Ferrari had topped the opening session on Friday, with Kimi Raikkonen heading a one-two while Mercedes focused on long run pace. However, in unleashing its qualifying potential, Mercedes set the fastest two times with Rosberg top on a 1:34.647 and team-mate Lewis Hamilton just 0.115s adrift. Rosberg’s session ended with a call from Mercedes saying it was unhappy with some telemetry, causing him to end his long run early.
While Raikkonen was third quickest – 0.527s off Rosberg – it was Sebastian Vettel’s first flying lap on soft tyres which hinted at Ferrari’s competitiveness. Vettel was set to be quicker than his team-mate before he ran wide at the final corner to lose a chunk of time, failing to improve on his second run while Raikkonen went quicker thanks to another attempt.
Vettel’s session was not without incident, though, as he exited the pits with ten minutes to go to find Sergio Perez and Felipe Nasr squabbling over track position in to Turn 1. Vettel backed off but still reached the apex as Perez turned in, clipping the right rear of the Force India and damaging his front wing.
The session was briefly red flagged as the front wing debris was recovered by marshals, while Vettel said on team radio that the car “stopped decelerating” as he was braking, believing there was a mechanical problem.
Williams looked competitive over one lap as Valtteri Bottas ended the session just 0.003s shy of Vettel, even though the team was focusing on its long runs. Rob Smedley told F1i the main priority would be to run more consistently on soft tyres in the race having failing to do so in China, and as a result Bottas and Felipe Massa ended with two of the highest lap counts.
Daniel Ricciardo and Pastor Maldonado were both within a second of the lead Mercedes as Red Bull and Lotus also looked strong over one lap. The midfield was more widely spread in terms of lap times on the soft tyre, with Felipe Nasr, Daniil Kvyat and Felipe Massa making up the top ten, 1.2s off the pace and 0.3s clear of Marcus Ericsson in 11th.
Jenson Button again hit trouble for McLaren as he was told to stop his car just three laps in to the session having completed only two laps in FP1. On this occasion McLaren managed to rectify the problem to get Button back on track, with the 2009 world champion failing to set a representative time on soft tyres but reaching double figures.
Despite Button’s woes, Fernando Alonso ended the session in 12th place, 1.5s off the pace as McLaren again looks capable of challenging for a place in Q2.
While Vettel’s incident with Perez is under investigation, Hamilton and Raikkonen are also in trouble with the stewards following the restart. Both drivers are under investigation for “failing to leave the pit lane correctly” when the session resumed.
Defending champion: Lewis Hamilton is still the one to beat in Sunday's Bahrain GP.
Former Formula One driver Heikki Kovalainen, who raced for McLaren, Renault, Lotus and Caterham between 2007 and 2013, will be writing an exclusive column for Sport360 this season. Here he looks at the F1 storylines ahead of this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
It was interesting for all F1 fans to see how Mercedes would respond to Ferrari in China after being dethroned in Malaysia. People overhyped Mercedes’ loss in Malaysia though – the Ferrari functions better in hot conditions as their tyres handle the heat better, but in China they didn’t have that advantage.
The response from Toto Wolff’s team wasn’t huge in terms of performance in China but they came out on top after that previous slip-up which was pivotal.
Ferrari have certainly shown that they have the potential to perform well again in Bahrain this weekend. Their cars are kind on the tyres so they can make them last longer, while Mercedes probably have put major heat into the tyres – so the hot conditions could again work against them.
Mercedes will be aware of the mistakes they made in Malaysia in terms of strategy, so they’ll intend to not repeat the same errors this time out against Ferrari.
HAMILTON vs ROSBERG
Away from the track after China, the gossip was all about Nico Rosberg’s latest spat with team-mate and closest rival Lewis Hamilton. But people read too much into these things – Nico was simply annoyed after the race because he had just lost. Anybody would be frustrated in that situation.
Looking back, he would have to admit that his Mercedes team-mate had him in his pocket. Lewis was quicker in every session; it is as simple as that. The only opening Nico had was during the second lap in Gate 3 but he failed to capitalise.
What people don’t realise is that these victories are made by the smallest margins, but this time Lewis had some extra time at his disposal and thrived in the critical moments of the race. Both Mercedes men had made good starts but Lewis had the advantage from the pole position so was pretty much in full control the entire race.
He only left the slenderest of opportunities for Nico to pass him so his win was fully deserved. I don’t think that there will be an issue at Mercedes, Eeverybody will understand that Nico was just releasing his aggravation.
There’s no need for Nico to get overly concerned yet. By no means has he lost the championship this soon, it is just that Lewis has been very strong recently. Nico showed us last year that he is mentally strong enough to compete until the bitter end.
“Lewis is very easy to work with, but extremely hard to beat. He’s an extremely talented driver and works very hard with his engineers and mechanics. He is a tough team-mate.”
I raced alongside Hamilton for McLaren and can assure everyone that he is very easy to work with, but extremely hard to beat. He is quick, he is an extremely talented driver and he works very hard with his engineers and mechanics. He is a tough team-mate. Admittedly we never really got to the point of us both fighting for the championship; I think that could have been a different story.
This weekend in Bahrain, I can’t envisage there being any tension between the two Mercedes drivers. They are mature enough and professional enough to get on with their jobs in the correct manner. Lewis has got the momentum but Nico is mentally strong enough to take on the challenge. He needs to get ahead of Lewis, if he can do that then the next critical point will be the race start, he has to make sure that he maintains the foundation.
While Mercedes and Ferrari have set the early pace, McLaren haven’t enjoyed such a good start. It’s been a really poor season so far but I still believe they are making progress – although it is hard to see.
There will be GPS data available to the team which will be useful because they can compare the speed of different cars. The engine they have from Honda is quite new, so it would be interesting to analyse their corner speeds in particular.
McLaren haven’t moved up the grid but one thing I know about the team is that they are excellent at dealing with the car. When I was there it was extremely impressive how they were able to make the car better throughout the year and add new parts. This year, I think the engines are the biggest issue and this leads to numerous restrictions for the drivers.
I don’t think they will compete at the front of the grid this season; they will struggle to even make it to the podium. If they can get a point regularly that would be quite the achievement because there’s a telling gap between them and their rivals. But if anyone can turn this around it is McLaren because they definitely have the capabilities to improve each race. Everyone knows it’s a working progress so they must be patient.
That patience may not extend beyond this season, however. It is essential that McLaren bring a better car out of the box next year if they want to compete and if they want to make this partnership with Honda work.
We select the best high-speed F1 crashes from the Bahrain Grand Prix.
With the Bahrain Grand Prix just days away, we select the best high-speed F1 crashes from recent memory on the dusty Sakir circuit – including Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen, Heikki Kovalainen and Esteban Gutierrez.