Vettel heads Ferrari 1-2 as Ferrari locks out Bahrain front row


Looking at the timesheets, certainly for FP2 and FP3, one would say that Ferrari goes into today's qualifying session, and indeed the race, as favourite.

Clearly the SF71-H has pace, especially in the hands of Kimi Raikkonen this weekend, but worryingly some of that old Maranello sloppiness has been creeping in of late.

First there was Kimi's loose wheel in FP2 yesterday, while today Sebastian Vettel suffered a loose bargeboard.

Of course, over the years we've seen some real howlers from the Italian outfit - remember the sight of the pit crew chasing Felipe Massa down the pitlane as he exited with the fuel line still attached, then triumphantly returning to the garage with said line like villagers who has just killed the python that had terrorised them for years?

Hopefully, like Haas in Melbourne, these were two minor blips, but with Ferrari one can never be sure.

Then again Mercedes hasn't had it easy, with Lewis Hamilton appearing to have one of those off weekends he has from time to time. His cause isn't helped by the 5-place grid penalty he received for a change of gearbox, but hopefully he can put that all behind him and dig deep this afternoon. After the nightmare of Melbourne, teammate Valtteri Bottas has to get a result this weekend also.

While Ferrari and Mercedes grab the headlines, the Red Bull duo has quietly got on with things, and though both drivers were over 0.5s off the pace earlier, both look to be a threat for the remainder of the weekend.

Based on the evidence of FP2 and FP3, the battle for 'best of the rest' should be a thriller, with Renault looking very strong earlier, as did Toro Rosso and McLaren.

Haas appears to have lost a little of its Melbourne pace, while Force India continues to be a shadow of its former self.

The Sauber pair are quietly getting on with things and in all honesty will be lucky to get one driver through to Q2, while Williams goes from bad to worse, the Grove outfit off the pace and not looking likely to improve any time soon.

Ahead of Q1 the air temperature is 28 degrees C, while the track temperature is 32 degrees. We are reliably informed that there is 0% chance of rain. The sun is setting and the floodlights are on.

Ericsson leads the way when the lights go green, the Swede followed by Hartley and Leclerc. All three are on the supersofts.

As the three begin their first flying laps, the Haas duo heads out.

Ericsson posts 31.976 but this is beaten by his teammate Leclerc who posts 31.775 while Hartley can only manage 32.773, the Kiwi losing ground in the final sector.

The Ferrari duo are the first of the big guns to head out, both on the softs.

Magnussen posts 30.030 and Grosjean 31.205 as Hartley is told he has a damaged front wing.

Bottas on softs and Hamilton on supers.

A 28.951 sees Raikkonen go quickest, that's on the softs and only 0.2s off his previous best this weekend. Moments later Vettel posts 29.060, the German quickest in S1.

Bottas goes third with a 29.275, 0.324s down on Raikkonen.

Perez goes sixth (30.218), ahead of Hulkenberg, Ocon, Gasly and Vandoorne.

Verstappen's first flying lap sees the Red Bull driver go fourth on the supersofts just ahead of Hamilton who posts 29.396. Ricciardo goes sixth with a 29.552.

With just over 6 minutes remaining, Grosjean, Alonso, Leclerc and the Williams duo comprise the drop zone.

Verstappen is off and in the barrier at T3, meaning the session is red flagged. Replay shows the youngster lost the back end coming out of T2 and then clipped the kerb after which he was a passenger.

Asked if he is OK, the Dutchman is clearly unimpressed at having thrown away a golden opportunity. That said, his time should see him through to Q2 so he won't start from the back of the grid.

As Verstappen arrives back in the paddock - helmet still firmly in place - the session resumes. Grosjean, Alonso, Leclerc and the Williams pair comprise the drop zone, with Ericsson, Sainz and Vandoorne hovering.

The top six appear to have settled for their times, while everyone else is back on track.

Hulkenberg, currently 9th, looks set to improve as do Sainz, Alonso and Vandoorne.

Indeed, the timing screen is covered in green as almost everyone looks set to improve.

Alonso goes 13th and Hulkenberg 10th. Vandoorne leapfrogs his McLaren teammate, while Gasly goes ninth. Alonso drops to 15th.

Grosjean fails to improve as does Ericsson, while Leclerc spins.

Alonso make the cut, while Grosjean, who matched him to one-thousandth of a second misses the cut.

"I'm so stupid," says Leclerc of his spin.

