Qualifying: Bahrain 2010 – Surprised to be pleased with 4th

Let’s cover the three practice sessions first, and with just 6 hours till the start of the Grand Prix I’ll keep it brief.

Free Practice 1 – Friday 12th April
Jenson Button – 5th
Lewis Hamilton – 6th

Free Practice 2 – Friday 12th April
Jenson Button – 4th
Lewis Hamilton – 2nd

Free Practice 3 – Saturday 13th April
Jenson Button – 7th
Lewis Hamilton – 12th

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Lewis had a problem with one of his front brakes 15 minutes from the end of FP3 which meant his session was over, meaning he never got a chance to do a simulation qualifying lap ahead. At this point I started to get worried, for 2 reasons: 1) Would they be able to sort Lewis’s car out in time for qualifying?, and 2) How much of a disadvantage would Lewis be at having not done that simulation qualifying lap, given that the Bahrain track had changed since he qualified there in 2010? After what appeared to be a great few weeks of testing, was the McLaren dream of a return to form beginning to unravel?

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That last question seemed to become answered as we started the first qualifying session of 2010, one in which Lewis finished up 6th and Jenson 11th – not what I had been expecting and hoping for, Though both made it into Q2, if Jenson didn’t improve he wouldn’t make it to Q3. The Ferraris and Red Bulls were leading the pack, with Adrian Sutil’s Force India in 3rd.

Q2 saw Lewis remain in 6th, while Jenson did manage to improve from 11th to 10th place – just scraping in to Q3 and a chance to start further up the grid. However, in getting 1st place in Q2, Sebastian Vettel was almost a second faster than Lewis Hamilton and well over a second faster than Jenson Button. It was becoming clear that I comparison to the front runners, McLaren didn’t have the pace.

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You can imagine my delight when Lewis Hamilton managed to claim 4th place on the grid by the end of Q3! 24 hours ago I’d have been disappointed with that result but after Q1 and Q2, the 2nd row of the grid was a major accomplishment. Jenson Button do so well, qualifying in 8th place – but at least it was an improvement from the 10th and 11th place finishes in Q2 and Q1 respectively. In qualifying 4th Lewis was more than 1.1 seconds slower than Sebastian Vettel in pole position, just under a second slower than Felipe Massa in 2nd and more than 6/10ths of a second slower than Fernando Alonso in 3rd. Back in 8th, Jenson was over 4/10ths slower than team mate Lewis in 4th.

While the 4th place achieved by Lewis was a great effort compared to Q1 and Q2 it’s still somewhat of a disappointing first qualifying session for McLaren, not something I either wanted or expected after last season. Downforce on the corners seems to be the problem, so there is hope that on the straights the McLaren’s can make up time and places, especially given the reports that overtaking on the corners is nigh on impossible.

Yesterday evening I received a tweet from 5LiveF1 on Twitter saying this:

Rumours are that McLaren ran with a higher ride height in qualy to counteract the fuel weights tomorrow.

If this is the case then the McLaren MP4-25s of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button could perform better in the race than qualifying would have us believe. Until that’s proven it looks like it’s a Ferrari race to lose to lose in Bahrain, given than Vettel’s Red Bull will apparently be harsher on its tyres and has question marks over its reliability.

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It took half a season for McLaren to catch up last season, but they were in a much worse position in comparison to the fastest cars than they are this year. If when the dust settles later on today and we see McLaren with some catching up to do, we can take solace in the fact that they this will happen a lot quicker than last year, and with so many cars with a chance of getting big points the championship would still be within McLaren’s grasp.

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Filed under Adrian Sutil, Bahrain, Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso, Ferrari, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Qualifying, Red Bull, Sebastian Vettel

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