Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
“The first stars tremble as if shimmering in green water. Hours must pass before their glimmer hardens into the frozen glitter of diamonds. I shall have a long wait before I witness the soundless frolic of the shooting stars. In the profound darkness of certain nights I have seen the sky streaked with so many trailing sparks that it seemed to me a great gale must be blowing through the outer heavens. ”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand and Stars
In Malaysia it was the rain, in Bahrain it was the wind. As the sun set and the wind whipped through the circuit threatening to upset the delicate aero of the cars at unpredictable moments, a showdown of Mercedes PU’s was on order as at the close of P3 it was all Mercedes in the top 6. With just a 0.1 of a second between Hamilton and Rosberg, Perez was a startling 0.5 seconds back of Rosberg. Following on was the Williams pair with Bottas appearing to have the upper hand at the moment. Button was a further 0.03 seconds back, well outpacing his team mate. At the circuit with the heaviest fuel demands the might of the Mercedes PU appeared unbeatable and the juicy prospect of a Williams or Force India on the podium looked closer and closer to reality.
Battle of the Backmarkers
As the lights went green for the first night qualifying in Bahrain, the track looked lonely as no one wanted to be first to break the silence. Finally, Gutierrez in the Sauber ventured out and broke the night’s tranquility hanging over the track. Force India were quick to follow with all the heavy hitters sitting in the garage. As they sat and waited, Torro Rosso hit the circuit as Gutierriez slid onto the finishing straight to lay down a 1:38.5. With Vergne heading round, viewers saw a shower of sparks from the underside of the Toro Rosso on his warm up lap.
Meanwhile, with 13:30 minutes left in the session Hulkenberg came through in a 1:36.8 to demonstrate how difficult the situation is for Sauber at the moment, particularly compared to last year. McLaren headed out followed closely by Mercedes, with Hamilton and Rosberg both on the Mediums.
Remaining time was down to 12:44 minutes when Ricciardo started his first flyer, and emerged straight into into traffic and away he went. He managed to gracefully extricate himself without much loss of time. He has looked quickest of the Renault-engined cars all weekend and pulled through to a 1:36.6 to continue this trend.
Grosjean was trying hard and managed a 1:37.4 in his attempt to edge into Q2 as the clock ticked over with 10 minutes to go. Both Mercedes are staggeringly fast on the Mediums; over a second up through Sector 2. And first touch goes to Hamilton as he beats Rosberg to the line by 0.1 seconds with 9 minutes to go.
Just to drive home Mercedes dominance on the Mediums, Vettel came through Sector 2 over 1.3 seconds off on the Mediums, which wound up being good for a momentary P7.
As the time ticked away, Kobayashi sat in 10th ahead of the Ferrari of Raikkonen and with 7:30m to go Sutil managed a P5. Vergne, Chilton, Maldonado, Ericsson all sat in the drop zone with the Williams having not set a time.
With 6 minutes to go, all the midfield and backmarkers strapped on the softs and they were off. Mercedes decided to park their cars and to give themselves a tire advantage for Q2, though it looked unnecessary given their pace.
4 minutes to go and Perez and Bianchi were both in trouble if the Williams pair set a good time. And so it was that Bottas came through Sector 1, 0.1 up and looking very good to advance.
Gutierrez snuck into 3rd with Ricciardo in 4th and Alonso in 5th. Bottas completed his Sector 2, 0.46 up as finally Williams started to give a glimpse of their pace after the overheating they experienced last week. Bottas crossed the line in P1 but not for long as Hulkenberg took it away with 2 minutes to go.
Vettel has emerged on softs with Ricciardo having stayed on the Mediums. Raikkonen had fallen to 17th with Kobayashi on the bubble in 16th.
With 60 seconds remaining the action hit its peak with Vergne on a hot lap looking to escape the bottom of the grid and having massive traffic to avoid. Raikkonen made it out with a decent effort to P5. Kvyat started his flyer hovering near the cut off, Vergne made it up and out with his try. Magnussen had been loitering near the bottom, but got it together for a reasonable lap to place himself out of danger. Kvyat had made it through into P7 for the moment and in the blink of an eye the checkers fall and Bianchi, Kobayashi Sutil then Maldonado watch themselves rotate through P17 and out of Q2, with Grosjean being the last man through and displacing Maldonado by 0.009.
The real drama occurred between Sutil and Grosjean as Sutil swerved across the track and took Grosjean completely off track. No explanation for the Sauber’s behavior was forthcoming.
On the outside looking in were Maldonado, Sutil, Kobayashi, Bianchi, Ericsson , and Chilton in p17-22.
Melee in the Midfield
Q2 started off with a lack of action on track, but with plenty in the stewards room as it was officially announced that the incident between Sutil and Grosjean was being investigated. Rosberg had already received a reprimand for a similar maneuver earlier that was much less egregious so it is likely that Sutil might collect some points on his pristine super license.
Back on track with 13 minutes to go, Bottas led the way followed by the Force India. Trying to kill time with statistics the Sky team announced that Lewis’ time on the Mediums in Q1 was fractionally faster than the time he set on softs in P3.
