There may be an unsettling and unfamiliar backdrop to the fourth race of this season’s Formula One campaign, but there was a more-than-familiar outcome to qualifying as Sebastian Vettel claimed his first pole position of the season.
Vettel started at the front of the grid on 15 occasions in last year’s championship-winning season, and the German will be delighted to find himself back in familiar surroundings after struggling to replicate that form so far this time around.
Indeed before Bahrain, Vettel’s highest qualifying position was fifth, having also failed to out-qualify teammate Mark Webber in any of the three opening races.
His Australian colleague has had to settle for sitting directly behind Vettel this time round though, with Hamilton (2/1 to win on Sunday) 0.098 seconds slower and in second.
And with the two-time winner claiming to finally be satisfied with the way the Red Bull car feels, Sunday’s race could see his bid for a third successive title begin in earnest.
Vettel is the 6/4 favourite to win at a circuit that holds painful memories – in 2010 he led from pole for 33 laps before a gearbox issue forced him to concede the lead to eventual victor Fernando Alonso, finishing back in fourth.
Elsewhere in the field, Jenson Button – only two points behind championship leader Lewis Hamilton – will start in fourth but remains third favourite to win the race at 5/1, while Nico Rosberg, fresh from his maiden Grand Prix win in Shanghai, sits in fifth.
Winner of the last race held at the Bahrain International Circuit in 2010, Alonso, will start in ninth place after opting not to set a time in final qualifying, preferring instead to save a set of tyres for the race.
Tyre life is expected to be a key factor on a circuit where track temperatures can reach 60 degrees, so should the Spaniard’s bold tactics pay off, Alonso could be one of the better outside bets at 40/1.
Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher’s recent upturn in fortunes came to an end as the racing legend failed to make it out of the first qualifying session, meaning he’ll start 17th on the grid and a hefty 66/1 to win.