LIVE COMMENTARY: 2010 BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX - QUALIFYING
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As it happened: Qualifying
By Geoff Creighton and Emlyn Hughes
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Hello everyone and welcome back to AUTOSPORT Live for continuing coverage of the opening round in the 2010 FIA Formula 1 World Championship.
The practice sessions have been completed, and now it is time to qualify for the Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix.
Earlier this morning the track was open for a final 60 minutes of running prior to qualifying, and Ferrari sent a warning shot across the bows of the chasing pack.
The session began with the usual early rash of installation laps on a dirty and dusty track surface. Red Bull Racing drivers Webber and Vettel set the early pace as the field looked towards finding ultimate speed for qualifying.
Ferrari soon took over with Massa and Alonso putting on a great show once the racing line was cleaned up a bit. But while Massa could not improve on his 1m54.739s mark, Alonso forged on to a table-topping 1m54.099s.
That lap was enough to sustain a late challenge from the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers. Rosberg finished up second, with Webber third, Schumacher fourth, Vettel fifth and Felipe Massa rounding out the top six.
Weather conditions remain superb - if a little on the warm side at the Bahrain International Circuit.
There isn't a cloud in the sky and temperatures are soaring this afternoon with the ambient reaching 33 degrees Celsius and the track surface temperature edging up towards the 50 degree mark.
Later today, following the end of our qualifying coverage, we will take a detailed look at the all-important forecast for race day on the Bahrain Grand Prix Weather page.
AUTOSPORT forum members are invited to join the fun throughout the weekend, offering thoughts and opinions as the event unfolds.
• Who will claim the first pole position of the season?
• How will the Force India drivers get on this afternoon? Sutil and Liuzzi have shown good speed thus far and the team has made no secret of the fact that it would like to get both cars into the final shootout.
• The three new teams already account for six of the seven elimination spots in the first phase of qualifying. Who will be the unlucky fall guy that joins them?
Tell everyone what you think.
Click the SHOW LIVE FORUM link in the red bar at the bottom of your browser window if you'd like to join the debate.
Reliability continues to be a challenge for the teams, particularly those new to the sport this year:
• Lewis Hamilton was forced to sit out the final qualifying simulations after his McLaren developed a brake duct problem that damaged components on the left front of his car.
• Lucas di Grassi only completed two slow tours of the circuit this morning as gearbox gremlins struck the Virgin Racing entry.
• A left front wheel parted company with Timo Glock's Virgin, which the team later discovered was due to incorrect torque settings on the wheelgun.
• Karun Chandhok's debut with Hispania is not going to plan and his car remained stuck in the garage for the third session in a row. The HRT has continuing problems with gear selection via its hydraulics, but does have a final chance to run in the upcoming session, which still counts as practice in terms of the regulations.
Just five minutes to go before the first qualifying session of 2010, finally allowing a firm indication of relative pace to emerge.
Track temperature is up to 47 Celsius in the Bahrain sunshine.
The extended field means a tweaked format for the qualifying sessions this year, with seven cars eliminated after the first and second segments to leave the usual 10 for the final shootout.
With the new teams still getting up to speed, the leading drivers will no longer have to fight so hard to escape Q1, allowing them to save new sets of the quicker tyres for later in the session.
Q3 runners no longer have to carry race fuel, but the ultimate speed will be compromised by having the ride height set to cope with a heavy car and the requirement to start the race on the same set of tyres used for a driver's fastest Q3 lap.
The extended middle sector of the circuit is proving key to a quick lap this weekend, with the twisting layout challenging the cars and drivers.
Fernando Alonso is strapped into his Ferrari - the man widely tipped as the favourite for pole this afternoon.
Mercedes look ready to rock as Nico Rosberg sits in the cockpit, and ready to respond to the green light.
The qualifying period has started.
Lucas di Grassi is the first man out of the pits in his Virgin Racing car.
A hard-fought Porsche Supercup race took place just before this session, which is one of the reasons there is no rush to get out on track.
Timo Glock is also on track in his Virgin.
Sebastian Vettel is about to climb aboard the Red Bull Renault, as di Grassi and Glock circulate.
The other drivers are content to let these early runners clean up a thin film of dust that will have gathered on the line between sessions.