Raikkonen is quickest, ahead of Vettel, Bottas, Verstappen, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Magnussen, Sainz, Gasly and Perez.

We lose Grosjean, Ericsson, Sirotkin, Leclerc and Stroll.

Ahead of Q2 the big question is whether Hamilton will attempt to qualify on softs so that he can start the race on them with the intention of running a one-stop strategy. And if he does, how will Ferrari and Red Bull react?

Vettel heads out first, the German on the supers. More and more drivers head out, all on the supers bar Hamilton who is on softs.

Vettel stops the clock at 28.341 with Raikkonen posting 28.515 moments later.

Hulkenberg posts 29.861 but is leapfrogged by Gasly and then Bottas who posts 28.991.

A 28.962 sees Ricciardo go third only to be demoted when Hamilton splits the Ferraris with a 28.458... on softs.

Having seen what Hamilton's managed on the softs, will Ferrari take a gamble and see if one of its drivers can improve on the yellow-banded rubber?

After the first run, it's: Vettel, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Ricciardo, Bottas, Gasly, Hulkenberg, Magnussen, Sainz and Ocon.

Perez, Alonso, Vandoorne and Hartley comprise the drop zone, with Verstappen's fate already decided.

Told he's P8, Magnussen wants to know the gap to P6. The boy's got ambition.

As one would expect, those lower down the order stick to supersofts. Hamilton is the first of the big guns to emerge, the Briton now having switched to supers.

Bottas is also on track, though Ricciardo and the Ferraris stay put.

Hulkenberg improves to sixth, with teammate Sainz slotting into seventh.

Ocon goes tenth but is far from safe.

Alonso can only manage 11th (30.212) as Magnussen improves to seventh with a 29.623.

A late improvement for Hartley but he misses the cut by a fraction, while Hamilton is way off the pace having appeared to back-off.

Quickest is Vettel, ahead of Hamilton, Raikkonen, Bottas, Ricciardo, Hulkenberg, Magnussen, Sainz, Gasly and Ocon. A strong performance from Ocon but even better by his countryman Gasly in the Toro Rosso.

We lose Hartley, Perez, Alonso, Vandoorne and Verstappen.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Bahrain, here.

Sainz and Gasly are first out for Q3, followed, shortly after, by Vettel.

As more drivers head out all are on supersofts, Hulkenberg, Magnussen and Ocon appearing to be looking at doing just one run.

Sainz posts 30.641 and then Gasly 30.388, with Vettel posting 28.196 moments later having gone wide in the final corner.

Raikkonen responds with a 28.101 having got the final corner just right.

Bottas can only manage third (28.316) with Ricciardo posting 28.410 to go fourth only to be demoted when Hamilton stops the clock at 28.220 to take third.

After the first run, the top five are covered by 0.309s.

With 3:59 remaining, Sainz heads out, followed by his Renault teammate. Next up its Gasly, followed by Ocon and Bottas.

Both Renault drivers post PBs in S1, as does Gasly. Bottas however goes purple with teammate Hamilton just 0.002s slower.

Vettel goes quickest in S1 as Ricciardo posts a PB as does Raikkonen.

At the line Bottas posts 28.124 to go second. Hamilton posts 28.220 to take fourth.

Vettel improves to 27.958 to take provisional pole, while Raikkonen has a poor final sector and fails to improve.

Vettel takes pole, ahead of Raikkonen, Bottas, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Gasly - yes Gasly - Magnussen, Hulkenberg, Ocon and Sainz.

Hartley is eleventh, ahead of Perez, Alonso, Vandoorne, Verstappen, Grosjean, Ericsson, Sirotkin, Leclerc and Stroll.

"I tossed it away in the last corner," admits Vettel in the interview on the grid at the end of the session. "I was so happy with the second run, I just had to stay away from that kerb in the last corner.

"We worked on the balance and today we improved it," he adds, "it wasn't easy but the car was responded so very pleased."

"For sure not ideal, far from ideal in the last run with the traffic but what can I do," sighs Raikkonen. "Tomorrow is the main thing, tomorrow we get the points so we'll see what we can do."

"In Q3 when you need to put everything together we got it but these guys in the red cars were too quick," admits Bottas. "I think it will be a close race, with the Red Bull as well and Lewis and Max coming from behind... it will be interesting."

We're sure it will be Valtteri, we're sure it will be.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Bahrain, here.

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Published: 07/04/2018
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