After struggling in qualifying in the opening three rounds of the season, Red Bull Racing found their way back to the front of grid today as Sebastian Vettel claimed his first pole of the year.
Having landed a best grid spot of fourth so far this, the Austrian team went back to the drawing board at the Chinese Grand Prix and ran a comparison between two variants of the RB8. And the lessons learned there paid dividends in Bahrain as Vettel powered to his second pole position here, eclipsing McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton by a tenth of a second. “It obviously feels great [to be back on pole] and I think this one I completely owe to the team,” Vettel said. “It wasn’t the easiest start to the season for us. Surely, a lot of expectations, but I think more than anything it’s what we expect from ourselves, and we didn’t match our expectations and we’ve been extremely busy working on the car, trimming here and there, finding the perfect solution and the right way to go, the way forward.
“The car has felt much better all weekend. I was quite happy,” he added. “I didn’t have the smoothest qualifying, though. I was nearly out in Q1 and nearly out in Q2 but then I knew that when I get the lap in, then we should be in a better place. It’s great, obviously, to see that we’ve just beaten Lewis for pole.”
Vettel’s team-mate Mark Webber also claimed his best grid position of the season so far with third. “We’re satisfied with being towards the front,” he said. “There have been some big gaps to the opposition, on Saturday in particular. I think we’re pretty surprised to be as competitive as we are on a track that is demanding of some [things that are not] our strengths. But we’re at the front and we can definitely race from there.”
Webber will line up ahead of the second McLaren of Jenson Button and fifth-placed Nico Rosberg. Directly behind the Mercedes driver will be Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo, another driver making a big improvement on Chinese Grand Prix form. In Shanghai the young Australian has struggled to make updates to the car work, but in Bahrain he admitted the team had found a way forward. "We had a below average week in China with the updates,” he said. “We persisted with them and we made them work significantly better here. I was happy with my driving and I got better and better in each of the sessions. It's not always you have a day like this, so I can enjoy the moment, bearing in mind that it's tomorrow that counts.”
"It helps to go into a race feeling confidence and starting from sixth, I have to focus on scoring as many points as possible, as this is the best chance we have had so far,” he said. “I hope I am still smiling tomorrow evening.” The top ten was rounded out by Renault’s Romain Grosjean, the Sauber of Sergio Pérez, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Force India’s Paul Di Resta. Of his second ninth-place start in a row, Alonso said: "We were worth a place somewhere between eighth and twelfth, so ninth on the grid fits in with our current level.” The Spaniard, like Di Resta, opted not to run in Q3 and and said he hoped the strategy would prove beneficial in what he believes will be “a hard race, especially on tyres”.
“To be in with a chance of making it to Q3, we had to use all three sets of soft tyres available, so we didn't have any left for the final part of the session,” he said. “Doing a time on used tyres would have made no sense and would have forced us to start with tyres that already had a few laps on them. Now we are free to choose either compound for the start of a race that looks like being very hard, especially on tyres. “The aim? To finish in the points, around sixth or seventh place,” he concluded. “I know, it's not brilliant, but that's what we can do with the car we have today.”