Qualifying for the F1 Sakhir GP was perhaps the most anticipated of the season. All eyeballs were on young George Russell and whether he could take the fight to Valtteri Bottas in his first non-Williams F1 Grand Prix weekend. With the lap time of this outer loop layout being so short, the teams were extraordinarily close in running. But in the end, even without Lewis Hamilton, it was another Mercedes 1-2 as Bottas and Russell pipped Max Verstappen to the front row by the slenderest of margins.
F1 Sakhir Qualifying: Q1
The first session wasn’t as much of a car park as had been often speculated throughout the week. The drivers behaved and were able to get out of each other’s way, allowing laps to be set in the low-mid 54-second range. Bottas, showing the pace to come, was the only man to nip into the 53’s in Q1.
Antonio Giovinazzi was the man who escaped Q1 this time from the usual suspects. Fittipaldi was going to start last in any case as a result of all the changes required to his car after Grojean’s infamous crash last week. But the Brazilian was slowest out of all 20 runners nonetheless.
Latifi out-qualified his teammate for the first time this season with Aitken finishing in 18th. The rookie Brit can at least boast that he did one better than a world champion, with Raikkonen down in 19th. Hard luck for Magnussen though who was only one hundredth behind the Red Bull of Alex Albon and Q2 in 16th. The Thai driver was very fortunate to make it out of the first session.
F1 Sakhir Qualifying: Q2
Q2 was a tight affair and with five minutes to go, the top five were separated by just 0.05s with Sergio Perez occupying the top spot. Mercedes power seemed to be key to success at this point, with four of those five running a Mercedes power unit. Bottas and Russell, who were in second and fourth, respectively, had set their times on mediums, however. The Racing Point’s of Perez in first and Stroll in fifth as well as the McLaren of Sainz in third set their times on the soft tyres. The times were creeping down, with all five drivers in the 53s.
Five teams were eliminated from Q2, with the big surprise being Lando Norris and a slightly smaller surprise of Alex Albon. Though it initially looked like Norris had technical problems, his team radio clarified this wasn’t the case. When he returned to the garage we heard him speaking to his engineers and apologising for going too early on his lap. It was unclear whether he meant with his battery deployment, or being on the track too early. Irrespective, the Brit abandoned his laps and will start 15th.
Norris not setting a decent lap promoted Giovinazzi to 14th. Vettel was the traditional Ferrari out in Q2 in 13th, and Alex Albon ended his Saturday in P12. A telling shake of the head from Christian Horner at the pit wall shows how close to the Red Bull door Albon is. Ocon just missed out of Q3 in 11th. His teammate, Ricciardo, only a short gap away on a weekend where Fernando Alonso is prowling the Renault garage.
F1 Sakhir Qualifying: Q3
After the first set of runs in Q3 was a very surprising provisional front row with Verstappen in first with a 53.591, and the remaining Ferrari of Charles Leclerc sitting in second. Bottas, Perez, Russell, Ricciardo, Sainz, Stroll and the two AlphaTauri’s of Gasly and Kvyat rounded out the top ten. Kvyat without setting a time and Gasly on the medium set of tyres.
Any smiles for Verstappen were quickly wiped off his face, however as Mercedes chose to go for three runs and Bottas eclipsed Max’s time by two-tenths of a second. Russell was one and a half tenths behind, taking him to the provisional front row too. The two Mercedes had run on used soft tyres in their first outing, explaining the few tenths they had in the bag still.
Humorous scenes in the pit lane with Leclerc being out of his car halfway through the session. The Monegasque knew he couldn’t better the scorching lap he set, as well as not having any new sets of tyres remaining and his Saturday was over, on a high.
Ultimately there were no improvements for the Mercedes on their final runs, in terms of position. But Bottas only snuck his pole position by 0.026 in the end as Russell found an extra tenth. Verstappen improved too, but not enough to take the front row and will be looking at the back of two Merc’s at the race start, even without Lewis Hamilton present.
F1 Sakhir Qualifying Results