Wednesday 13 November 2019

Hamilton confirms status as prince of pole

Lewis Hamilton on his way to pole for the Bahrain Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton on his way to pole for the Bahrain Grand Prix

Daniel Johnson

As one German faded under the lights in Bahrain, another continued his return to the fore. But neither could do anything about Lewis Hamilton. The Formula One champion maintained his perfect record in qualifying this season, the Mercedes driver firmly restoring his status as the sport’s one-lap master.

Four races have produced four comfortable pole positions for Hamilton. This one he took by four tenths of a second, but not from Nico Rosberg, whose star is increasingly on the wane.

It was Rosberg’s compatriot, Sebastian Vettel, who split the Mercedes cars, continuing his resurgence. Ferrari could hardly believe their luck.

Easing to his 42nd career pole, his first in Bahrain, Hamilton had the session in control throughout. It was yet another bitter blow for Rosberg, particularly on a circuit he counts as one of his favourites, where he has started from the front for the past two seasons.

Rosberg admitted that a strategic error in how he used his sets of tyres had contributed to his qualifying performance.

“Strategy wise I got it wrong today, I was thinking about the race,” he said. “I just lacked the rhythm as a result. I’m disappointed because Sebastian beat me, second would have been damage limitation, but third is not ideal.”

After his outburst against Hamilton last weekend in China, he has the look of a beaten man, short on ideas. If we are to be treated to a duel as spectacular as the one we witnessed 12 months ago, it will need Vettel to provide the heroics.

At this early stage in the season, with his self-belief and judgment wavering, Rosberg is even in danger of losing touch in the championship fight. He lies third, four points behind Vettel and 17 behind Hamilton. The gap to his team-mate is worryingly large and going in only one direction.

While Rosberg is down in the doldrums, Hamilton is brimming with confidence.

The British driver will be especially satisfied to have corrected his one black mark from 2014, when Rosberg out-qualified him across the season.

As the top three assembled for the customary photograph, he made a point of shaking Rosberg’s hand, as if to underline the scale of his advantage.

Hamilton said afterwards: “I feel great — really happy. Coming into the weekend, it was the target to try and master this track. That’s generally how the weekend has gone. I’m really grateful to have this beast underneath me.”

Yet the two-time champion may not have it all his own way in the race — Vettel and Ferrari are gradually making inroads.

Maurizio Arrivabene, Ferrari’s team principal, celebrated second for Vettel and fourth for Kimi Raikkonen as if they had won a race. The four-time champion was delighted, although a touch calmer than his boss.

“First of all I’m very happy with second today,” Vettel said. “It was a tough session. In the beginning I didn’t really find the rhythm, but then more and more I was feeling happy in the car, and comfortable to push.”

“For now I’m very happy on the front row. We hope for a good start, and then race from there. But we are maybe a bit closer. Lewis said earlier we would be difficult to beat: I hope he’s right.”


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