Bahrain GP - Saturday - Qualifying Session Report
Wind, sand and Lewis stars
Felipe Massa took pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix despite difficult conditions with wind and sand making the track very treacherous. But despite the good news for the Brazilian, the F1 spotlight remained firmly fixed on young Lewis Hamilton, who qualified on the front row of the grid for the the first time in his three-race career. More importantly, however, he outran double World Champion Fernando Alonso for the first time, despite being in the same car. Throughout the practice sessions Hamilton had seemed to have an advantage and so the qualifying was a huge surprise but we must wait until the race to see what the fuel loads of the two men are. It seemed that Ferrari and McLaren were closer than they were in Malaysia and that meant that the dream of having Lewis Hamilton finish third in his first race, second in his second and winning his third was a distinct possibility and F1's chattering classes were again agog at what they had seen. Is there anything that this kid cannot do?
Hamilton said that he could probably have gone quicker in qualifying if things ahd
"To go into my third race in F1 and get a front row is amazing," he said, "but the lap was not that great. Earlier in the session I had better laps. Qualifying is tough, really intense, and you need to pull out absolutely everything in that final flying lap. The wind is always changing, some times there is a tailwind, sometimes a crosswind. I feel pretty relaxed about what has happened so far. It feels natural. I am happy to be where I am. But the race is going to be tough. The first corner here is always tricky. It is such a tight corner.
"But I have been here before and feel a bit more comfortable with the circuit. I am sure we'll have a strong race tomorrow."
Hamilton has raced in Bahrain before. In 2004 he took part in the Bahrain F3 Superprix. That produced the most impressive race of his young career. He started 11th on the grid and ended the opening lap in fourth and then drove through to win, beating Nico Rosberg to the flag.
As always much will depend on the start, on track position, on fuel loads and, of course, on the consistent performance of the cars as the tyres get older but no doubt we will see a stunning race again.
One had to feel a little sorry for Felipe Massa because here was a decent comeback for the Brazilian who messed up badly in Malaysia. This was his way to put himself back on the radar and he did a good job.
"It is good to be here again," he said. "It is very nice for me. There is really nothing more to say than that."
Perhaps. Perhaps not. Massa had beaten Kimi Raikkonen again and while Raikkonen may well have more fuel, it was still a solid effort nonetheless and Massa made the point that this time he will be paying a lot more attention to Hamilton.
The rest of qualifying merely served as a build up for the final shoot out but the Q1 session ended the ambitions of Takuma Sato, Tonio Liuzzi, Scott Speed, Adrian Suttil, David Coulthard and Christijan Albers. Of these the big surprise was Coulthard, a man who cannot afford to be qualifying as badly as he has been thus far this season, especially when the Toro Rossos are beating him when the cars are clearly inferior to the Red Bulls. This time DC was left looking for gears and so had a decent excuse.
In that session Massa was fastest by a tenth from Hamilton, Alonso and Raikkonen.
The Q2 session saw Massa ahead of Hamilton with Raikkonen third and even Nick Heidfeld was able to get ahead of Fernando Alonso, which in a session when the cars are normally light on fuel this may be very significant. Out at the end of that session were Alexander Wurz in his Williams, Heikki Kovalainen in the Renault, Anthony Davidson, the fastest of the Honda runners, Ralf Schumacher (having another off day) and the unhappy Honda duo of Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button, who are quite literally carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders this year.
And so to the showdown, preceded by the worthless F1 "comfort break" during which the cars still burn off fuel, an idea which is as outdated as and as politically-correct as tobacco sponsorship. The Fab Four at the front were not really surprising and to find the two BMWs next was totally expected but behind them the tussle for seventh place on the grid (or rather to be the fourth fastest team) was still raging away with Williams this time ending up behind Renault (Giancarlo Fisichella), Red Bull (Mark Webber) and Toyota (Jarno Trulli). having said that the Williamses were very quick earlier in the day so the fuel load may be an important issue and it will be worth watching as the different strategies develop.
And so to the race and inevitably, perhaps, there were comparisons being made between Hamilton and the golfer Tiger Woods.
"I'm Lewis Hamilton," the McLaren driver said. "I think Tiger Woods is a sensational athlete and it is an honour to be compared to him. I am here to to do a job and I hope I can have a similar impact on F1 as he's had on golf."
Woods won his fifth Pro tournament and was world number one 42 weeks after he made his professional debut.