Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 21° Track 32° Humidity 66% Wind 2.1 m/s
Limpid pools of darkness surrounded the track at Sakhir as the teams desperately raced to prep the cars for the qualifying session. Palm trees adorned with twinkle lights made for excellent eye candy as the commentariat jockeyed for position with the beautiful and well-heeled. The cars looked immaculate under the surreal lighting, artificial day emphasizing the liveries emphatically.
Well for those who watched Max Verstappen top the charts in FP3 no worries, you were likely not the only one to lolwhut as the checkered flag dropped and his nearest competitor was Hamilton a tenth back and then Vettel a further 0.4s. Of course, temperatures will be different enough to make a difference as the sun sets and it’s hard to ignore the Mercedes and it’s magic engine mode. But with the potential of the wind to wreak havoc on the sensitive aero of the cars lurking in the wings, a potentially engaging and disruptive session awaits.
Lights Green and they’re off!!
Wehrlein was first to crack the silence, followed Ericsson. Stroll meandered onto track sporting some Mediums, suggesting he was up to something other than setting qualifying times. Ocon, Magnussen and Grosjean made it a party. Wehrlein beat his Ericsson soundly, with a 1:33.502 Grosjean had a massive lock up spoiling his lap and leaving Pascal hanging at the top for a few more seconds.
Ferrari and Mercedes decided to run with the Supers as the track became increasingly crowded with 12 minutes left in the session. Stroll was first to dethrone the Sauber, though he had switched back to the SuperSoft to do so.
Bottas wasted no time in dominating that time but it was Lewis with a big lock up into T10 and forced to go round another time before setting a representative time. Massa then Ricciardo slotted behind and then it was Verstappen at the top before Lewis got his clean one in and went P1 with 8 minutes left to go.
Alonso in P10 before the late running Toro Rosso of Sainz took it away from him and then to add insult to injury, Vandoorne tossed off a good lap and took P11 as well. Palmer lingered in P15 whilst Hulkenberg was P8, ouch! And then Wehrlein went P11 which made everyone sit up and notice.
Stroll had fallen to P16 and behind him were Magnussen, Ericsson, Ocon and Grosjean. 4:20 left and it was Grosjean out the door to undo the damage, setting personal best through S1 as Raikkonen was sent out on the Supersoft to protect his time.
Grosjean went P8 to the eternal delight of the HAAS team as the track filled with everyone looking to protect their trip to Q2.
Less than a minute left and it was Raikkonen going P3 despite a little contretemps with Perez at the last corner. As the last digits ticked off the clock it was Palmer going from P16 to P7. Alonso to P11 and Ocon takes it away from him Ericsson no improvement into P17 as yellows were thrown for Carlos Sainz, sitting P16 and having purpled S1 and set a personal best in S2. The desert is indeed a harsh mistress. No improvement for Vandoorne and Perez was stuck behind the yellows so it was the end of the road for the Force India driver.
Going no further were the brutally robbed Sainz, Vandoorne, Perez, Ericsson and Magnussen. Banging laps for Palmer and Hulkenberg and of course the big boys minus Raikkonen through on the Softs instead of the Supers.
Q2 started with a big heap of empty track as speculation about the death of Sainz’ car revolved around a lack of fuel. Bottas and Hamilton finally kicked it off with 12:30 left in the session, everyone now rocking the Supersofts.
Bottas purpled the track as he rocketed through the start/finish and S1 belonged to him alone as Hamilton trailing behind was unable to match his pace. S2 repeated the results of the experiment but a masive S3 put Lewis back on top with a 1:29.535.
Vettel rocked across P3 and the top 3 were separated by just 0.06s. Raikkonen, Verstappen and Ricciardo filled out the spots to P6 and as the track emptied it was a solitary Wehrlein sitting P13 as the rest reset for the second runs. Those with work left to do were Grosjean, Ocon, Wehrlein, Alonso and Stroll. Both Alonso and Stroll hadn’t set a time with 4:30 left to go, but it was Alonso out of the car with an issue and already going no further.
Palmer was the man on the bubble and Kvyat and Hulkenberg decided to join the party at the backas well, and as they came round for their hot laps it was Stroll hitting P10, and immediately out by Grosjean who went P8. As the seconds ticked down it was tight for Palmer who just made P9. Ocon P13
Kvyat wide, no improvement for him and then it was Hulkenberg with a glorious P5 and both Renaults into Q3 for the first time.
Done like a dinner, were Kvyat, Stroll, Wehrlein, Ocon and the Indianapolis bound Alonso. They headed for the snack bar as the sharp end got ready to play for all the marbles. Some vague signs of life from Palmer utterly overshadowed by the destructive lap from the Hulk. Hulk smash Palmer!!
Q3 kicked off with Ricciardo and Verstappen as Alonso confirmed it would be a new PU for him the next day. Bottas and Hamilton trailed the Red Bull drivers as Ferrari were the third set of drivers out of the gate.
Bottas set the early pace, again having the advantage in S1. Red Bull further off the pace and S2 went the way of Hamilton and as Bottas took the line he was nearly a second up on Verstappen. Lewis was again untouchable in S3, though, going 0.05s up on Bottas and 0.455s up on Vettel, who had wandered into P3. Raikkonen took P4 and complained that the understeer was still with him, and as the track emptied, Grosjean and Palmer hit the empty track to have their go. Hulkenberg was not far behind as they lined up to have a go at Massa sitting P7.
3 minutes to go and as the bottom 3 hit their marks it was the rest back into the mix on their outlaps. Grosjean hit P8 nad with 1 minute left it was Bottas onto his hot lap.
Palmer P10 and Hulkenberg P6! as the flag fell with it all to play for.
Bottas P1 with an immaculate lap and it was Lewis at the line was not able to do it, flailing through S2 and subsequently losing out in S3. Vettel, Ricciardo and Raikkonen finished out the top 5. But it was the first pole for the flying Finn and congratulations to him and a beaming Toto Wolff, who was no doubt delighted as he had helped to manage the Finn’s career.
Vettel was not happy with his effort, but Hulkenberg must’ve been as he had surpassed the Williams of Massa to go P7 once all the dust had settled.
Tomorrow’s race is where the points are awarded, and though the ingredients might look a little bland, the race for the first corner is liable to be exceptionally fierce if today’s F2 race is to be believed. Brilliant result for Renault and the Hulk in particular. Wehrlein too deserves special notice for his first effort back in the Sauber.
Stroll, Palmer, Magnussen and the entire Force India team will be looking for some redemption as their best laid plans went variously awry. It will be Sainz with the most to prove, though as he was on the fastest of laps when his car decided to unmercifully go on holiday.
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