The measure of Lewis Hamilton’s challenge in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix is that nobody has won here after starting outside the top four, and he will line up ninth on the grid.
Nothing has gone the world champion’s way over the past few days. It was discovered on Friday evening that he required a new gearbox after suffering a hydraulic leak last time out in Australia. A five-place grid penalty flowed from that.
And on Saturday, under the light bulbs just after dusk, he was never really in convincing form. So he qualified fourth behind the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen and the other Mercedes, of Valtteri Bottas. So that adds up to ninth, with only his magical capacity for escapology offering hope of glory.
It was a poor day for British legends. Not only was the country’s top driver off colour but so were our supposedly leading team, McLaren.
They managed only 13th and 14th fastest, and can no longer hide between tired excuses and a blather of jam-tomorrow aspirations. The words fail to mask what a continuation of the longest period of underachievement in McLaren’s history.
And it was all the more embarrassing for them given the local audience. The Bahraini royal family are the team’s principal shareholders and the Crown Prince paid his customary visit to their paddock hospitality area minutes before taking his place in the tower to watch qualifying unfold.
BAHRAIN GP QUALIFYING TIMES
Pole position shoot-out
1 Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 1min 27.958secs
2 Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:28.101
3 Bottas (Fin) Mercedes 1:28.124
4 Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes 1:28.220*
5 Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull 1:28.398
6 Gasly (Fra) Toro Rosso 1:29.329
7 Magnussen (Den) Haas 1:29.358
8 Hulkenberg (Ger) Renault 1:29.570
9 Ocon (Fra) Force India 1:29.874
10 Sainz (Spa) Renault 1:29.986
Eliminated from Q2
11 Hartley (Nzl) Toro Rosso 1:30.105
12 Perez (Mex) Force India 1:30.156
13 Alonso (Spa) McLaren 1:30.212
14 Vandoorne (Bel) McLaren 1:30.525
15 Verstappen (Hol) Red Bull No Time
Eliminated from Q1
16 Grosjean (Fra) Haas 1:30.530
17 Ericsson (Swe) Sauber 1:31.063
18 Sirotkin (Rus) Williams 1:31.414
19 Leclerc (Mon) Sauber 1:31.420
20 Stroll (Can) Williams 1:31.503
* Lewis Hamilton will start ninth following five-place grid penalty.
Asked about the new owners’ plans to cut Ferrari’s annual special payment from $100million to $40m, he said: ‘I don’t see why they need to change things that worked perfectly well. They seem to muck about with anything that doesn’t need fixing.
‘But they have bought the keys to the car so they might as well drive it.’
Back on track, Max Verstappen crashed out of qualifying at 140mph. It was his second mistake in two race weekends, following his spin during the race in Melbourne a fortnight ago.