Under the desert lights of the Bahrain International Circuit, Saturday qualifying began with the news that Lewis Hamilton had incurred a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change.
Early on into the first qualifying session, Max Verstappen lost the back end of his RB14 out of Turn 2, spinning the car into the barrier and ending his Saturday running. After a brief red flag, the session restarted with five minutes to go with Fernando Alonso in desperate need to improve on his 15th place.
Surprisingly, Romain Grosjean failed to drag his rejuvenated Haas into Q2 as a second sector mistake meant the French driver set an identical time to Alonso’s – a 1:30.530. Alonso scraped through to Q2 having set the time earlier in the session.
Other drivers that dropped out in the first session of qualifying were the Sauber drivers of Marcus Ericsson in 17th and Charles Leclerc in 19th. Williams rookie Sergey Sirotkin slot in between in 18th whilst Lance Stroll qualified slowest for the first time in his career.
In Q2, Lewis Hamilton ran the soft tyres, contrasting to the super softs of his rivals, to try a different strategy due to his incoming penalty. On these tyres, Hamilton showed incredible pace, landing in 2nd after the first Q2 runs, splitting the Ferraris.
The Toro Rosso cars also showed impressive pace. Making it through to the second phase of qualifying relatively easily, Frenchman Pierre Gasly made it into Q3, but despite a solid lap by Brendon Hartley, a minor mistake saw the Kiwi finish 11th.
McLaren’s luck had run dry. Failures by both cars to improve sufficiently meant that Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne qualified in 13th and 14th respectively. Force India’s Sergio Perez slotted between Hartley and Alonso in 12th, whilst his teammate Esteban Ocon just made Q3.
In Q3, Kimi Raikkonen sat top of the pile after the first runs of the final session, as he had done for most of the weekend. Sebastian Vettel was in 2nd, barely a tenth behind. The Mercedes duo clung to 3rd and 4th., followed by Daniel Ricciardo in 5th.
As the cars made their final runs, a small mistake by Lewis Hamilton was enough to set the tone for the rest of his lap as he failed to improve. He was jumped by teammate Valtteri Bottas for 3rd and will start Sunday’s race from 9th place. Despite a purple first sector by Bottas, it was not enough to touch the Scuderia duo who had full control of the session.
With Raikkonen sitting on provisional pole, the pressure was on his teammate and quadruple world champion, Sebastian Vettel. The German pulled out a stellar final sector to grab pole position from his teammate by just over a tenth as the Iceman failed to improve on his final run.
Renault delivered a strong performance once again with both cars in the top 10 again, as did the Haas of Kevin Magnussen. Pierre Gasly delivered the real surprise of the session with a stunning 6th place for the Toro Rosso Honda team – he will start in 5th.
The scene is set for a real duel in the desert. Can Hamilton do anything to perturb the Ferraris from his starting from P9? Or are we going to see the Ferraris cap off a dominant weekend with a 1-2? Let us know your Bahrain GP race predictions down in the comments below or on Twitter!