The eleventh Mercedes F1 front-row lockout of the season comes as no great surprise under the dazzling Bahrain lights. Lewis Hamilton was unparalleled, as he so often has been this year, as the champion took his 98th career pole. Max Verstappen, as ever, was the only man who could possibly challenge the Silver Arrows but starts in third. Though he will no doubt want to be ahead of the two Mercs, he should be heartened that his car made it through the three quali sessions at all.
A slow start to qualifying saw Max be the only man who actually set a time in the first eight minutes of Q1. The Red Bull was apparently out early to allow the mechanics to see if they fixed a DRS issue on Max’s car.
But with 10 minutes remaining, every other driver decided to go out. The out lap saw all the midfield runners of McLaren, Ferrari, and Renault all jostling for position. Although we did see Leclerc struggling to find space on his out lap, having to take avoiding action behind a McLaren, he managed to set a time nonetheless
Despite the busyness of the track, there were few shocks by the end of Q1. The usual suspects were eliminated, with Latifi once again struggling on Saturday and finishing in 20th. Both the Haas drivers together with both the Alpha Romeo’s joined him in the bottom five. Turkey’s wet qualifying with two Alpha Romeo’s in Q3 seems a long time ago for the Swiss team.
The teams again chose to delay their cars first run to maximise grip and track temperature in Q2. This may have worked similar to Q1 had Carlos Sainz not triggered a red flag. The McLaren man was starting its first hot lap when the rear axle locked in place spinning Sainz into a helpless 360. The Spaniard couldn’t get his McLaren running again. A crane was required on track to recover the MCL35, ensuring no further running until the track cleared.
That initial stint of Q2 all the cars aside from the AlphaTauri pair equipped with medium tyres. Kvyat and Gasly instead tried the red soft compound Pirelli’s to reach Q3, perhaps indicating where they think they currently lineup in the order. The Sainz incident prevented any insight into how much further back they would’ve been, as no cars were able to finish a lap before the red flag waved.
With a few minutes left in the session after its restart, it was only Hamilton, Verstappen, Bottas, Albon, Norris and Perez with a time set. Albon again ran wide on his lap at the same corner he crashed so dramatically at in FP2 on Friday. The Thai driver got away with it this time but set a lap some seven-tenths slower than his teammate. Albon had to go out a second time to ensure he could make it to Q3 in what is a career crucial weekend.
With Sainz out, there were only four spaces for drivers to avoid. Russell, of course, took one spot and qualified his Williams in 14th. After Ferrari’s successful time in Turkey, they will be disappointed to have not had either car make it Q3. Vettel will start in 11th, one position to the good of his Monegasque teammate Leclerc.
The shock of the middle session though was Stroll who finished in 13th. The Canadian seemingly was incorrectly put out on used tyres and he ended set a time half a second away from safety. His team radio indicated that a miscommunication was to blame. Not quite the same celebrations as we heard following his maiden pole last time out.
In the gap between Q2 and Q3, Red Bull mechanics again spent their time looking at Verstappen’s DRS flap, possibly indicating the problem was not fixed ahead of Q1.
If there was a problem it didn’t seem to affect Max who was only one and a half tenths behind Hamilton after his first Q3 outing. The perennial 2020 quick trio occupied the top three positions halfway through the session, with Hamilton clocking in a 1:27.677. Verstappen sat in second place, with Bottas a quarter second behind his world champion teammate.
Further down it was further success for Perez in Gasly who continued their free practice pace in fourth and fifth. Ocon, Albon, Norris, Kvyat and Ricciardo filled the bottom half of the top ten drivers ahead of the second runs.
Hamilton led the way of the 10 drivers on the final Saturday laps and scored a track record of a 1:27.264. Bottas leapfrogged Verstappen to make it another Mercedes 1-2. The Finn was still around a quarter second behind his teammate but was faster than the Red Bull, at least.
Behind the top three, two men who are unconfirmed for 2021 both showed that they have their strengths, with Albon finishing in fourth and Perez fifth. The Renault duo will lineup behind the Racing Point with Ricciardo just two thousandths ahead of Ocon. Gasly, Norris and Kvyat rounding out the top ten.
F1 Bahrain GP Qualifying Results