Sebastian Vettel (1:32.422) returned to his pole-winning self during qualifying for the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix with a masterful final flying lap in Q3. He supplanted Lewis Hamilton, as did teammate Mark Webber, but Hamilton fought back and split the Red Bulls to qualify second fastest. Jenson Button will start alongside Webber on the second row. Nico Rosberg, who seemed ready to dominate qualifying as he had all weekend, managed only fifth fastest. Fernando Alonso again barely managed to move forward to Q3 while teammate Felipe Massa was knocked out in Q2. More surprisingly, Kimi Raikkonen did not make the fight for pole as the track continued to evolve rapidly within each session. Michael Schumacher sat in the garage as the track evolved in Q1, with a DRS rear wing issue that forced him to remain off the track, allowing Heikki Kovalainen to improve and drop the German put in Q1.
It appeared to be Rosberg’s weekend again after Shanghai, as he led two of the three practice sessions. Hamilton (1:33.572) took first blood on Friday morning, leading over Vettel, Di Resta, Rosberg, and Button. Rosberg (1:32.816) countered Friday afternoon, as Webber, Vettel, Hamilton, and Schumacher joined him as to complete the fastest five then. On Saturday morning, Rosberg (1:33.254) looked to maintain a half second gap on the rest of the field until the Red Bulls of Vettel and Webber slotted in between Rosberg and Hamilton. Webber was four tenths off the leading pace, but Vettel managed a lap just over a tenth off Rosberg’s time. Red Bull looks to be gaining in the development race, as at least one of the drivers, and regularly both, were amongst the fastest five in the practice sessions.
Force India sat out FP2 in order to get things sorted before getting back to the hotel in daylight after an incident with protesters on Thursday spooked many of the team members. Back on track, the conditions remained dusty, and plenty of cars had wobbly rears, but there were no incidents. Conditions worsened overnight, leading to the slower times Saturday morning. Finally, Maldonado received a five-place gird penalty for a gearbox change to his Williams Friday night.
The seconds ticked well by as the first twenty-minute session of qualifying got underway before a driver entered the track. Di Resta went out first, with teammate Hulkenberg, then Pic joining him a minute later. As the earlier haze had cleared, the sun shone brightly over the few cars out in the first five minutes of Q1. Di Resta (1:43.620) obviously set the first time, as Massa joined the handful of others on the track. Hulkenberg bested his teammate moments before Pic did as well. Half the field had entered the track six minutes into the session. Early on, Hulkenberg led Ricciardo, Di Resta, Vergne, Pic, and Glock. That did not last long, as all drivers but Lotus drivers were out. Alonso went out directly on the soft tyre (with the harder, medium, compound the preferred race tyre) while Massa had gone fifth fastest on his first timed lap.
Kobayashi had supplanted Hulkenberg at the top halfway through Q1, Webber, then Button (1:34.792) went straight to the top on his first lap. Vettel slotted between them while Hamilton’s first lap was very slow with grip issues and nearly a destroyed set of tyres. On his soft tyres, Alonso (1:34.760) was quickest, He was soon supplanted by Raikkonen. In the timing, Hamilton had gone third, then dropped to fourth on a decent lap. Grosjean (1:34.041) next went fastest. He led Raikkonen, Alonso, Button, Hamilton, Schumacher, Vettel, Webber, Kobayashi, and Perez as the fastest ten with eight remaining. Rosberg had not set a quick lap, but soon rectified that by going third fastest. Senna, Petrov, Vergne, de la Rosa, Karthikeyan, Pic, and Glock were then in the knockout zone.
Button questioned his need for another lap whilst in fifth. His engineer said yes, but the Briton pitted the next time around. Nearly everyone was back in the garage with five minutes to go, but for the Force India drivers on soft tyres. At that point, Glock’s time was not within 107% of Grosjean’s. Hulkenberg safely moved up to fourth, as Vettel, Webber, Kobayashi, Perez, Ricciardo, Massa, and Di Resta all frantically lapped to attempt to ensure their move forward to Q2. Di Resta jumped up to fifth. Most of the typcal front runners sat in the garage to save tyres.
