Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton has kept up his clean sweep of all the pole positions so far this season, using the P Zero Yellow soft tyre – nominated together with the P Zero White medium this weekend – to claim his first pole in Bahrain. Qualifying in Bahrain got underway in the evening with a track temperature of 31 degrees and ambient temperature of 26 degrees. Temperatures continued to fall as the session went on: a track characteristic that will repeat itself during tomorrow’s race, which starts at the same time. As fuel loads and temperatures come down, this tends to have the effect of decreasing thermal degradation over the duration of the race, thereby increasing stint lengths and opening up more possibilities in terms of strategy.
With a difference of two seconds between the medium and soft compounds so far, the drivers all used the soft tyres to get through Q1. Soft tyres were also the default choice for Q2, with Hamilton setting the fastest time of the session on his first and only run.
All the drivers started Q3 with used softs (apart from Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, who went for new softs for both runs, and Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, who completed just one run on new softs). Hamilton completed two runs, setting the pole time on his second run with new softs, thanks to a time that was 0.614s faster than last year’s pole – despite track conditions that were sub optimal.
The teams had little information to prepare for qualifying, as the first and third free practice sessions earlier were held in the heat of the day. Adding to the complication during qualifying was gusting winds, which blew sand onto the track from the surrounding desert.
In FP3 this morning, Hamilton was also quickest on the soft tyre, just ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by 0.07 seconds, who eventually ended up second on the grid after qualifying.
Paul Hembery, Pirelli motorsport director: “The performance gap between the medium and the soft tyre that we saw in qualifying confirms the fact that the soft will be the best race tyre tomorrow. It’s going to be interesting now to see how Mercedes and Ferrari use those tyres over longer stints in the race, which opens up many interesting possibilities.”
The Pirelli strategy predictor: The situation in Bahrain strategy-wise is slightly similar to China (where the medium and soft tyres were also nominated) in that three stops is theoretically the fastest strategy, but two stops are actually more likely. The predicted total race time difference between the ideal two-stopper and ideal three-stopper is only 0.6 seconds, but in reality the need to deal with traffic would most likely make the two-stopper quicker. So our predicted ideal strategy is two stops for the 57-lap race. Start on soft, change to soft again on lap 19, then finally to medium on lap 38. The best three-stopper would be: start on soft, soft on lap 15, soft again on lap 35, and finally medium on lap 46.