Moss and Fangio at the wheel. Also the first back to back pole positions from the Brackley team since 2009 under Brawn GP guise.
What are your thoughts ahead of the Grand Prix?