Bahrain GP: Qualifying

Posted on March 13, 2010

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Red Bull have set the pace in Bahrain at the first qualifying session of the new 2010 season, Sebastian Vettel taking the pole with a blistering lap of 1.54.101.

Christian Horner’s outfit sprung a surprise, with many expecting Fernando Alonso to put his new Ferrari on pole in the first low-fuel qualifying for years. But the Spaniard will start third behind team-mate Felipe Massa who made a storming return to the grid after his terrible injury at the Hungarian Grand Prix last year.

McLaren fans have cause for concern. It’s possible the Woking-based squad have compromised their qualifying performance in favour of the long slog without refuelling tomorrow but neither Lewis Hamilton or especially Jenson Button are well-placed. After the session, Button told the media 8th was a good result given the car underneath him but it’s not likely to be where the World Champion would have hoped to be at the start of the new term.

Historically, no-one has won from further back than fourth in Bahrain. But, with re-fuelling banned, there is no reason to suggest a consistent car and driver can’t exploit the new rules and reel in the front runners. That potentially makes Nico Rosberg well placed if he can manage his tyres effectively but it’s impossible to predict how anyone will do on old, worn out tyres in this heat – it’s simply not been tested over more than 15 or 20 laps yet. Some of them may well have to run 30+ tomorrow if the super-softs give out. Two stops could be inevitable and brakes could end races early for several drivers whatever else happens.

Predictions? I think Alonso will take the chequered flag, with Hamilton second and Massa third. Red Bull don’t yet look to me to have the reliability to run to the flag after gearbox and brake issues in practice – but who knows. The team was excellent at managing its gremlins last year. It doesn’t like being a good weekend for either Button or Michael Schumacher, but I live in hope of some fireworks from the old master. Rubens Barrichello seems keen to set them off!

The new teams have done well to make the grid at all but HRT in particular are in terrible shape. Karun Chandhok’s car has been in bits all weekend and he only managed a couple of timed runs before going out in last place in Q1. I can’t see either HRT managing more than a few laps before conking out tomorrow. Lotus and Virgin will simply hope to finish, which is far from ideal, but we are where we are. Hopefully Heikki Kovalainen can keep it out of the fence.

Solid, if not sensational, start to the BBC 2010 coverage. Expectations are high after a stunning 2009 for the broadcaster, but I don’t expect to be disappointed.

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Posted in: Qualifying