Plenty of lessons have been learned from the first qualifying of 2023 ahead of the Bahrain GP. Red Bull proves their performance from qualifying, Ferrari still has time to find, while Aston Martin continues to demonstrate the AMR23 is to be taken seriously.
Mercedes worked hard during FP3 to maximise their set-up, as the team compared different wing components with Russell and Hamilton.
The team eventually decided to keep its medium load set-up from yesterday. Mercedes chose to sacrifice better cornering and traction with the higher downforce wing, but this would have made the W14 too vulnerable on the straight, not only in qualifying but especially in the race.
The first part of Qualifying started with some problems for Charles Leclerc. The two SF-23 cars went out on the mediums, but an early lock-up cost the Monegasque his first flying run. The team quickly repaired the damage sustained from a lost part of the car during the red flag period. Carlos Sainz managed to set a 1.30.993 relatively early and save a set of soft tyres.
Hulkenberg was the biggest surprise of the session, putting himself at the sharp end of the field as his teammate Kevin Magnussen was eliminated. The front-runners were generally able to avoid using their second set of softs at the end of Q1.
Logan Sargeant just missed out on Q2, setting out an identical lap time to Lando Norris – albeit slightly after the Briton. Magnussen will be disappointed to miss out by two-tenths, whilst Piastri finishes his first F1 Qualifying in 18th and about half a second behind his teammate. De Vries (who finished about 8 tenths behind Tsunoda) was just behind, whilst Gasly will be disappointed with his first qualifying with Alpine.
Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez started to flex their muscles in Q2, doing enough with their first runs to qualify for the final shootout.
Charles Leclerc set an impressive 1.30.282, whilst the Mercedes pairing of Hamilton and Russell showed very similar pace to Fernando Alonso in his Aston Martin. Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Ocon were the best ‘midfield’ qualifiers in Bahrain, whilst Lance Stroll did well to join his teammate in Q2.
Lando Norris was the closest to qualifying for Q3, outperforming the Alfa Romeo duo of Bottas and Zhou. Tsunoda finished 14th, with Albon in 15th. The field was very closely matched at this stage of the session, especially in the midfield.
Max Verstappen secured the first pole position of 2023 ahead of teammate Sergio Perez, with an all-Red Bull front row. Charles Leclerc will start in third, after taking the decision to save a set of soft tyres for the race.
This allowed Perez to jump Leclerc, with Carlos Sainz finishing fourth place and +0.446 from Pole Position. Leclerc clarified why he elected not to set a second time in Q1: “We preferred to keep a set of Softs for the race, even starting third”
Fernando Alonso managed to outperform both Mercedes, only a few thousandths separating P5 and P7. There was some strategic variation in Q3, with teams electing to go on track at different times for the final runs.
Aston Martin, thus, qualified just 6 tenths away from Pole Position, whilst Rusell just edged out teammate Lewis Hamilton, Lance Stroll, Esteban Ocon and Nico Hulkenberg round out the Top 10, more detached.
Author: Paolo D’Alessandro
Translation: Jaden Diaz-Ndisang