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Vettel back on pole in the desert

Sebastian Vettel is back on pole position and the German's finger salute returns too! (Scotcars)

THE familiar German middle finger was shown in the Sakhir paddock yesterday as Sebastian Vettel returned to his customary spot of starting on pole position.  It is the world champion’s first pole since the season finale in Brazil last November.  Team-mate Mark Webber will start today’s race from third, confirming that Red Bull Racing’s qualifying pace is back.  It was a tense scrap for pole position in what has to be said is a tense backdrop to the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Whilst the TV stations worldwide and UK newspapers lead with the trouble in the country and led to the death of another protester during demonstrations on Friday night, this is a qualifying report and shall remain that.  The action on the track did cause a few unexpected surprises.

The difference in time between the prime and option tyres in Bahrain led to the demise of Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes in Q1.  Schumacher had been amongst the top five in every practice session leading into qualifying, but by not chancing it on the option tyre, the German was knocked out by Heikki Kovalainen’s Caterham Renault.  Later, it was revealed that an issue with the DRS meant the seven times world champion couldn’t get the lap time he wanted.  To compound Schumacher’s nightmare, a gearbox change overnight means he will start 22nd.  It will be interesting to see his progress today.  Jean-Eric Vergne also missed the cut and then ignored a pitlane red light which ordered the rookie to stop at the weighbridge.  This was an excludable offense 20 years ago but amazingly, no action was taken against the Frenchman!

In Q2, a KERS problem left Pastor Maldonado high and dry in the pits and like Schumacher, the Veneuzelan has been hit with a five place grid penalty for changing his gearbox.  Felipe Massa made his expected exit and the former double winner in Sakhir will start from a distant 14th.  Kimi Raikkonen was squeezed out as the track temperature dropped and the track continued to evolve.  The Lotus driver will start 11th and revealed afterwards that he only had himself to blame for his shock exit.

Paul di Resta made the final part of qualifying for the first time this season and will start tenth.  Considering that Force India missed FP2 due to safety concerns following the events of this weekend, this is a notable achievement.  With no option tyres left, Fernando Alonso decided to save his remaining sets for raceday and seemed content with ninth, setting no time like di Resta in Q3.  The star of qualifying was the young Australian for Toro Rosso, Daniel Ricciardo.  The Italian team has never scored a championship point around this circuit but they have a great chance today after Ricciardo charged to sixth place on the grid.  It is his best ever qualifying performance and he showed his delight to Sky Sports F1 afterwards.  “We had a pretty good morning and we thought all going well, we might have a crack at Q3 today.  Each little step seemed to be very beneficial and I’m really happy, I’ll enjoy this today.”

Nico Rosberg couldn’t repeat his Shanghai heroics and he had to settle for fifth place, making a tiny error in the final corner on his best lap.  This meant that the Red Bull and McLaren teams disputed the pole battle.  After the first runs, Lewis Hamilton looked to have his third pole position of the season.  However, Vettel and Red Bull had saved a set of option tyres from Q2 and he used them to perfection.  His time was left than a 0.1secs quicker than Hamilton, but enough for his second Bahrain Grand Prix pole position.  Webber has his best ever grid position here, which was previously fifth for Williams back in 2005 whilst Jenson Button aborted his final attempt and seemed satisfied with P4 on the grid.  Relief more than delight was echoed on Vettel’s face after his return to the front of the field.  Speaking to BBC Sport, he said: “We didn’t have the best Q1 or Q2 and I made a couple of mistakes.  I knew though in Q3 we could make another step and the first run I was happy with, although it wasn’t perfect.  I knew I had more to give on the new set and I was pleased.  I owe this one to the boys in the garage for their hard work.”

With Red Bull back at the front after qualifying, this season continues to have many twists and turns.  The race begins in just under an hour’s time and it is highly conceivable that we could have four different winners in the first four events for the first time since 2003.

2012 GULF AIR BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX QUALIFYING RESULT

POS DRIVER TEAM LAPS BEST TIME
1 SEBASTIAN VETTEL RED BULL RACING RENAULT 18 1.32.422
2 LEWIS HAMILTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 13 1.32.520
3 MARK WEBBER RED BULL RACING RENAULT 17 1.32.637
4 JENSON BUTTON MCLAREN MERCEDES 12 1.32.711
5 NICO ROSBERG MERCEDES GP 10 1.32.821
6 DANIEL RICCIARDO TORO ROSSO FERRARI 17 1.32.912
7 ROMAIN GROSJEAN LOTUS RENAULT 13 1.33.008
8 SERGIO PEREZ SAUBER FERRARI 17 1.33.394
9 FERNANDO ALONSO FERRARI 11 NO TIME in Q3
10 PAUL DI RESTA FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 15 NO TIME in Q3
11 (Q2) KIMI RAIKKONEN LOTUS RENAULT 6 1.33.789
12 (Q2) KAMUI KOBAYASHI SAUBER FERRARI 13 1.33.806
13 (Q2) NICO HULKENBERG FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 12 1.33.807
14 (Q2) FELIPE MASSA FERRARI 14 1.33.912
15 (Q2) BRUNO SENNA WILLIAMS RENAULT 14 1.34.017
16 (Q2) HEIKKI KOVALAINEN CATERHAM RENAULT 10 1.36.312
17 (Q1) JEAN-ERIC VERGNE TORO ROSSO FERRARI 8 1.35.014
18 (Q1) VITALY PETROV CATERHAM RENAULT 7 1.35.823
19 (Q1) CHARLES PIC MARUSSIA COSWORTH 8 1.37.683
20 (Q1) PEDRO DE LA ROSA HRT COSWORTH 6 1.37.883
21 (Q2) PASTOR MALDONADO WILLIAMS RENAULT 8 NO TIME IN Q2
22 (Q1) MICHAEL SCHUMACHER MERCEDES GP 5 1.34.865
23 (Q1) TIMO GLOCK MARUSSIA COSWORTH 7 1.37.905
24 (Q1) NARAIN KARTHIKEYAN HRT COSWORTH 7 1.38.314

PASTOR MALDONADO RELEGATED FIVE PLACES FOR GEARBOX CHANGE    

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER RELEGATED FIVE PLACES FOR GEARBOX CHANGE

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Grid penalty denies a pole hat-trick for Lewis

LEWIS Hamilton will not be starting Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix from pole position.  The 27-year old Brit confirmed to Sky Sports News this morning that his McLaren team have to change his gearbox following an issue was discovered by the team after the race in Malaysia three weeks ago.

Hamilton won't be starting from the front at the weekend (Guardian)

Hamilton revealed to Sky Sports F1 reporter Natalie Pinkham that the team will change the gearbox on Saturday morning.  It means he will have a fresh gearbox for the race on Sunday, but at a cost of starting no higher than sixth for the race.  Current regulations in Formula One mean a driver has to have a gearbox that lasts for four successive races as part of bduget restrictions.  A free gearbox without grid penalty is only allowed if a driver failed to finish the last race, so that could apply to both Kamui Kobayashi and Romain Grosjean here as they recoreded DNF’s in Sepang.

Hamilton had been on pole position for the first two races of 2012 but has only managed to convert them into two podium finishes so far.  With a significant upgrade brought by McLaren to Shanghai this weekend, he will be hoping for one of his famous charges to the top step of the rostrum on Sunday.