Mercedes' Nico Rosberg will start the 2013 Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix at the head of the grid. The German beat compatriot and Red Bull Racing driver Sebastian Vettel to the top of the qualifying timesheets with 1:32.330 to claim only his second career pole position.
This is the fourth round of the 2013 world championship and Vettel, the defending champion, will go into Sunday's race with a three-point lead over Lotus-Renault's Kimi Raikkonen and nine in front of Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso. 2009 world champion Lewis Hamilton is fourth for McLaren and Alonso's team mate, Felipe Massa is fifth. And in the race for the constructors' title, Red Bull lead Ferrari by five points, with Lotus a further 13 points adrift and Mercedes and McLaren rounding out the top five.
Bahrain International Circuit
- Circuit Length: 5.412km
- Number of Laps: 57
- Lap Record: Pedro de la Rosa (McLaren-Mercedes), 1:31.447
Where to Watch Race Live
The race is scheduled to start at 1pm BST. Live coverage is available from 11.30am BST on Sky F1. Live radio commentary is on BBC Radio 5 live and real-time text updates are available on the Live Timing section of the official Web site.
Qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix started with Alonso on top after the first session. The Ferrari ace posted 1:32.878 to Vettel's 1:33.327; the former was the only driver to break 1:33.000 in the first session. Rosberg was not far off though; the Mercedes driver's fastest was only a fraction of a second slower than Vettel.
Hamilton and Lotus' Romain Grosjean then provided a few dramatic moments by registering identical times... down to the thousandth of a second... 1:33.498.
The defending champion then improved to 1:32.746 in the second session and Rosberg joined him at the top with a 1:32.867. Alonso wasn't quite as fast as he was earlier in the day - his 1:33.316 placed him behind Vettel, Rosberg, Mark Webber and Raikkonen. Massa, meanwhile, improved from his first session time of 1:33.780 to post 1:33.358, only 0.042s off Alonso.
Special mention must be made, at this stage, of Force India's Paul di Resta. The British driver continues to have a storming Bahrain Grand Prix, with a 1:33.335 in the second session to back top five times through the practice sessions on Friday. The Force India was faster than Massa, Hamilton and the McLaren of Jenson Button (who was eliminated after this session with a best of 1:33.702). And di Resta was joined by team mate Adrian Sutil, who posted 1:33.378.
The third and final session featured one interesting point at the start - Massa went out on hard compound tyres, while everyone else (Alonso included) used the medium compound. In fact, Vettel ran the medium compounds in qualifying and saved as many as three sets of the harder tyres for the race.
As far as the Red Bull is concerned, the decision to run hard tyres in the race may be the result of events in China, where significant tyre wear, particularly during the middle section of the race, created quite a few problems for the German.
Meanwhile, Massa's decision actually leaves him with an advantage. The medium compounds are worth at least eight-tenths of a second per lap... so expect the Brazilian to mount a mid-race charge up the grid.
A lot of the focus at the start of and during the race will be on the Pirelli tyres. The Italian manufacturers responded to criticism after the Chinese Grand Prix by substituting the hard compound tyres for the soft. The idea was to improve durability and counter increased tyre wear, which should provide greater flexibility during pit stop windows.
However, comments by Sauber-Ferrari driver Nico Hulkenberg and Rosberg suggest tyre degradation will still be a problem for front runners, with the rear tyres in particular needing to be monitored. Hulkenberg complained of a lack of grip about 18 laps into a practice stint with the medium compounds, which are the Option tyres for this weekend and the Bahrain Grand Prix is a 57-lap race.
Theoretically, therefore, it should be possible to run the race with three stops; two might be overly ambitious. Vettel's remarks indicate the Red Bull may even consider stopping four times - he did save three sets of hard tyres.
And the German also admitted the saving of those tyres was not entirely a voluntary decision: "We didn't want to take any risks, we wanted to make sure that we finish in front and we believed that the soft tyre was faster, or the medium tyre, so we went for that in qualifying."
Could this mean the Red Bull has compromised race position for a front-row start? Well... not really. The Milton Keynes team ran very strongly on Sunday in China, particularly in the closing stages. All this could mean is that Vettel may have to stop before Alonso and therefore it will be the middle section of the race that is perhaps most crucial.
The interesting point is that neither Ferrari driver seemed overly concerned about tyres. Indeed, Massa never used the medium compound in the third session but will still start fourth (helped, of course, by penalties to Webber and Hamilton). And as for Alonso, although he made no explicit statement, considering how well the car handled its tyres during the long runs in Friday practice and the Chinese Grand Prix last weekend, Vettel and Rosberg are probably right to be cautious.
Hamilton and Webber will drop from their qualifying positions of fourth and fifth after stewards apply the five and three place penalties. The British driver will therefore start in ninth, while Vettel's team mate will be seventh. This means Massa moves up from sixth to fourth and the two Force Indias start fifth and sixth, in the team's best ever qualifying performance. There is also a grid penalty for Sauber's Esteban Gutierrez, who was deemed to have caused a collision with Sutil at the Chinese Grand Prix. The Mexican was given a five place penalty; he qualified 18th, which means he effectively starts last.
For the full provisional grid, click here.
Expect temperatures to be as high as a scorching 37C at the start of the race, with minimal cloud cover. Humidity will weigh in at 54 percent and there is likely to be very little, if any at all, cloud cover. Wind speeds should touch seven to eight km/h in the early afternoon and cross the track from a north-easterly direction, meaning drivers will need to watch out for the car drifting through Turn 13 in the run up to the back straight.