Why Hamilton has the edge over Bottas: 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying


'I have my cake and eat it', says Hamilton, explaining the pace that means he'll start at the front of the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix - and puts him on course to record 100 pole positions before the end of the year

Lewis Hamilton during qualifying for the 2020 F1 Bahrain Grand Prix

Florent Gooden / DPPI

What can you do when you’ve just sealed your seventh world championship, the paddock is talking about knighthoods but there’s three races left?

Lewis Hamilton didn’t celebrate too hard, switched off his phone, didn’t open the laptop, spent a bit of downtime with family and, just maybe, pondered finishing the year on a nice round 100 F1 pole positions.

No matter how mind-boggling that might sound, it’s an achievement within Hamilton’s grasp if he aces the qualifying sessions for all three Middle-Eastern races that finish F1’s truncated 17-race Covid calendar.

The first of those goals was accomplished with a fine Sakhir lap that gave Mercedes its first Bahrain pole in three years and left team-mate Valtteri Bottas scratching his head.

“If I look at the lap, as always it’s never perfect and maybe I left a bit of time out there on the Turn One exit,” Hamilton conjectured. “The rest of it was pretty good though. I’m on the ragged edge and it’s all about taking a lot into a corner without losing the exit – having your cake and eating it.”

“I don’t always sympathise with rivals but I do feel a little bit for Esteban,” grinned Smiley Dan

The secret to Hamilton’s almost three-tenths margin over Bottas was his ability to do just that in the important Turn 13 right-hander that dictates speed on the long run down to the final turn.

Bottas had no answer to Hamilton but managed to lock-out the front row for Mercedes. “The lap felt good and that’s the problem,” he candidly admitted. “The time just wasn’t there but at least it’s another front row, the long runs were good and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

Lewis Hamilton gives the ok sign after qualifying on pole for the 2020 F1 Bahrain Grand Prix

Almost perfect: Hamilton satisfied with another pole position

Dan Istitene/F1 via Getty Images

Max Verstappen qualified the first Red Bull just 0.12sec down on Bottas as Christian Horner’s cars claimed the second row. Alex Albon knows just how Bottas feels, constantly being measured against a stand-out team mate. Except that his conundrum was twice as big: a 0.6sec deficit to Max.

Eddie Irvine once likened driving on the opposite side of the garage from Michael Schumacher to being hit around the head with a cricket bat every fortnight and Albon will be feeling the same way. The tendency is to overdrive to try and bridge the gap and Albon did exactly that when he ran wide out of the final turn in FP2 on Friday, kept his boot in and junked his RB16 in the tyre barrier. A new chassis was needed and you had to wonder whether it increased internal pressure on Albon with Sergio Perez performing so strongly.

If it did, Alex fought back well on his second Q3 run but only managed to beat Perez’s Racing Point to the second row by 0.05sec.

Whereas Hamilton nailed Turn 13 perfectly, Perez bit off a little too much and needed a mid-corner correction that cost him the few hundredths that might have put a Pink Panther on row two.

Bahrain though, might have been made for Sergio, who has outscored everyone bar Hamilton and Bottas over the past seven races and lies fourth in the drivers’ championship. With its abrasive surface wearing the rears and conventional wisdom suggesting that tomorrow will be at least a two-stop race for everyone, Perez’s reputation for strong tyre management should come into play.

Sergio Perez in the Racing Point during qualifying for the 2020 F1 Bahrain Grand Prix

Perez’s famed tyre management could make the difference in the race

Giuseppe Cacace/Getty Images

Racing Point will certainly be hoping so because in that epic battle for third place in the constructors’ championship and the extra gelt that accompanies it, Perez has additional pressure on his shoulders with team-mate Lance Stroll starting 13th, more of which anon.

Breathing down Perez’s neck are both Renaults. Daniel Ricciardo missed the Mexican’s time by a tenth with a lap that pipped team mate Esteban Ocon by just 0.002sec!

Ocon is the first to acknowledge the potency of Ricciardo’s qualifying performances this year – when you’re 14-1 down over the season you can’t do much else! – but this one will have hurt more than most.

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“I don’t always sympathise with rivals but I do feel a little bit for Esteban,” grinned Smiley Dan. “But, he did have two sets (of softs) for Q3 and I’d had to use two in Q1 and only had one set for Q3.” So the sympathy was measured.

Looking ahead to the race battle, Ricciardo figured that it is important for the Renault pair to drive an aggressive opening lap and hopefully relegate Perez because the Racing Point’s long run pace looks good. “If he’s able to run in free air it might be tough for us,” Daniel admitted.

