Ferrari back at the top, Merc struggle
It appeared that Red Bull and Max Verstappen were the clear favourites for pole position heading into qualifying, but it was Charles Leclerc and Ferrari who emerged on top in a thrilling start to F1’s new era in Bahrain.
Leclerc beat world champion Verstappen by 0.123s to secure his 10th career pole and Ferrari’s first at a season opener since 2007. Incidentally, that was the last time a Ferrari driver won the world championship. A good omen of what is to come for the Scuderia in 2022, perhaps?
Carlos Sainz had sat fastest after the opening salvo in Q3 but had to settle for third when his teammate and Verstappen usurped him on the final run. Nevertheless, it was a fantastic start for Ferrari after spending the last two years in recovery mode.
It was a contrasting tale at Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton admitting that Ferrari and Red Bull are “in another league” as he could only qualify fifth-fastest, 0.680s off Leclerc’s benchmark. New teammate George Russell was ninth after an error at Turn 1 on his only lap on fresh soft tyres as Mercedes’ W13 continues to be dogged by porpoising problems, though some progress has been made since testing.
Bottas stuns for Alfa Romeo
Valtteri Bottas will be getting the feeling of de ja vu this evening after ending qualifying just behind former Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton.
The Finn was one of the stars of qualifying in Bahrain as he secured a stunning sixth on the grid for his new team Alfa Romeo. Bottas will line-up on the third row of the grid with Hamilton on Sunday after ending up just three-tenths shy of the seven-time world champion.
Bottas claimed ‘best of the rest’ spot behind the big three teams with P6, outqualifed his Mercedes replacement Russell and comprehensively beat his rookie teammate Guanyu Zhou, who was only 15th.
“We’re starting side by side, it’s pretty cool,” Bottas said. “I just saw him and we were both smiling at it. It should be fun.
“If somebody had told me that in Bahrain we’re going to be starting side-by-side with Lewis, I’d take it.”
Magnussen’s impressive F1 return
What a whirlwind two weeks it has been for Kevin Magnussen, who went from thinking his F1 career was over, to making a shock comeback to the sport with Haas.
Brought in as a replacement for the ousted Nikita Mazepin on the eve of the new campaign, Mazepin looked right at home as he made it a Saturday night to remember under the lights in Bahrain.
The Dane took Haas back into Q3 for the first time since 2019 on his way to securing a brilliant seventh on the grid with one of the standout performances of qualifying, outpacing the likes of Fernando Alonso, George Russell and Pierre Gasly in the process.
Magnussen will be eyeing points on Sunday as he looks to stay inside the top-10, though he will be concerned about reliability, which has proved to be something of an Achilles’ heel for Haas throughout testing and this weekend so far. Even qualifying did not go completely smoothly, with a hydraulic leak threatening to undo all of his superb work.
Shockers for Ricciardo, Tsunoda
Daniel Ricciardo suffered a shock elimination in the first segment of qualifying as McLaren struggled for pace in Bahrain, with teammate Lando Norris a sub-par 13th.
Ricciardo getting knocked out in Q1 came during what has been a difficult week for the Australian, who missed the entire Bahrain pre-season test due to being unwell and then testing positive for COVID-19.
He had been on the back foot ever since and barely recovered in time for this weekend’s season-opener, so should be cut some slack. Nevertheless, it was not the start to 2022 that either Ricciardo or McLaren was looking for.
“It has been a bit of an uphill battle, and I want to say I am disappointed, but not too surprised,” Ricciardo admitted.
“We have to just try and move up from here. Everyone still has a lot to learn. It is everyone just working together now to fast-track that.
It was an equally disappointing qualifying display from Yuki Tsunoda, who also fell at the first hurdle in 16th.
Despite missing the whole of final practice due to a hydraulic problem, Tsunoda would have been hoping for much more, particularly given his teammate Pierre Gasly was able to sneak into Q3 and qualify 10th.