12 minutes to go and everyone had now followed suit. Hamilton received a radio message during his warm up lap that he was potentially on his starting race tires.
Hulkenberg threw down a 1:35.6 with 10 minutes to go , besting the disappointing 1:36.07 previously left by Bottas. No sooner did that time get posted than it is obliterated by Kimi Raikkonen into the 1:34’s. No sooner posted than wiped out as Hamilton was into the 1:33’s and catching up to K-Mag across the line at an alarming rate. Second touch went to Rosberg though, as crossing the line he went 0.1 seconds up on Hamilton setting up a very nice duel for Q3.
With 7:30 to go Mercedes were more than a second up on everyone and had likely parked it for the rest of the session. That put them 2 sets of tyres to the good going into Q3, an advantage they clearly have no need of.
Vettel finally emerged with 5 minutes to go, Kvyat sat in 9th with Grosjean still in the garage. Bottas languished in 12th and Massa in 10th as everyone save Mercedes prepared for their next run.
Williams emerged from the garage with 3:30 minutes to go on fresh softs, as Vettel broke the line for his first timed run with 3 minutes to spare. Sector 1 saw him 0.5 down and Sector 2 saw him 0.9 seconds down as his team mate Ricciardo sparkled in P3. The finish line saw Vettel an anemic 1.2 seconds off, P8 and looking very likely not to advance.
Confirming that observation was Bottas who came through in a strong P6, followed by Massa in P7, the combination shoving Vettel down to P10. With Force India, McLaren and Ferrari still circulating the reigning World Champ was done with 21 seconds left. Hulkenberg was the last one out, but failed to improve on his P12 so it was Vettel, Hulkenberg, Kvyat, Vergne, Gutierrez and Grosjean failing to advance in P11-16. Though Ricciardo’s 10 spot penalty will move Vettel up, it will be cold comfort indeed.
On his in lap, Vettel complained of downshift issues, similar to complaints already heard by Toro Rosso. Both teams opened their gearboxes before P1 in accordance with the new regulations, maybe now they’re wishing they hadn’t.
War of the Winners
As the lights went green for Q3 the only certainty that hung over the deserted track was that P1 was already down to Hamilton v Rosberg, the only question being who would get closest to the perfect lap. The best of the rest was also an open question as with Vettel out, Perez and both Williams were still in as well.
Finally after 2 excruciating minutes Bottas lead the way, followed by Massa, Perez and most of the rest, including both Mercedes and Ricciardo.
Bottas was first through to set a hot lap and crossed the Start Line with just 8:45 minutes to go. He turned a very clean lap and posted a 1:34.2, 0.6 seconds up on his previous best. The Mercedes were making that look like child’s play as Rosberg came through almost a second faster, trailed by Hamilton who could only manage a time .28 down. Having sucked up all the oxygen in the broadcast world with their titanic struggle, Bottas, Perez, Massa, Ricciardo, Magnussen and Alonso rounded out the top 10. Button and Raikkonen showed no time on the board, having chosen to wait.
With 5 minutes left as all the teams regrouped, Rosberg’s current time was within a second of last year’s pole, a remarkable achievement for Mercedes who show no signs of slowing their development.
Down to 3 minutes, and Ferrari decided it was go time for Kimi. He flashed out of the garage for his only shot at setting a time. At 2 minutes to go, Bottas joined him, with all the others throwing down and heading out as the wind ripped through the track.
Raikkonen started his run by losing 0.3 in the first sector, locking up into turn 10 but still bringing it home in P6; better than Alonso. Rosberg failed to improve on his sector one, but Hamilton went deep into Turn 1 and locked up, an uncharacteristic mistake that no doubt brought epic relief to Rosberg as he received the message in Sector 2 that he was P1 for Sunday. Lewis had bailed on the lap as he had lost too much time. Ricciardo recorded a stellar P3, seriously out-qualifying his teammate and the best Alonso could manage in the end was P9. Bottas and Perez continued the fun – qualifying P4 and P5 with Raikkonen hanging onto P6. Button showed some renewed form by vaulting up into P7, just edging Massa in P8. And last, Magnussen pipped Alonso for P9, starting the entertainment for Ferrari as Luca di Montezemolo is in attendance this week at the GP and will no doubt be less than pleased with the showing of Alonso.
The story of the winner will be race pace for the Mercedes, with lap times being very close between the two cars during P2. Lewis looked faster later in the long runs and Rosberg looked faster earlier. Eclipsing that, however, the real story will be the battle between Force India, McLaren, Ferrari and Williams. With Bottas in P3 after Ricciardo’s penalty and Perez in P4, not to mention both Vettel and Riccciardo far back in the field, tomorrow could well deliver the kind of excitement that the new regulations promised.
|4||Sergio Perez||Force India|
|10||Sebastian Vettel||Red Bull|
|11||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India|
|12||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso|
|13||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull|
|14||Jean-Eric Vergne||Toro Rosso|