The relegation zone remained the same with two minutes remaining, until Vergne moved up to eleventh and dropped Kovalainen back down with his teammate. Massa, Kobayashi, Perez, Senna, and Ricciardo also hauled themselves up, backing up drivers into the top spot on the timesheets. Soon, Schumacher was down in sixteenth, with Hamilton fifteenth. Maldonado moved up, dropping Vergne and putting Schumacher on the bubble. With a masterful effort, Kovalainen moved himself up to seventeenth and knocked Schumacher out in Q1. As the session ended, Perez (1:33.814) led Ricciardo, Webber, Grosjean, Kobayashi, Vettel, Massa, Senna, Raikkonen, and Rosberg as the top ten. Vergne came under investigation for bypassing the call to stop at the weigh bridge after the session.
Knocked Out in Q1:
18. Michael Schumacher
19. Jean-Eric Vergne
20. Vitaly Petrov
21. Charles Pic
22. Pedro de la Rosa
23. Timo Glock
24. Narain Karthikeyan
A minute into the fifteen minutes of Q2, no driver had entered the track. Soon, though, many drivers were out on the soft tyres looking to move forward to fight for pole. Hulkenberg and Di Resta set the fist times, only to be bettered by Massa, then Perez, then Raikkonen, then Hamilton (1:33.209) went fastest. Rosberg managed only second fastest, .01s slower than Hamilton. Webber, Button, Vettel, Raikkonen, Kobayashi, Alonso, Perez, and Senna completed the top ten at halfway. Ricciado, Massa, Hulkenberg, Di Resta, Grosjean, Maldonado, and Kovalainen were in the knockout zone. The latter two had yet to set times.
Only Massa and the Force Indias were out lapping when five minutes remained. More drivers began returning to the track in the final minutes, with Alonso having been dropped to eleventh by Massa. Ricciardo moved up to seventh and Di Resta to seventh, leaving it looking like both Ferraris would be out in Q2. Instead, Alonso moved up to fourth, then dropped to fifth. In the end, Hamilton, Rosberg, Grosjean, Webber, Alonso, Button, Di Resta, Vettel, Ricciardo, and Perez the top ten.
Knocked Out in Q2:
11. Kimi Raikkonen
12. Kamui Kobayashi
13. Nico Hulkenberg
14. Felipe Massa
15. Bruno Senna
16. Heikki Kovalainen
17. Pastor Maldonado
Webber made his way out first for the ten minutes of Q3, with only half the drivers out three minutes into the ten minute session. Hamilton managed the fastest first sector, even as Webber (1:32.785) set the first time. Vettel’s first sector was not great, as Hamilton and Button both went faster than Webber. After those first times, Hamilton led Button by .04s, Webber and Vettel with four minutes remaining. No other drivers had yet set a time, saving a single set of tyres for those final frantic minutes of Q3.
Rosberg joined with just under three minutes to go while Alonso had gone out for a couple of sector times without setting a lap. Perez was not planning on running at all, while Di Resta went out on the harder tyre. The drivers began their single laps as the seconds ticked away, with Button the last to cross the line and start his fast lap. Rosberg managed a quick first sector while Webber went faster yet, both of them quicker than Hamilton’s time, and his new sector time. Rosberg managed only fourth fastest on his complete lap while Webber and Vettel were flying behind. Webber took pole from Hamilton by .03s, as Vettel net took pole. Hamilton managed only to beat Webber with his final time. Button scrapped his final lap after a small bobble as the formerly dominant Vettel became such again.
Final Qualifying Times for the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix:
Driver Team Time 1. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:32.422 2. Lewis Hamilton McLaren 1:32.520 3. Mark Webber Red Bull 1:32.637 4. Jenson Button McLaren 1:32.711 5. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:32.821 6. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:32.912 7. Romain Grosjean Lotus 1:33.008 8. Sergio Perez Sauber 1:33.394 9. Fernando Alonso Ferrari No time 10. Paul Di Resta Force India No time 11. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:33.789 12. Kaumi Kobayashi Sauber 1:33.806 13. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:33.807 14. Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:33.912 15. Bruno Senna Williams 1:34.017 16. Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 1:36.132 17. Pastor Maldonado Williams No time 18. Michael Schumacher Mercedes 1:34.865 19. Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 1:35.014 20. Vitaly Petrov Caterham 1:35.823 21. Charles Pic Marussia 1:37.683 22. Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1:37.883 23. Timo Glock Marussia 1:37.905 24. Narain Karthikeyan HRT 1:38.314
*to be assessed a five-place grid penalty for gearbox change