The Saturday in F1 Bahrain GP helped us picture out the contenders with Red Bull and Ferrari leading the pack, while Mercedes needs more work.

While many expected Mercedes to be sandbagging in testing and practice, but Saturday in F1 Bahrain GP kinda showcased the team’s current struggles which is limiting its performance. The larger issue is porpoising, which is affecting other areas.

This is why they are a bit down on Ferrari and Red Bull, and in the clutches of the likes of Alfa Romeo and Haas especially in Bahrain. For the former two F1 outfits, the qualifying was some vindication of their testing performance with the real test to come in the race.

For Carlos Sainz, even fighting for pole was a big step having been down on Charles Leclerc since start of the weekend. The Spaniard had some confidence but didn’t expect a pole fight, whereas the Monegasque was only worried about stitching a lap together.

Despite losing out, Max Verstappen is not worried as Red Bull’s race pace looked solid on Friday. He does have Sergio Perez right behind Sainz to make it a 2 on 2 fight. On Mercedes side, George Russell noted about opting for a hard out lap strategy for his final run which didn’t work out.

Leclerc: “Obviously, the last two years for the team have been extremely difficult. After 2019, that was positive, we had two very difficult years where I knew it was just a matter of time before we got back to the top because we were working well but until you actually do it, you always have doubts. And finally this season we managed to do a car that is back to where it deserves, which is to be at least in the mix for the top positions.

“And today the car was great. It wasn’t an easy qualifying session very difficult to put the tyres in the right window and to actually put a lap together. I struggled quite a bit during qualifying. But the last Q3 lap was good enough for pole. Keeping the tyre temperature was very difficult. I don’t know why I didn’t have this problem during the whole weekend, but this evening was a bit more difficult on my side and, and struggling especially for the first sector. I’ve been quite slow during all qualifying even on my fast lap, but after that the car was feeling very good.

“For Q3’s second run, it was just putting everything together. Before it was a bit too messy. There was always a mistake here and there. On my first lap, I nearly lost it in Turn 7, which was quite tricky, but still managed to put everything together, more or less. And again, struggling with the tyres, especially for the first sector I’ve been I’ve been struggling a lot. So in the last run it felt a little bit better for that but we still need to understand because it didn’t feel as good as it did for the whole weekend. So yeah, there was maybe a little bit of performance left there.”

Sainz: “I was glad to be fighting for pole position. It’s been a very difficult weekend for me. I’ve been… slow! Simply as that. Charles has been doing a much better job than me all weekend and I have been playing catch-up. Honestly there have been points this weekend that I was very far behind so by the time I hit quali and I was fighting for pole, I was a bit more relieved but yeah, in the last lap he did a very good lap. I think he put together everything and at that point you just need to congratulate and say good job to a team, no? Because it’s great news to be to be fighting back in pole positions, first time for me also fighting for pole. So yeah, quite, quite interesting, and an exciting times ahead.”

Verstappen: “It was a bit hit and miss, just getting the balance together. Of course, this track is always quite difficult for that, just the layout, with the wind, that makes it a bit more tricky and, yeah, I had a really good feeling in Q2, and then my first run in Q3, I didn’t really enjoy it. Just sliding around a bit much and then I made a tiny correction for the last run, which helped me in some areas but then suddenly, I lost like a tenth in one corner, then gained a bit, then lost a bit.

“So it was a bit hit and miss everywhere and that’s of course, not what you want, but nevertheless, I mean it’s the first race of the season and we are competitive, and that’s the most important. Now, we just need to keep working on the car and understand these things when you really take the fuel out and are really pushing it to the limit to see what you can do better. So, overall of course, it’s a great start and also for tomorrow, I think we’ve got a good race car. All the time when I’ve been on race fuel the car has been feeling quite stable and good on tyres, and that’s of course very important.

“I always knew it was going to be really close. And it’s really going to be about, you know, just the details because when you’re that close, I think, between the teams then when you’re really pushing to the limit in qualifying, it’s all about just finding that last bit to really make a difference. And I thought I had it in Q2, I felt really comfortable, but then it just slipped away a little bit in Q3. But it’s okay. I know it’s there, so that’s the positive.”

Hamilton: “I’m not saying I’m relieved [but] I’m generally really happy today, given where we’ve been the last few weeks, the struggles that we’ve had, the problems that we’ve had with the car; it’s been a bit of a nightmare to drive. We’ve just kept our heads down, kept working. I’m proud of everyone for just staying positive. And to get fifth in quali – those guys ahead of us are just in another league, so I’m generally happy with where we are.

“It’s not the front row but we’ll make improvements and do the best we can tomorrow. Those guys around me will be going away! We’re not in the fight with them (laughs). They were a second ahead of us yesterday through race pace, so my battles are with the guys behind, most likely, but of course, I’ll try to be as fast as I can and get ahead. But as I said, their performance is quite ahead of ours.

“The focus is trying to work out how we can maximise tomorrow. The goal is obviously to finish every race maximising points. Realistically, we can’t really compete pace-wise with  the guys that are ahead of us, but we can fight the guys behind. However, we might have slightly different strategy in terms of the tyre situation. Who knows whether that can come into play tomorrow. If our pace happens to be a little bit better than we anticipate. Taking the results from yesterday, this won’t necessarily be the case. Every day is a bit different, then maybe we can just hold on to the guys that are ahead just for a little while, and give them a little bit of trouble. But we definitely won’t be quicker than any of the guys ahead of us.”