Renault’s third place chances took a hit a fortnight ago in Istanbul and they now find themselves 13 points behind McLaren and 18 adrift of Racing Point, but sixth and seventh on the grid is a good outcome, with their rivals only boasting one car each in the top 10.

Carlos Sainz's McLaren spins during qualifying for the 2020 f1 Bahrain Grand Prix

Brake trouble sent Sainz into a spin — and ended his qualifying in Q2

Antonin Vincent / DPPI

For McLaren, qualifying was disappointing after Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris finished FP3 fifth and seventh respectively. Bahrain has always been something of a bogey track for Sainz, from a bad fortune rather than a performance standpoint, with Carlos yet to score a point in Sakhir. This time, when he hit the brakes at 300km/h into Turn One on his first Q2 run, a mechanical problem locked the rear axle and the McLaren immediately swapped ends. With all the front runners opting to run the medium in Q2, not only did it mean that Sainz starts 15th, but he also rubbished a set of the yellow-walled rubber that he needed for tomorrow.

Another tenth and a half for Lando Norris, meanwhile, would have qualified a McLaren best of the rest behind Mercedes and Red Bull, but such is the closeness of the midfield that he lines up ninth, splitting the Alpha Tauris of eighth-placed Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat.

Gasly called his Istanbul performance “embarrassing” but attributed it to an even more extreme case of the inability to generate tyre temperature that afflicted everyone. It was, he believed, an outlier, and Franz Tost’s men were again in the thick of the action with both cars in the top 10.

Ferrari’s strong showing on the Turkish ice rink all but nixed Alpha Tauri’s hopes of almost unthinkably overhauling Ferrari in the final teams’ classification but, back in more representative conditions, Faenza was once again ahead of Maranello as neither red car made Q3. Sebastian Vettel missed Gasly’s Q2 time by 0.14sec but, if it was any consolation – and I’m sure it was – he did pip Charles Leclerc by two hundredths. That pole position time here 20 months ago, which would have put him fourth on tomorrow’s grid, must seem an age away to Charles.

Lance Stroll's Racing Point Charles leclerc's Ferrari and Carlos Sainz's McLaren on track during qualifying for the 2020 F1 Bahrain grand Prix

Behind the McLarens and just ahead of a Racing Point: Ferrari’s grid position for the race

Giuseppe Cacace/Getty Images

The aforementioned Stroll starts immediately behind both Ferraris after what Lance called a ‘miscommunication.’ When Q2 was red-flagged for the removal of Sainz’s stranded McLaren, everyone bar Stroll took a fresh set of mediums on resumption. Lance, on his used set, was not quick enough. “I thought we had time for two runs but we only had time for one,” he explained.

All is not lost though. Stroll’s performance drop-off in Turkey after leading so convincingly has been put down to front wing damage, noticeable on the team data from around lap 17. Team principal Otmar Szafnauer confirmed that a strake was lodged in the wing and that the team did not change the wing at Stroll’s pit stop because the strake was not discovered until after the race. With overtaking feasible in Bahrain and decent race pace, the second Racing Point will be a car to watch tomorrow.

For the ninth time in 15 races George Russell put his Williams into Q2 and once again bested team-mate Nicholas Latifi.

Although Mercedes is the class of the field as ever, the race is no foregone conclusion. Hamilton will again start favourite but overtaking opportunities, tyre degradation and the likelihood of at least two stops for everyone, will present him with more banana skins than usual.

Sparks fly from the Red Bull of Alex Albon during the 2020 F1 Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying

2020 Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying results

Position Driver Team Time (Q3)
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1min 27.264sec
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1min 27.553sec
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1min 27.678sec
4 Alex Albon Red Bull 1min 28.274sec
5 Sergio Perez Racing Point 1min 28.322sec
6 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 1min 28.417sec
7 Esteban Ocon Renault 1min 28.419sec
8 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 1min 28.448sec
9 Lando Norris McLaren 1min 28.542sec
10 Daniil Kvyat AlphaTauri 1min 28.618sec
Q2 times
11 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1min 29.149sec
12 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1min 29.165sec
13 Lance Stroll Racing Point 1min 29.557sec
14 George Russell Williams 1min 31.218sec
15 Carlos Sainz McLaren No Q2 time set
Q1 times
16 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo 1min 29.491sec
17 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo 1min 29.810sec
18 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1min 30.111sec
19 Romain Grosjean Haas 1min 30.138sec
20 Nicholas Latifi Williams 1min 30.182sec