Back in Bahrain again and a lot of questions were flying around coming into qualifying. Testing had been a mixed bag for the teams with Mercedes, the turbo-era top dogs looking like they have been usurped by Red Bull. But most of these questions have now been answered now we have had the first qualifying session of 2021.
So the grid for Sundays race is as follows:
1st Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 2nd Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
3rd Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 4th Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
5th Pierre Gasly (Alpha Tauri) 6th Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren)
7th Lando Norris (McLaren) 8th Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
9th Fernando Alonso (Alpine) 10th Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)
11th Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 12th Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo)
13th Yuki Tsunoda (Alpha Tauri) 14th Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo)
15th George Russell (Williams) 16th – Esteban Ocon (Alpine)
17th – Nicholas Latifi (Williams) 18th – Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin)
19th – Mick Schumacher (Haas) 20th – Nikita Mazepin (Haas)
Max Verstappen grabbed his fourth pole of his career and became the first non-Mercedes driver to start on pole in the turbo-hybrid era, beating Lewis Hamilton by just under four-tenths of a second; an incredible lap by the Dutch driver. Hamilton said he had gotten the most out of his Mercedes in the post session interview… a sign that he’s in for a much tougher challenge this year.
Sergio Perez was the biggest surprise knockout of the session failing to make it in to Q3 after two poor runs in Q2, one being deleted due to a track limit infringement and the other being a scruffy lap on the slower medium tyres. This won’t do the Mexican drivers confidence any favours as he has the unenviable position of driving the second Red Bull. That seat has garnered quite a reputation over the years.
Valtteri Bottas will line-up third on the grid for Sundays race, one behind his teammate. This will give Mercedes a great chance to take the fight to Verstappen during Sunday’s race especially as Perez failed to qualify high up the grid, but then again Perez won after being punted off and is one of the best drivers on the grid for making their way up from low starting positions.
Else where on the grid Fernando Alonso on his return to formula One put his Alpine in ninth, the first time he has featured in Q3 in 15 races (yes he has been gone for two years, but that was a run of 15 races out of Q3 when he was at McLaren) and that race was Monaco 2018. Though his teammate Esteban Ocon will be starting much further back in 16th. He failed to get out of session one when his final lap was hampered by yellow flags. The same fate was suffered by Sebastian Vettel who also was hampered by the yellow flags and will line up 18th, on the penultimate row of the grid. Lance Stoll, Vettel’s teammate did make it into Q3 and qualified tenth one place behind Alonso. Aston Martin and Alpine showed similar pace over qualifying and look like a fierce rivalry between the two teams will occur over the course of the season.
Williams showed good pace from the back outclassing HAAS and George ‘Mr Saturday’ Russell got out of Q1 with a blinder of a lap in a car that Williams has said will be ‘peaky’ in windy conditions much like those currently at the Sakhir circuit. William’s other rivals, Alfa Romeo have shown the most impvovement of the back marker cars and looked to have closed the gap to the main midfield this year. Both of their drivers got into Q2, Kimi Raikkonen placing 14th and his teammate Antonio Giovinazzi in a very commendable 12th place. As for HAAS their car is the slowest on the grid by far, Mick Schumacher outpaced his teammate Nikita Mazepin by over a second in his first F1 qualifying session. Mazepin meanwhile spun twice in Q1 adding to his growing tally of off track moments and he will line up last on the grid for his first F1 race.
Ferrari and AlphaTauri both showed pace at unexpected times. Yuki Tsunoda drove the second fastest time in Q1 but was then knocked out of Q2 finishing that session 13th on the timesheet. Had he not messed his lap up in the second session it is very possible that the young Japanese driver would have been right up there with his teammate Pierre Gasly; who after an incredibly strong 2020 season will line up fifth and in a very strong position to fight for a podium during Sunday’s race. Charles Leclerc who made a habit of putting his Ferrari where it doesn’t deserve to be last year will line up a very strong fourth and will be looking to avoid any first lap incidents unlike his last outing at the Bahrain track. His team mate Carlos Sainz is slightly further back in eight and looked quick, setting the fastest lap in session two on softs. This means he start like his teammate on the softs unlike the front runners who will be on medium tyres.
Finally the McLarens of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris qualified sixth and seventh respectably giving them good grounds to make the midfield fight swing in their favour. Though they will feel they could have qualified better but the laps by Leclerc and Gasly were extremely impressive. McLaren’s race pace might bring them in contention to finish higher than they started.
Winners and losers of Qualifying
Winner: Max Verstappen
To be four-tenths quicker than Lewis Hamilton is no easy feat and his fourth pole position was very well deserved. Verstappen will be looking to convert it into his 11th win and a first at Bahrain.
Loser: Sebastian Vettel
Being out in Q1 became a bad habit for Vettel last year and with his move to a new team he probably was hoping it would be a thing of the past. But he has looked quite unsettled in that Aston Martin and 18th is definitely not where he wanted to be come lights out Sunday.
Winner: Pierre Gasly
This could have been a win for AlphaTauri but Tsunoda’s Q2 performance wasn’t good enough, though the rookie has showed impressive pace over the weekend so far. But a fifth place for Pierre Gasly is hugely impressive and he over performed last year on several occasions so while a race win may be out of the question the Frenchmen will definitely be feeling like he can have a very strong race.
Loser: Nikita Mazepin
Spinning twice in one 18 minute session is not a good start to your Formula One career especially when you overtake several other drivers in the end queue at qualifying to get ahead (Jolyon Palmer says this is a definite no-no). He starts last in the slowest car and doesn’t have good prospects for the race.