Behind the Top 3 F1 teams, Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas sprung in a solid lap to be sixth with another veteran Kevin Magnussen putting Haas in seventh despite scare of a hydraulics issue. The Finn had reliability issues until FP1 of Bahrain GP, but the inherent pace in the car was there to be seen, similar to the Dane’s situation.

Both their younger teammates did make it in Q2 at ease and missed out on a Q3 finish which was occupied by hard runners Alpine’s Fernando Alonso and AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly. Neither did not have inherent pace and had to work hard to make it in the Top 10. Their teammates weren’t as luck with Yuki Tsunoda not even making it into Q2.

Bottas – Toto Wolff revealed that the Finn texted him about fighting against Mercedes in the race (as a friendly banter) – “It was a really smooth quali. From one lap to another I always managed to find a tenth or so, no issues. Was a super smooth quali for us. I am proud of the team, everyone in the team and of course in the factory. P6, it’s good for us. I think we did know that if we got everything right, we had a chance to get into Q3, it was extremely close. But got some good laps in there, and the Q3 lap, I was really pleased with that.

“P6 is really good for our team, and the motivation and seeing that it is actually possible and it’s a reality. I think our race pace, if anything, it looked actually better than single lap pace, so let’s see. I think Ferrari, Red Bull, I feel like they are a bit out of reach for everyone, but who knows, maybe we can battle Mercedes. That could be fun.”

Magnussen: “It’s crazy. I mean, this is all we could have ever hoped for. I don’t know. I’m speechless. It’s crazy. The last couple of weeks have just been insane and getting here, learning about the car, seeing that it maybe it’s a pretty good one, but still not really knowing, being so anxious about this qualifying to really see how good it is, and then just finding out that it’s really good – crazy.

“I got through to Q3 on one set of tyres in Q2 – I only ran one set – and I don’t know, I think it was P4 or P5 or something after the first round, and then I ended up getting through in P7. Then, you know, we had some issue that they needed more time to fix it and I only got that one run again in Q3 – and then still got P7. So it’s just so, so cool. I don’t know. I’m just looking forward to it. I can’t wait to get started.”

Alonso: “I’m happy with today’s qualifying, because after the winter you never know exactly where the team’s performance is going to be. Every new season you can have positive or negative surprises, so to see both cars fighting for the top ten, is a good start. The job done over the winter at Enstone and Viry-Chatillon has clearly been positive, and the car feels good.

“The development has been good and now we need to be fast off-track as well. It’ll be interesting to see how the new cars can fight tomorrow and it’s great to see a mixed-up grid. It seems easier to follow the cars ahead, whether it provides more action on track we shall soon see, and the first couple of laps will be interesting. Tyre degradation and the resulting race strategy are going to be critical considerations for tomorrow.”

Gasly: “I’m really happy with today. We knew we’d struggle in Qualifying, which is why we started with three sets in Q1 but then I had a really strong lap in Q2 and made it through with just one new tyre, there’s no way heading into Quali that we would’ve believed that would happen. Obviously, we’d like to fight for more, but we know at the moment that we’ve got some work to do.

“Considering our performance in practice, particularly in these colder conditions, we should be really pleased with today. It’s difficult to predict what’s going to happen tomorrow, as it’s the first race with these new cars, but I think there’s going to be some good racing from what I felt in practice. We’ll aim for some good points and hopefully we have a good one.”

While there were smiles for the guys above, teams like Aston Martin, McLaren and Williams did not have much to cheer about where only two cars among them made it into Q2. For Lando Norris, it was still better than his teammate Daniel Ricciardo who lines-up in the second last row, even behind Nico Hulkenberg.

The Australian missed all of the Bahrain Test where McLaren faced issues, while he lost FP2 running due to water leak too which set him back to understand how the car behaves. For Aston Martin, though, Hulkenberg was the lone shining factor coming in last minute to replace Sebastian Vettel. Even with no time in car, he managed to out-qualify Lance Stroll.

The Canadian noted of taking the wrong direction on set-up side, but starting from the last row wasn’t on his mind after practice. And finally, for Williams, getting the tyres to work hasn’t been ideal all-weekend long with the track just not suiting the car. Alexander Albon managed to eke out more than Nicholas Latifi to find a place in Q2.

Norris: “Mixed feelings from today. I think we did a good job with what we had, we’re simply just not quite as quick as we want to be. I feel like I did a good lap and we had a good plan. We did make some improvements but, of course, so does everyone else. We do need to find a lot of pace in the car but I think we maximised what we had today and we’ll try to gain a few more positions tomorrow in the first race of the season. We’re a little bit on the back foot comparing to other teams, so there’s many things for us to learn and find out in the race tomorrow. We’re always aiming for points, and that’s what we’ll be working on tonight and into the race tomorrow.”

Hulkenberg: “Obviously we are not happy with P17 but, on a personal level, I am happy. Considering that I had very limited experience with the car, I was able to put together some clean laps without any errors. The field is very close this year so it was fine margins that stopped us from reaching Q2. The real challenge begins tomorrow for me: I have not raced a Formula One car in almost two years. You cannot really prepare for going wheel-to-wheel with other cars and having to do things like tyre management. However, I am looking forward to racing the AMR22 tomorrow and I intend to enjoy every lap in the car.”

Here’s how F1 Bahrain GP qualifying panned out