Ladies and gentlemen! Roll up, roll up for a series of splendid jokes about the Pole on pole! With a name like ours, we just couldn’t resist…
No, but seriously, it’s official: BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica has put his car at the front of the grid for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
He came home ahead of Felipe Massa on storming form, Lewis Hamilton, whose laps weren’t quite as tight in the corners as they needed to be, and a subdued and possibly heavily-fuelled Kimi Raikkonen, to claim his first ever top spot.
The outcome was a surprise for fans and commentators alike, who had expected Ferrari to effortlessly dominate, based on its performances in practice.
In the event, although Massa was clearly sitting on top of an excellent car with the will to put the debacle of the last two races behind him, he couldn’t quite find the pace to jostle his way to the the head of the queue.
Lewis Hamilton’s qualifying performance was mostly workmanlike following the unfortunate encounter with a kerb and a tyre wall during the second Friday practice session which had the McLaren mechanics working overtime.
He did the minimum necessary to get through the Q1 and Q2 sessions, insouciantly parking up rather than attempting a second flying lap – whether to minimise the risk of another accident or to take the pressure off his overstretched garage, we will probably never know.
His first flying lap of the Q3 session was too ragged to claim the top spot, with crucial tenths of a second lost in a badly-judged corner. However his next effort was enough to lift him clear of his main world championship rival as well as team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, who will start from fifth place.
He said, post qualifying: “My fastest lap was OK, but not perfect. The balance of the car was good, and I think a better time and a position on the front row would have been possible, but the times [less than two-tenths of a second behind Kubica] were very close.
“Yesterday’s accident was no problem for me. At turn five where it happened, I was faster today than on Friday. It was just a matter of going for it.
“I know the guys worked until early this morning preparing the car after yesterday’s accident, so a big thank you to them. I will now analyse the data together with my engineers and look forward to an interesting race tomorrow. We have a good strategy, and I am confident.”
Honda’s Jenson Button has something to celebrate after making it through to Q3 then beating Renault’s Fernando Alonso to start ninth – his best grid slot for many a race.
He said: “I’m very pleased with our qualifying session today. To make it through to Q3 and be lining up on the clean side of the grid tomorrow in P9 is very satisfying for myself and the team.
“After struggling a little this morning, we were able to resolve the issues before qualifying and the car felt good this afternoon. We can have a strong race from here so I’m excited about the prospects for tomorrow.”
Steve Clark, Honda’s head of test and race engineering, gave an interesting insight into the race ahead: “[Jenson] had no ‘option’ tyres left for the final session so we had no realistic chance to threaten the top half, although finishing ahead of Alonso is helpful for tomorrow.
“The wind could play a big part and we may see the track losing grip for the start of the race. We are running relatively high downforce here so we are hoping this will play into our hands.
“There is plenty of runoff at this circuit so I wouldn’t expect many safety car events tomorrow; there has been just one in the past. There may well be plenty of overtaking, especially as the tyres start to give up grip.”
A rotten day for Red Bull saw David Coulthard eliminated after Q1 and Mark Webber narrowly missing a Q3 spot.
In a post-session interview, Coulthard explained that his car had developed oversteer on the last two corners of his flying lap. He starts from 17th place while Webber starts from 11th.
He said: “I never felt comfortable with the balance of the car today and on this track you’ve got to attack on the entries.
“I had two bad runs in Q1, on the prime tyre and the option. The option lap was good enough to get through to Q2, until the last two turns when I had oversteer on the entry to turn 13.
“I moved the brake balance forward to try and push in the last corner, but I had the same situation and dropped a couple of tenths. That was enough to stop me getting through.
“Tomorrow’s another day and each day the set up of the car changes on the track, but we’ve had a lot of oversteer on this circuit all weekend, so we’ll see.”
Team boss Christian Horner added: “With qualifying being so close here, it’s disappointing for David to go out in the first round and for Mark to miss Q3 by the narrowest of margins.
“We’ll consider our strategies carefully tonight, as it’s a circuit that you can overtake on quite easily. We’ll be focusing on how to move up the order in tomorrow’s race.”
A 21st-place start might not sound like much, but Super Aguri’s Anthony Davidson continues to quietly get on with his job – in contrast to team-mate Takuma Sato who came off the track at turn 15, causing the Q1 session to be red-flagged.
He said: “I was happy with the balance of the car and I have always enjoyed the track here. Today it was good to us; we chased the car ahead closely right up until the end and there was only a few of tenths between me and Sutil.
“I really think that we have seen the limit of the car today, so we should all be pretty pleased.”
Graham Taylor, the team’s sporting director, added: “During free practice both cars covered a good amount of work, especially for a race set-up, but we knew that we needed to work a little bit harder on the balance for qualifying, with one of the tyres giving us some issues.
“In qualifying everything was going according to plan, however, unfortunately Takuma was caught out at turn 15 and sustained some rear end damage, but Anthony did two very fine laps and we are looking forward to competing with the cars in front of us tomorrow.”
The Bahrain grid:
- Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber: 1:33.096
- Felipe Massa, Ferrari: 1:33.123
- Lewis Hamilton, McLaren: 1:33.292
- Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari: 1:33.418
- Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren: 1:33.488
- Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber: 1:33.737
- Jarno Trulli, Toyota: 1:33.994
- Nico Rosberg, Williams: 1:34.015
- Jenson Button, Honda: 1:35.057
- Fernando Alonso, Renault: 1:35.115
- Mark Webber, Red Bull: 1:32.371
- Rubens Barrichello, Honda: 1:32.508
- Timo Glock, Toyota: 1:32.528
- Nelson A Piquet, Renault: 1:32.790
- Sebastien Bourdais, Toro Rosso: 1:32.915
- Kazuki Nakajima, Williams: 1:32.943
- David Coulthard, Red Bull: 1:33.433
- Giancarlo Fisichella, Force India: 1:33.501
- Sebastian Vettel, Toro Rosso: 1:33.562
- Adrian Sutil, Force India: 1:33.845
- Anthony Davidson, Super Aguri: 1:34.140
- Takuma Sato, Super Aguri: 1:35.725