F1

F1 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix: What we learned from qualifying

The grid is set for Sunday’s race. But what are the main takeaways from a wild qualifying session? RealSport’s Toby Durant breaks it down.

Toby Durant by Toby Durant

(Photo credit: Artes Max) 

Under the bright lights, qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix did not disappoint. There was plenty of intrigue and excitement after the results in Australia. Whose pace was for real? Who got lucky or unlucky? We answered some of those questions today as Sebastian Vettel took an excellent pole and one young gun made his presence known.

Toro Rosso have the pace

They disappointed two weeks ago with both drivers failing to get through Q1, and then only Brendon Hartley finishing the race right at the back. This week, a few updates from Honda saw Toro Rosso return to the form we saw in winter testing.

Hartley qualified 11th, which would be remarkable enough on its own. However, Pierre Gasly flew, taking sixth place as “best of the rest”, a narrow three-hundredths faster than Haas’ Kevin Magnussen.

The last three years that kind of result would have been unthinkable for a Honda-powered car, and for the Japanese manufacturer to see themselves ahead of McLaren after their $100 million divorce must be very nice.

With Haas staking their claim to fourth in the constructors’ battle last time out and Force India still struggling, introducing Toro Rosso into the mix only creates more excitement for race fans.

Verstappen is over the edge

Formula One drivers race on the edge of grip and performance at all times, and sometimes they end up falling. That is Max Verstappen’s life.

In Australia, he burned out his tyres during the race and stepped off line into Turn One, doing well to keep it out of the barriers. This week the error came on Saturday.

Coming out of Turn Two the young Dutchman got a little wide and a little greedy with his right foot. Once again the car immediately spun on him, but this time there was no saving it from the barriers. Verstappen ended up qualifying in 15th, and while he should scythe through the field tomorrow, two cases of driver mistakes in back-to-back races suggest he is just pushing too hard right now.

The Red Bull looks like a reasonably competitive package, especially on a Sunday, but throwing the thing in the barriers will not get him back on the top step of the podium.

Ferrari’s turn to party

The Prancing Horses were firmly in control in qualifying. Mercedes struggled with the temperatures and managing their tyres, but Ferrari had no such issues.

Both Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen were masterful, and their race pace in Australia suggests that this could be a runaway one-two tomorrow. Hamilton’s five place grid penalty drops him to ninth place for the race clearing the way for Ferrari to take control from the get go.

Long season ahead for Williams

It is always tough to see one of the most successful teams in F1 history to be at the back of the pack. After a disappointing Australian Grand Prix, many hoped to see Williams bounce back at the power-heavy circuit in Bahrain, but it wasn’t to be.  Their young duo of Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin found themselves well off the pace in Q1, with Sirotkin ending up in 18th, six-tenths behind 15th, and Lance Stroll dead last almost a second from safety.

Last year was not much fun for Williams fans, but the cool-headed presence of veteran Felipe Massa kept them reasonably competitive. With two young and inexperienced pilots at the wheel, things have gone drastically downhill. When you can’t out-qualify Sauber, you know it’s going to be a tough season.

What does Bahrain qualifying tell us about the season ahead? Are we in for another classic showdown? Join the debate in the comments below.

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Toby Durant

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