Two—time world champion Sebastian Vettel took pole position for the first time this season on Saturday, edging out McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton at the Bahrain Grand Prix, where security remained tight amid expectations of fresh anti—government protests.
Vettel, whose best finish this year was second place at the season—opening Australian Grand Prix, clocked 1 minute, 32.422 seconds in his Red Bull.
The German’s time was 0.98 seconds quicker than championship leader Hamilton who like Vettel is looking for his first win of the season. Hamilton has finished third in all three previous races this season.
Vettel’s Red Bull teammate Mark Webber was third followed by the other McLaren of Jenson Button.
Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg, who won his first grand prix in China last week, took fifth place on the grid but his teammate Michael Schumacher didn’t get past the first qualifying session and will start down in 18th.
Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo will start sixth in his highest ever grid postion in his short F1 career.
Ferrari, meanwhile, continued to struggle with pace. Fernando Alonso qualified ninth, although he didn’t run in the final qualifying session in order to save a set a tires for the race, which is expected to be particularly hard on tires. Felipe Massa was down in 14th Brazil, failing to get past the second qualifying session.
Force India’s Paul di Resta also didn’t run in Q3 and will start 10th.
Drivers for much of the day struggled with tough conditions on the track, with temperatures reaching 43 degrees Celsius (109 degrees Fahrenheit) and winds whipping up sand from the surrounding desert.
Security was tight following days of sometimes violent anti—government protests in Bahrain.
Bahrain authorities opened an investigation Saturday after the body of a man was found near the scene of Friday’s clashes between protesters and security forces in an area about 20 kilometers from the circuit.
Opposition groups claimed the man was killed by riot police in another possible blow to the Gulf nation as it struggles to quell unrest during the highly awaited return of the race after it had to be canceled last year.
A statement by Bahrain’s Interior Ministry said a probe was under way but the death nonetheless will likely intensify a wave of expected protests against the race later in the day.
There were checkpoints on the roads leading to the Bahrain International Circuit. Additional security troops have been deployed around the circuit and across the capital, Manama. But there were no signs of protests early Saturday anywhere near the circuit.
Demonstrators have called for the race to be canceled until the ruling Sunni dynasty enacts meaningful reforms aimed at addressing the concerns of the Shiite majority and ends its rights abuses.
Social media sites urged demonstrations as part of an opposition effort to use the worldwide spotlight on the race to press demands for a greater political voice. Bahrain’s Shiite majority claims it faces widespread discrimination at the hands of the Western—backed Sunni monarchy.
At least 50 people have died in the unrest since February 2011.
Keywords: Bahrain Grand Prix