Skip to main content

Vettel bounces back with Bahrain pole

April 21, 2012 -- Updated 1650 GMT (0050 HKT)
Red Bull's world champion Sebastian Vettel will start the Bahrain Grand Prix first on the grid for the second time in a row.
Red Bull's world champion Sebastian Vettel will start the Bahrain Grand Prix first on the grid for the second time in a row.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sebastian Vettel earns the 31st pole position of his career for Sunday's Bahrain race
  • World champion will start ahead of series leader Lewis Hamilton of McLaren
  • Vettel's Red Bull team back in form as Mark Webber qualifies in third place
  • Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher will start in 17th

(CNN) -- The last time Sebastian Vettel raced in Bahrain, it was the start of a season in which he became Formula One's youngest world champion.

The German started that 2010 grand prix in pole position, and he will do so again on Sunday as the event returns to the F1 calendar after being canceled last year due to security fears following an anti-government uprising.

This year's race has become a major political controversy, with human rights campaigners and many Western politicians insisting it should not take place -- and, on the other hand, the Bahrain government saying its staging is a vital part of the kingdom's reform process, with motorsport bosses happy to be back at the Sakhir circuit.

However, on a sporting level the race gives Vettel and his Red Bull team to reassert the form that saw them dominate F1 in the past two years.

Latest F1 standings

Take a ride with F1 champ Vettel
Incident 'destabilized' Force India team
Security concerns in Bahrain
On patrol with Bahrain's riot police

The 24-year-old started the season with second place in Australia, but his struggles in Malaysia and China indicated that his bid to become just the third driver to win three consecutive world titles might be much more difficult than many might have expected.

Shrugging off those early-season problems, Vettel surged past teammate Mark Webber to clock the fastest qualifying time on Saturday and earn pole for the 31st time in his short career.

McLaren's championship leader Lewis Hamilton also edged past the Australian at the end of the session to claim second on the grid.

"It feels great and I completely owe this one to the team," said Vettel, who finished the race fourth in 2010 after suffering gearbox problems.

"It wasn't an easy start to the season for us and there was a lot of expectation, but I think more than anything it was about what we expected from ourselves and we didn't match it.

"We've been working extremely hard on the car ... the boys haven't had much sleep the last few races. The car felt better all weekend. It wasn't the smoothest qualifying session, I nearly went out in Q1, but it's good to get the pole."

2012 teams and drivers

While Vettel, Hamilton and Jenson Button all struggled to qualify for the second session, seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher did not make it through after suffering technical problems.

The 43-year-old German will start in 17th place, while Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg -- who won his first race last weekend in Shanghai -- qualified fifth after deciding to set only one flying lap.

"As we have been focusing on our race pace, there is always a compromise in the qualifying setup," Rosberg said.

"I think that I'm in a good position for the race. I am the only driver in the top five who has a set of new option tires, which can be very useful at this circuit."

Schumacher was disappointed with his setback at a circuit where he won the inaugural race in 2004 with Ferrari and placed sixth in 2010 in his comeback after retirement.

How are F1's top teams faring this year?

Both Red Bull drivers will be very hard to beat in the race, but we're less than a 10th (of a second) behind on race pace
McLaren's Lewis Hamilton

"Unfortunately on my fast lap, which was looking quite good, my DRS broke in the last sector. We tried to fix it in the garage but were not able to go out again," he said.

"Trying for a lap without DRS on different tires would not have made sense. We now have to try to see what we can do from here and push as much as possible."

Button, the 2009 world champion when he raced for Mercedes' predecessor team under Ross Brawn, was another driver to hold back in the final session as he took fourth place.

"It's always a horrible feeling on your final Q3 lap when the balance isn't quite where you want it. I couldn't get the best from the car so I pitted early to save the tires," said the Englishman, the Bahrain winner three years ago.

His teammate Hamilton, the 2008 world champion, will be on the front row of the grid for the fourth successive race.

"Both Red Bull drivers will be very hard to beat in the race, but we're less than a 10th (of a second) behind on race pace. The start could be key -- we've had good launches all season so I expect us to be able to challenge Seb down to Turn One," Hamilton said.

Toro Rosso's young Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo qualified sixth ahead of Lotus' Frenchman Romain Grosjean and Sauber's Mexican Sergio Perez.

Ferrari's two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, the race winner in 2010, will start ninth after not setting a Q3 time.

Force India's Paul di Resta will be 10th after also not setting a time, choosing instead to run test laps on hard tires.

His Britain-based team returned to the circuit for Saturday's final practice session, having skipped the second one on Friday so the crew could get back to their hotel before dark.

Two members had already decided to go back to the UK after a team car was caught up in a protest on Thursday, and had a petrol bomb thrown at their vehicle.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Bahrain
April 20, 2012 -- Updated 1634 GMT (0034 HKT)
What are the issues around the controversy over the Bahrain grand prix, and how are the sport and its fans reacting?
April 20, 2012 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
Motorsport journalist Ed Foster believes F1 chiefs are repeating past mistakes by going ahead with the race in Bahrain.
April 19, 2012 -- Updated 1636 GMT (0036 HKT)
Two members of Force India's Formula One team have left Bahrain after a petrol bomb was thrown at one of the marque's cars during an anti-government protest.
April 18, 2012 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Nearly 60 Bahraini activists turned out Wednesday in downtown Manama calling for the release of hunger striker Abdulhadi al-Khawaja.
April 19, 2012 -- Updated 1646 GMT (0046 HKT)
CNN's Fred Pleitgen rides along with Bahrain's police as they try to contain protests before the Formula One Grand Prix.
April 18, 2012 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Bahrain Grand Prix bosses have made a "calculated decision" to go ahead with the controversial race, claiming civil rights protests have nothing to do with the event.
April 17, 2012 -- Updated 1122 GMT (1922 HKT)
Human rights reforms in Bahrain are inadequate, according to a report from Amnesty International.
April 14, 2012 -- Updated 1357 GMT (2157 HKT)
Motorsport's governing body has ended uncertainty over the Bahrain Grand Prix by issuing a statement confirming that the F1 race will go ahead.
April 13, 2012 -- Updated 1403 GMT (2203 HKT)
Should sport and politics mix? Bernie Ecclestone has told CNN that they should not -- and that is why he is happy for Bahrain to host a Formula One race despite protests from human rights groups.
April 13, 2012 -- Updated 1057 GMT (1857 HKT)
Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher has dismissed security fears ahead of next week's Bahrain Grand Prix.
April 12, 2012 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Bahrain Grand Prix organizers insist that the Gulf kingdom's Formula One race will go ahead despite mounting pressure for it to be scrapped.
April 11, 2012 -- Updated 2229 GMT (0629 HKT)
Formula One teams, including world champions Red Bull, tell CNN they will not unilaterally pull out of the Bahrain Grand Prix.
April 10, 2012 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
A global human rights organization has called on Bahraini authorities to release a jailed activist who's in poor health after a more than two-month hunger strike.
ADVERTISEMENT