Under the incandescent lights of the Bahrain International Circuit, the Formula 1 entourage set up camp in the pit lane – mechanics crawling to tinker with the bellies of the V6-powered machines, drivers parked at the back of their garages, staring unblinkingly, engineers perched on their stools along the pit wall, feet tapping relentlessly – as a qualifying session blanketed in the colours of twilight unfurled in the fourth leg of the 2015 season.
McLaren – who so far have dropped drastically in the F1 ranks this season, with no points to their name – prove that they are once again struggling with their developmental processes as Jenson Button made an early exit from Q1, when a technical fault forced him to retire even before his first lap was completed. Given the low expectations, their sole driver remaining on track took everyone by surprise when Fernando Alonso hauled his car out of the relegation zone and into Q2 – the first time a McLaren-Honda has qualified well enough to move beyond Q1 this season. Despite ultimately landing his car on the fourteenth grid slot, it seems that McLaren fans can afford to harbour a glimmer of hope: is McLaren’s turning point just around the corner? Are we seeing a flicker of the tenacious, unrelenting Alonso who so many times outperformed his Ferrari in past seasons? Or was this just a lucky lap?
Another stunner this session was Toro Rosso’s twenty-year-old rookie Carlos Sainz, who brought his team into Q3 and qualified in ninth position on the starting grid. Sainz has been a by-stander of sorts in the sidelines while seventeen-year-old Dutch teammate Max Verstappen enjoyed the limelight for the last few races, with stunning and unexpected performances in his debut season. Given his precise executions of skilful and calculated manoeuvres in Shanghai over drivers with years of F1 experience, it came as a surprise when Sainz instead out-qualified Verstappen in Bahrain. Regardless, it is an unarguable fact that the Toro Rosso rookies – young as they are (I am nineteen and still have not obtained a regular driving license) – will be a force to be reckoned with.
Nico Rosberg’s disappointment with third place on the grid is salt to the wound after the fiasco that ensued following the Chinese Grand Prix. Failing to clinch the pole position – which was lost, once again, to teammate Lewis Hamilton – Rosberg suffered an added blow when he was bumped out of the front row by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, with Kimi Raikkonen and the Williams duo also hot on his tail. Hamilton remained on top of his game throughout all qualifying sessions, setting a jaw-dropping lap time of 1:32.6 in Q2, only to beat it in Q3 with a pole lap of 1:32.5. Vettel settles himself once again between the feuding Mercedes, and we wonder if we will see a fight in tomorrow’s race not unlike that of Malaysia between Hamilton and Vettel. Raikkonen also seems to be feeling increasingly comfortable with Ferrari’s new and improved model, incrementally closing the gap between himself and Vettel with every race. Hopefully, tomorrow we will see a flurry of red and silver all the way to the chequered flag, instead of a clear-cut getaway by the Arrows to the finish line.
The cars have been shuffled – let’s see how the teams play their hands.