Di Grassi is on to his first flying lap, while Fernando Alonso is also warming up to a lap.
Nico Hulkenberg exits the pits in the Williams and joins the early runners on the circuit.
Di Grassi clocks the first time of the session - a 2m02.131s.
Tonio Liuzzi and Sebastien Buemi have also come out onto the circuit.
Nico Rosberg is now on track in the Mercedes. No move from team-mate Michael Schumacher yet.
Glock tops his team-mate with a 2m01.006s.
Alonso's first attempt is much quicker than the Virgins - 1m55.972s and is solidly fastest now.
Schumacher, Barrichello and Sutil are all on track now, as the first times are being put on the board in this first phase of qualifying.
Drivers continue to pour out of the pits and traffic will become a problem in this session.
Fernando Alonso's second lap is quicker still - 1m55.482s.
Jenson Button is quicker than Alonso through the first sector of his flying lap.
The timing system is showing that Karun Chandhok's car is ready to run for the first time this weekend. He is on an installation lap right now.
Nico Hulkenberg moves up into third place in the Williams behind early pacesetters Alonso and Kubica.
Massa slots in second behind his team-mate with a 1m55.707s.
Tonio Liuzzi moves into fourth spot as the first laps are being completed.
Nico Rosberg goes third behind the two Ferrari drivers with a lap of 1m55.903s. Michael Schumacher will soon complete his first qualifying effort in over three years.
Hamilton is now fourth in the McLaren, with Button's first effort putting the world champion fifth.
Michael Schumacher's first qualifying effort places him in eighth spot with a 1m56.421s.
The leading runners continue to circulate as there is little pressure of elimination and this is a good opportunity to check out the track conditions.
Massa improves to take the benchmark time with a 1m55.313s.
Mark Webber is one of the last to run. He has only completed one lap of the track so far and is about to start his timed effort.
Nico Rosberg has now moved into second spot behind Massa with a time of 1m55.463s.
Karun Chandhok has completed a timed lap in the Hispania Racing entry - 2m21.793s. That is 26 seconds off the leading pace.
Sebastian Vettel now moves into second place behind Felipe Massa. The German posts 1m55.360s - less than one tenth off the Ferrari.
Petrov has used the softer rubber to clock a 1m56.725s for 12th, just behind team-mate Kubica.
The order at the moment is Massa leading the times from Vettel, Rosberg, Alonso and Hamilton in fifth spot.
The big guns head for the pits and are unlikely to head out again, with no threat of elimination from the slow runners. Q2 will be much more hard-fought.
Mark Webber completes his first timed lap and shoots straight up into third place with a lap of 1m55.363s. He is even quicker through the first sector of his next lap.
Karun Chandhok has completed a second timed lap in the HRT F1 car. He posts 2m05.678s and remains in 24th and last position. That is good for the team though, that the car has run without suffering any problem so far.
Kubica is going for another run on hard tyres, as is Lewis Hamilton - who lost time thins morning.
Meanwhile, the Red Bulls now top the order after continuing for quicker tours - 1m55.029s for Vettel and 1m55.298 for Webber.
All 24 drivers have posted a time on the board. The predicted six drivers from the three new teams are in the dropzone at the moment and the fall guy for now is Kobayashi in 18th place.
Kobayashi and all those around him in the classification roll out for a final run to better their time.
Up front, quite a lot of drivers are choosing to use this chance to further test the handling of their cars ahead of Q2.
The battle for that dreaded 18th slot looks to be between Kobayashi and Buemi. It would appear to be a straight fight between the two, with 16th placed de la Rosa four-tenths of a second up the road.
Alonso and Hamilton set a similar first sector time, while Sutil is quicker than them all in the Force India.
Buemi is quick in the first sector of his latest effort, some three-tenths faster than his rival Kobayashi.
Sutil's effort puts him a creditable third, clocking a 1m55.231s.
Alonso shows Ferrari's strength though the middle sector and goes comfortably quickest with a 1m54.612s.
The flag is out, but the laps continue
Buemi and Kobayashi both improve dramatically on their final effort, putting de la Rosa into 18th spot. The Spaniard fights his way out instantly!
Michael Schumacher moves up to eighth, which is soon demoted to ninth by Kubica's Renault.
