F1 2013 Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying: Hamilton faces red-hot battle
PUBLISHED: 21:40 19 April 2013 | UPDATED: 13:48 20 April 2013
FORMULA 1 driver Lewis Hamilton battles for pole position in qualifying for the 2013 Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday after being well off the pace in the opening two practice sessions in Sakhir.
The 28-year-old Mercedes F1 star from Hertfordshire was only 13th quickest in first practice around the desert Bahrain International Circuit with a lap of 1m 35.792s.
Hamilton was then 10th in FP2 with a time of 1m 34.976s, while Mercedes AMG Petronas teammate Nico Rosberg was P8 after going third fastest in the morning session.
Stevenage-born 2008 world champion Hamilton is looking for more from his car ahead of Saturday’s qualifying battle for grid positions, with Ferrari, Lotus and Red Bull the teams to beat.
“We worked as hard as we could today [Friday] but couldn’t quite get the balance of the car to where it needs to be,” said Hamilton, who started on the front row in China last weekend.
Bahrain Grand Prix facts
* Race distance: 57 laps (308.238km/191.539 miles)
* Start time: 15:00 (local)/12:00 (GMT)
* Circuit length: 5.412km/3.363 miles
* 2012 winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing RB8) 57 laps in 1hr35m10.990s
* 2012 pole: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing RB8) 1m32.422s
* Lap record: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari F2004) 1m30.252s
“I had some issues in P1 which we were able to improve for this afternoon, so that’s a positive, but we need to identify where we are losing time and find more performance.
“We have changed the set-up of the car to what we thought would suit this track but we need to look at that and make sure it is the right direction to go.”
The red Ferraris again impressed and bookmakers have trimmed Chinese GP winner Fernando Alonso to win the 2013 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix.
Originally 13/5, Alonso was cut to 2/1 on Wednesday and is now 15/8 favourite, while Sebastian Vettel heads the Red Bull charge behind the Spaniard at 11/4.
Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen was also impressive in practice and has been cut from 4/1 to 3/1.
Going the other way was Hamilton, whose less than impressive practice saw his odds drift from 8/1 to 11/1 to grab the checkered flag this weekend.
“Both Ferrari cars looked impressive in P1 and despite not hammering home their superiority in P2, both Alonso and Massa look like the guys to beat this weekend,” said William Hill spokesman Joe Crilly. “Especially Alonso.”
Vettel is the 6/4 favourite to qualify fastest for Sunday’s race, with Alonso and Raikkonen both 5/1 joint second favourites.
The Mercedes day one programme in Bahrain focused on tyre comparisons and adapting the car set-up to the hot conditions.
However, neither driver achieved a satisfactory balance, which subsequently compromised long run pace in the afternoon.
With track temperatures soaring between 37-45 degrees, most teams struggled with the tyres, although Hamilton has happy to get 45 laps under his belt.
He said: “The heat here is so hard on the tyres, so another positive is that we did as many laps as possible to look at long runs and race preparation.
“We’re not as far off as we might look today but there is a lot of hard work ahead and it will be a tough battle for us this weekend.”
Rosberg completed 59 laps over the course of the opening two practice sessions. He said: “Our test programme was pretty good today in that we managed to complete everything on our plan.
“However, it’s clear that we weren’t as strong as on the Fridays of the previous three race weekends. The car had a lot of understeer and the race will be very tough on the rear tyres.
“The problem is that when you want to save the rear tyres, you try to set up the car with more understeer and that costs you time over one lap. So it’s all about finding the right compromise.
“We’ve still got some work to do tonight to find a good balance for tomorrow and the race.”
Team principal Ross Brawn admitted there is work to do ahead of qualifying and Sunday’s grand prix.
“Neither driver enjoyed the same good balance today that we achieved during practice at the past three races and, in the hot conditions, that proved quite damaging for the tyre condition and therefore overall pace,” said Brawn.
“We got a good read on how the two tyre types compare and were also able to compare some set-up items such as downforce levels to assess their impact over long and short runs.
“There is a lot of data to analyse and clear areas for improvement, so we will be working late into the night in order to find better solutions for tomorrow [Saturday].”
Echoing Brawn’s comments, Mercedes director Toto Wolff added: “It was no secret that we would be facing extremely hot conditions here in Bahrain and that they would make life pretty tricky if you had a car that was not well-balanced.
“We haven’t yet found the sweet spot of the set-up and that was reflected in the timesheets today. We need to find out why we seem not to be as competitive as we were in the past three races and get the right answers to take a step forward tomorrow relative to our rivals.”
Meanwhile, former F1 world champion Jenson Button was sixth and 11th fastest in Friday’s two practice sessions for the McLaren team.
“It’s very difficult to know exactly what to do with set-up. This is a big traction circuit, with lots of low-speed exits and a few high-speed corners too, and that puts a lot of load into the rear tyres,” said Button.
“The tyres are behaving a bit strangely here – driving conservatively doesn’t seem to help their wear-life, so there’s only so much you can do without damaging your outright pace.”
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team principal Martin Whitmarsh added: “Neither Jenson nor Checo [Sergio Perez] had any real problems during today’s sessions, but, like many teams, we struggled to make the Option tyre last across a stint – that’s likely to be a recurring problem throughout the rest of the weekend, in fact.”
Qualifying for the 2013 Bahrain Grand Prix starts at 12pm UK time on Saturday.
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