Winners and Spinners - Bahrain practice and qualifying
A hotly anticipated Friday and Saturday schedule has seen a bit of a shaken up grid appear for Sunday, but who's done the best so far?
Formula One is back and has leapt from the grid with a blast of excitement, but who has come out on top after F1's first weekend, and who's spun off into the gravel.
Red Bull; A mixed qualifying saw a spread of results from the fighting bulls. They put in some highly competitive times that lived up to their strong show at pre-season testing. We'll start with the obvious and Max Verstappen. Topping every timing sheet from FP1 through to Q3 with blistering pace and metronomic precision. Whatever another driver laid down, Max came forwards with an answer of several hundredths. It was on the other side of the garage where the goings-on weren't so silky smooth. FP1 for Sergio was a strong showing, getting to the chequered flag at the end of the session 0.677 seconds off of the pace of car number 33. However as Max picked up the pace, Sergio couldn't match the increases. Although he picked up speed it wasn't enough to get any closer to the Flying Dutchman. And this split in speed would carryforwards to qualifying.
Perez heading out of the garage and into a fraught Q2 session.
Q1 would see Perez off of Verstappen's pace once more, although the Mexican driver would put on a strong enough show to make it through to Q2. Here though an arguably poor tyre choice from Red Bull's pit wall would see Checo struggling to gain ground against a pack that was making the most of a fast-evolving track. This would potentially be Red Bull's downfall. Although if you look at this optimistically, Red Bull have been given the chance to run two very competitive strategies, and use Checo's skill for drawing the life out of tyres to run a long stint on the mediums. A long stint on the mediums could see Number 11 catch Max and run as his rear gunner, controlling the pack behind him giving Red Bull a wide scope for strategies once the pit window opens. Although I'm writing this on Saturday night and will no doubt be proved wrong. And lets not forget that the team will be loitering around Parc Ferme checking over the floor of Verstappen's RB16B for any damage after grinding along the kerbs at turn two, splintering off a shard of carbon in the process. Not that this seemed to hinder him in any way.
Charles flying around the BIC on the soft tyres for Q2.
Ferrari; Just 0.001 seconds split the two Ferraris by the end of Q2. Sainz leading Leclerc into the final round of qualifying. Yes, they were on the softs, a tyre that showed itself as fairly endearing to the Italian chassis and its new power unit. The team in red (and what I've been told is a vomit green as opposed to a bright yellow, damned colourblindness) have shown that they could well challenge more than they managed to last season. Starting 4th and 8th on the grid I know the Tifosi (and me) are hoping for a fast start from the Ferrari's where they can capitalise on some early fast running and defend some points from there on a one-stop strategy. We'll have to wait and see.
Numéro Dix, Gasly on a hot lap shod with softs as he bags P5 and a strong starting position for Sunday.
Alpha Tauri; Good gracious, what on earth have they done to that Honda unit? VTEC has well and truly kicked in y'all! I jokingly messaged my girlfriend taunting of a Honda 1-2 only for Q1 to spit out exactly that. Max Verstappen coming through ahead of rookie Tsunoda. An astonishing display of pace and skill, throwing the stunning AT02 around the circuit with such a balanced decorum you'd think he already had a championship under his belt in that car. A show that his teammate, Pierre Gasly would eclipse on the stopwatch. The result of some furious running on Saturday means the Frenchman and the Smol-Boi will be starting with strong grid positions, uncommon of the Italian outfit. This does however beg the question, is this pace maintainable through-out the race? What of tyre life, fuel loads and mechanical reliability?
Lance Stroll on track in Q3, a driver who off the track has endeared me a lot. A far more likeable character and a stirling driver.
