Sunday, March 14, 2010

Bahrain Grand Prix Qualifying Report

Finally to the first qualifying session of the season in Bahrain, although quite why it is F1 races here is bemusing to say the least. A race in the desert where there are very few fans and is very hard to get to makes very little sense, especially as the circuit lacks character or incident over the years it has run there. This year there is an extended section of the track for which the drivers have almost unanimously derided as dull. However the length of a lap has increased to almost 2 minutes and is only second in distance to the much faster Spa. The two tracks, though, are very much chalk and cheese. Once we get over the sport's administrators filling their boots with oil money though, it was time for the first qualifying for years where the fastest over one lap, regardless of fuel, claims pole.

Q1 was all about the new teams. Astonishingly the Hispania car of Karun Chandhok was turning its wheels for the very first time. This weekend is nothing more than a high-profile testing session for the team, let's hope they make it to the end of the race safely in one piece. Chandhok is on the back row alongside teammate Bruno Senna, nephew of legend Ayrton. Surprisingly perhaps the best of the new teams was the excellent Timo Glock in the Virgin car, just ahead of Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovaleinen in the Lotus cars. Also out in Q1 were Lucas di Grassi in the other Virgin and Jaime Alguersuari's Toro Rosso.

The second session threw up few surprises, the most exciting moment was whether Jenson Button would squeeze his McLaren into Q3 which he duly did in 10th place. Not making it through were Vitaly Petrov, making his F1 debut in the Renualt, Sebastian Buemi's Toro Rosso and both of the Sauber's. This was a little perplexing given the Swiss team's strong showing in winter testing, just going to show you can't trust those early times. Vitantonio Liuzzi finished in 12th, sandwiching the two Williams cars who may throw up a good performance in the race.

So to Q3, all cars on empty tanks going fully flat out. Sebastian Vettel set a sensational time to take pole over just a single run, ahead of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso - the Spaniard appearing annoyed at having been beaten by the Brazilian. In terms of speed though, the Ferrari's look well set over the long runs and are favourites for the race given that the Red Bull car appears to work its tyres hard. The front 3 are over a second ahead of the rest, a major upset as the 4 big teams seemed so closely matched. Lewis Hamilton appeared relieved to be in 4th but downplayed his chances in the race, as did teammate Button down in 8th. Nico Rosberg proved his consistent pace having been around 3-4 tenths quicker than the returning 7 time champion Michael Schumacher who starts 7th. Mark Webber lamented a small driver error that cost him crucial time leaving him in 6th. A final mention must go to the pacy Robert Kubica who caused a minor shock by getting what many believed to be a slow car into 9th. Adrian Sutil demonstrated the rapid improvements of the Force India team by making it into 10th.

So to the race. The first since 1993 without in-race refuelling. Having practised over the winter, the teams can supposedly change all 4 wheels in around 3 seconds. It remains to be seen whether the 'new' format will make the racing more exciting. It will certainly make the races easier to understand, nobody will be on different strategies and running on different weights. Hopefully the different degradation rates of the tyres will make things more unpredictable and encourage overtaking. However if one car drives away into the distance it's unlikely that they will be caught. The new points system makes a mockery of F1 history but will in turn reward the winner with a greater percentage of points over the driver finishing 2nd. With an extended grid it seems fair to award points down to 10th place. With 4 world champions and 4 very closely matched teams at the front, with a bit of luck this will be a fantastic season.

P. Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1. Vettel Red Bull-Renault 1:55.029 1:53.883 1:54.101
2. Massa Ferrari 1:55.313 1:54.331 1:54.242
3. Alonso Ferrari 1:54.612 1:54.172 1:54.608
4. Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1:55.341 1:54.707 1:55.217
5. Rosberg Mercedes 1:55.463 1:54.682 1:55.241
6. Webber Red Bull-Renault 1:55.298 1:54.318 1:55.284
7. Schumacher Mercedes 1:55.593 1:55.105 1:55.524
8. Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:55.715 1:55.168 1:55.672
9. Kubica Renault 1:55.511 1:54.963 1:55.885
10. Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:55.213 1:54.996 1:56.309
11. Barrichello Williams-Cosworth 1:55.969 1:55.330
12. Liuzzi Force India-Mercedes 1:55.628 1:55.653
13. Hulkenberg Williams-Cosworth 1:56.375 1:55.857
14. de la Rosa Sauber-Ferrari 1:56.428 1:56.237
15. Buemi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:56.189 1:56.265
16. Kobayashi Sauber-Ferrari 1:56.541 1:56.270
17. Petrov Renault 1:56.167 1:56.619
18. Alguersuari Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:57.071
19. Glock Virgin-Cosworth 1:59.728
20. Trulli Lotus-Cosworth 1:59.852
21. Kovalainen Lotus-Cosworth 2:00.313
22. di Grassi Virgin-Cosworth 2:00.587
23. Senna HRT-Cosworth 2:03.240
24. Chandhok HRT-Cosworth 2:04.904

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