Pedro de la Rosa's late effort demotes Jaime Alguersuari into 18th place. The youngster misses the cut by just over half-a-second.
The first period of qualifying has been completed. The following seven drivers have been eliminated:
22) di Grassi
The remaining 17 drivers that have made it through to the second stage will now have to re-focus their minds and prepare for the next challenge.
They will have 15 minutes and the aim of the exercise is to get into the top ten positions.
A tight scramble for the top ten has started.
Tough luck on Alguersuari. One driver was always going to be mired with the new teams at the end of the first stage. On this occasion he was the man, bumped there by fellow-Spaniard de la Rosa.
Vettel, Webber and Buemi answer the call quickly and join the racetrack.
The Ferraris of Massa and Alonso are straight out to join the action.
Force India drivers Sutil and Liuzzi have joined the group on the circuit.
The quicker super-soft rubber is likely to be favoured here, but the drivers need to be careful not to use the best of the grip too early.
Vettel is running with a set of the softer tyres for this set of laps. Red Bull are clearly on a mission here to pull back what fate took away yesterday.
Vettel blasts across the line and begins a hot lap. He is closely followed by Webber and Buemi.
On-board with Vettel and he is jolted all over the place by that enormous bump in the middle of Turn 6.
The McLaren pair are close together on the circuit and heading on to a flying lap.
Schumacher and Rosberg are out there for Mercedes as Vettel comes through towards the end of that hot lap.
The lengthy middle sector with its twisting new extension continues to be the major factor in overall laptime.
Vettel posts a 1m54.035s and now the rest have a mark to aim at.
Mark Webber goes second to his team-mate with a lap of 1m54.318s.
Alonso is unable to beat the Red Bull with his first effort and slots in second quickest.
Robert Kubica takes seventh quickest with his first effort.
Massa goes fourth in his Ferrari with a lap of 1m54.331s, while Hamilton is fifth for McLaren but several tenths slower.
All 17 drivers are on the circuit. Adrian Sutil goes sixth in the Force India with a lap of 1m54.996s.
Rosberg goes fifth for Mercedes with 1m54.682s. Schumacher's first effort slots him in ninth place.
Up front, Vettel leads and is now back in the pits. Alonso is second with Webber third and Massa fourth.
Jenson Button has slipped to 10th with his early 1m55.478s.
The softer rubber doesn't appear to have another quick lap in it so the drivers head to the pits for new tyres.
There is clearly a lot more pace in the soft for a quick lap, but the teams will have a tricky choice if they gamble on it in Q3 and are forced to use it for the first stint.
Pedro de la Rosa will be the last of the 17 drivers to complete a lap. He flashes across the line and moves into 14th place with 1m56.237s.
Most of the cars in the pits now, preparing for a major late scramble.
All 17 drivers have now put a time on the board. Jenson Button finds himself in the dropzone along with Liuzzi, Hulkenberg, de la Rosa, Kobayashi, Petrov and Buemi.
The very long lap here means the teams won't want to leave it too late for the final runs.
All the drivers are now back in the pits, making minor detail changes and slapping on a fresh set of softer tyres in readiness for a final banzai effort.
Kobayashi and Buemi are the first drivers to move out of the bottom seven.
Pacesetter Vettel is rolling out for another attempt.
It's a mad scramble now with all the cars heading around for a flying lap.
Vettel leads the train of cars in to a flying lap.
The bottom seven drivers are all on a hot lap now with Button having the most to lose. He is 11th at the moment.
Vettel sets the pace through the first sector with a 30.317s.
A 1m53.883s is the new leading time from Vettel's Red Bull.
Hamilton's first spilt is poor - 30.531s.
Vettel continues to set the pace with a fastest middle sector.
Button could be in big trouble here. He is struggling through the bumpy section of the circuit, and Liuzzi behind him in the standings is very quick.
Hulkenberg does no improve on 13th place in the Williams.
Webber sets the fastest final sector but does not improve.
Button scrapes over the line in 10th place in the McLaren with a lap of 1m55.168s. He bumps Rubens Barrichello out of the shootout.
Alonso sets a 1m54.172s but remains between the Red Bull pair.
Michael Schumacher failed to improve and slipped to ninth in the final order.
Liuzzi was not able to improve so Force India doesn't get its dream of having both cars in the top ten this afternoon.