Aston Martin; You'd be forgiven for thinking Seb is still running the SF1000 when you see that the four-time world champ was knocked out in round one, again being bested on track by Williams. A rough pre-season session saw Aston Martin rack up a dismal 314 laps plagued with reliability and set up issues, and it seems that these kinks haven't been ironed out by the Silverstone based outfit. A better time was had by Canadian, Lance Stroll who scraped his way into Q3, beating out former teammate Perez by a margin of just 0.035 seconds. I'd predicted this season was going to be tight below the top and already it is lining up to prove me right in that respect. Regardless, Aston Martin will be looking to try and rectify any problems they have, although with the cars now in Parc Ferme, I believe, they are only allowed to tweak the front wing. Suspension setups and rear wing angles have all been set. So Aston Martin will be going into this with one car in the points, just, and another running on a wing and a prayer. No pun intended.
Watch out, there's a Schumacher about. A good performance from the rookie, out performing his teammate in a car where the moto seems to have been "that'll do".
Haas; The whole name for this series stems from Haas' second driver's performance in qualifying today. Fate has come back with a vengeance. One doesn't laugh at Sir Lewis dropping it in pre-season testing without some sort of curse following you around. His second spin coming moments after rushing past the queue of drivers on their out-lap in Q1, only to then drop it in the first turn, bring out the yellow flags, disrupt the entire following pack's final run and earn himself a new reason to be disliked in the paddock. While one driver struggled, Mick Schumacher seemed to have a far easier time of it, keeping his VF-21 pointing the right way and clocking in a quali time 0.824 seconds ahead of his teammate. In what we know to be an under-developed car competing against a hot midfield where Williams have put their hat in the ring for a competitive shout, as have a surprisingly resurgent Alfa Romeo, it looks like Haas are going to be running a race of their own this season. But again, this is the first race weekend of a staggering 23 this season, so it could be a little early to set that in stone.
A few words on the rest;
Williams, wow. George 'Mr Saturday' Russell has done it again putting the FW43B in a surprisingly competitive grid spot. If he can keep that pace up throughout Sunday, with a few retirements as are common for opening races, we could see him collect points for the team. Credit where it's due for Latifi as well, out-qualifying both of the Haas drivers and Vettel, sitting just over 0.2 seconds shy of one time favourite Ocon.
Mr Saturday strikes again. Could we see George add to his career points tally, and get on the board at Williams this season? I think so.
Alpine, a mixed bag. It makes me weirdly happy to see Alonso back on the grid and in a decent position where the chonky A521 looks comfortable to collect some points. Shame about Ocon who was looking to make a fast run but couldn't string together three cohesive sectors.
Proving his worth, two-time champ and Renault junior driver (is that joke still funny?) Fernando Alonso.
Alfa Romeo, I will admit I got very excited when I saw Antonio clock in at P6 momentarily. Alfa seems to have properly honed in their recipe for the C41 cementing them firmly in the midfield where points each week wouldn't be an absurd proposition.
A man with an unclear future ahead of him. Antonio Gionvinazzi heads out on track and puts in a performance that makes the ears down at Ferrari burn.
Mercedes, who had struggled, apparently, through pre-season testing and practice sessions might have recovered some of their lost form. Although maybe not quite enough of it and have left a gap open for Red Bull to slip past and get the championship off to a spicy start. Their best hope for the weekend is a fumbled tyre strategy from Red Bull, preventing Perez from getting close and ruining their run on Max.
Could this be the season Max poses as Sir Lewis' greatest threat since Nico?
McLaren. Another mixed bag where the track and its temperatures and grip levels seemed to play havoc with the MCL35M. Early on in the weekend, we had Norris in the top three through the practice sessions before a hot track in FP3 earlier today threw him off his rhythm. A problem that seemed to affect the typically unflappable Ricciardo too, as he slipped down the timing sheets in the sun. However, as the track cooled, this worked back in the Woking team's favour with both drivers making it into Q3, rounding out Saturday's sessions in 6th and 7th with what looks to be a good pace advantage over Sainz and Alonso behind.
Lando Norris pushing hard in qualifying. His closest rivalry as ever is going to be his teammate, and this year with Danny Ric in the neighbouring garage that rivalry is going to be as close as ever!
Check back on Sunday evening for an unpicking of whatever goes on in Sakhir. And if you're wondering what to eat tomorrow, may I suggest a Biryani?