The third practice session for the Bahrain GP indeed came as a surprise when the scarlet Ferraris of Vettel and Raikkonen led the pack especially after Rosberg displaying a very strong form on Friday. With less than a tenth separating the Maranello superstars, Rosberg’s Mercedes was down by almost half a second while Hamilton stayed fourth.
Both the Mercedes drivers set identical lap time on Pirelli soft tyres with 1:33.150s in particular. As on Friday, the Haas team impressed by lapping within the top ten as Williams’ Valterri Bottas finished fifth ahead of Grosjean and the Red Bull of Daniil Kvyat.
As track rubbered-in Raikkonen gave glimpses of Ferrari’s pace with a 1:31.723s before Vettel did a 1:31.683s. It was a bizarre session as McLaren after showing tremendous pace was down in 13th, the troublesome Sauber of Marcus Ericsson was up on 11th and intriguingly the Toro Rosso duo could only achieve 15th and 16th with problems ahead of 18th and 19th for Force India.
Whether the Mercedes drivers were reluctant to show their pace and sandbagging? Qualifying gave us all the answers we wanted to know. As the lights went green, Vettel led the queue of cars out and started his first flier ahead of Hamilton’s Mercedes. His time of 1:31.636 was quickly beaten by Hamilton’s 1:31.325 before Rosberg bettered them by going 0.066 s faster.
Raikkonen slotted in fourth ahead of Haas duo before Massa and Ricciardo dropped moved up to fifth and sixth respectively. Vandoorne, Ericsson, Palmer, Haryanto and Nasr found themselves in the dropping zone in the closing moments of Q1. With Nasr and Haryanto knocked out, Palmer couldn’t improve on his final flying lap whilst Vandoorne did to book a berth in Q2.
Wehrlein was the star among the seven departures as his last flier put him ahead of both Ericsson and Perez as the latter ended his team’s good run of form in Sakhir.
Eliminated in Q1: 16 Wehrlein; 17 Ericsson; 18 Perez; 19 Magnussen (pit lane start); 20 Palmer; 21 Haryanto and 22 Nasr
Fastest in Q1: 1 Rosberg; 2 Hamilton; 3 Ricciardo; 4 Vettel; 5 Bottas; 6 Raikkonen; 7 Sainz; 8 Verstappen; 9 Button; 10 Hulkenberg.
As the clock ticked signalling the start of Q2, a race marshal waved off the cars from the end of pit-lane due to issues encountered with the lights.
The Ferraris and Mercedes drivers exchanged top spot in the first few minutes. Raikkonen did a 1:30.559s, rapidly beaten by Hamilton on a 1:30.039 and Rosberg with a 1m30.535. Sainz slotted into eighth as Q2 went on as Button and Kvyat were the slowest of all with Gutierrez ahead of them in 11th.
Ricciardo claimed sixth and Verstappen moved to ninth which in turn meant Kvyat was slowest and going out. Button was the next driver to get eliminated and was at risk in 14th by being 0.068s slower than Vandoorne. He didn’t improve and drove back to pits so did Sainz who would start tomorrow’s race from 11th. Grosjean will line up on a credible 9th ahead of both Toro Rossos.
Eliminated in Q2: 9 Grosjean; 10 Verstappen; 11 Sainz; 12 Vandoorne; 13 Gutierrez; 14 Button and 15 Kvyat
In Q3 Vettel was quicker than Raikkonen in sector one as they began their flying laps. Raikkonen was the first over the line with a 1:30.244s before Vettel outsmarted him with a 1:30.065 lap. Rosberg beat them all with a 1:29.897s as Hamilton positioned in at fourth. Ricciardo proved to fifth ahead of Bottas and Massa as Hulkenberg could only manage eighth and stayed there.
Hamilton latest effort earned him no good as he ran off the track in the final corner. The Brit jumped right to the top with a stunning 1:29.493s lap from fourth which was a full four tenths clear of championship leader Rosberg. Despite improving, Rosberg had to make do with second as he went 0.077s slower with Vettel in third.
Q3 result: 1 Hamilton; 2 Rosberg; 3 Vettel; 4 Raikkonen; 5 Ricciardo; 6 Bottas; 7 Massa; 8 Hulkenberg