The second period of qualifying has been completed. The following seven drivers have been eliminated:
14) de la Rosa
A very difficult decision for the race engineers now - do they go for pace on the softer tyres or race durability on the harder choice.
The harder tyres will cost a lot of pace here, so many are likely to go with softer tyres and hope for the best in the first stint - when the car will be around 160kg heavier.
Rubens Barrichello can count himself unlucky not to make the top ten. He has been reasonably strong through the weekend so far. Williams team-mate Hulkenberg also failed to make it through in 13th place.
The following ten drivers have made it through to the shootout:
The battle for pole is now underway.
Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso head out with the Ferraris looking very strong this afternoon.
Alonso has the softer tyres on his car.
Lewis Hamilton is also out but the McLaren hasn't been on the leading pace so far today.
Soft tyres are the choice of both Ferrari drivers as they begin flying laps.
The other drivers have been content to let the McLarens and Ferraris take up the early running.
Button joins the fray in his McLaren.
Massa is the quickest so far through the first sector with a 30.659s. Hamilton and Alonso are in the 30.7s.
Alonso is the quicker through the middle sector and sets a 1m55.07s, with Massa second in 1m55.131s.
Hamilton's lap is a poor 1m56.828s, also on the softer tyres.
Adrian Sutil exits the pits in the Force India to make it five cars on the circuit.
Alonso, Massa and Hamilton stream out for another effort.
Button is close to Hamilton in the first sector, also on softer tyres, but is almost two seconds off Alonso's benchmark and backs off to pit.
Vettel and Webber join Sutil on the circuit. Sutil is about to start his first timed lap of Q3.
Schumacher and Rosberg join the fun finally with just a couple of minutes remaining.
Just over two minutes left on the clock. Can the Red Bulls do anything to break Ferrari's hold on the front row?
Sutil posts a 30.8s first sector - slightly slower than the McLaren and Ferrari drivers were able to achieve.
Meantime, Schumacher and Rosberg are about to start their bid for the front of the grid.
All the cars are out with just over a minute to the flag.
Chequred flag, but the laps continue ...
Adrian Sutil slots in ahead of both McLarens with a great third place lap on harder tyres - 1m56.309s.
Alonso and Massa are fractions off Vettel's new best in sector one.
Vettel sets the fastest first sector of all as he blasts his way round Sakhir - 30.4s and as we have seen before, the German has this amazing ability to nail a stunningly fast lap straight out of the pits.
Robert Kubica grabs fourth, sliding to fifth as the times flood in.
Hamilton regains fourth with a 1m55.271s.
Vettel blasts his way to the top of the times with a lap of 1m54.101s, but the Ferraris and McLaren drivers are coming now on their second and final efforts!
Button is only seventh with his 1m55.672s.
One lap was all it took and Sebastian Vettel claims pole position for Red Bull Racing for tomorrow's Bahrain Grand Prix!
Behind Vettel, a 1m54.242s puts Felipe Massa in second on the grid, ahead of team-mate Alonso.
The Red Bull team are jubilant in the garage as they celebrate a fine first pole of the season.
Lewis Hamilton starts tomorrow's 49-lap race from fourth spot. Nico Rosberg was the quicker of the Mercedes drivers in fifth, with Mark Webber sixth.
The hard work comes tomorrow, however, with all these cars set to start the race on a hefty fuel load and super soft tyres.
Michael Schumacher's return to Formula One will start with seventh place on the grid, with Jenson Button a lowly eighth, Robert Kubica ninth - a good performance from the Renault team, and Sutil rounding out the top ten.
Here's our round-up of a dramatic qualifying hour:
Vettel flies to Bahrain Grand Prix pole position
An outstanding job from Vettel today to claim the first pole of the season. He lost track time yesterday afternoon due to a change of brakes, and then this afternoon with the pressure of just one lap he delivers yet again to upstage the Ferrari drivers.
Ferrari's drivers will be confident of a strong race pace tomorrow, but can Vettel continue to hold them off?
Tomorrow we are set for an interesting race - the first without refuelling since the 1993 Australian Grand Prix at Adelaide. Be sure to join us for the build up and of course the race itself. Our coverage here on AUTOSPORT Live begins at 10:30 GMT.
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