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Red Bull’s Vettel On F1 Pole In Troubled Bahrain

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 21 2012

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Two-time World Driving Champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull Racing broke out of a puzzling mini-slump Saturday, qualifying on-pole for the politically troubled Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir.

Vettel, who set a record with 15 poles during the 2011 FIA Formula 1 season, earned his first pole for the fourth race of 2012 in 1 minute, 32.422-seconds at the expense of points-leader Lewis Hamilton of McLaren/Mercedes (1:32.520). Red Bull’s Mark Webber rounded out the podium qualifiers at 1:32.637-seconds.

“It feels great and I completely owe this one to the team,” said Vettel, who earned the 31st pole of his F1 career. “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, trimming here and there and finding the right way to go forward.

“The boys haven’t had much sleep the last few races – it was a tough race last weekend in China and now here, so it’s good to put the car on pole for them.”

Jenson Button of McLaren/Mercedes, winner of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, will start fourth alongside Nico Rosberg, winner of last Sunday’s race in China for Mercedes. Rosberg’s teammate, seven-time World Champion Michael Schumacher, failed to get out of the first session due to mechanical failure and qualified 18th. Schumacher holds the track record around the 3.363-mile/14-turn layout at 1:32.252-seconds set in 2004.

Daniel Ricciardo of Scuderia Toro Rosso/Ferrari will start sixth, his highest grid position in F1. Scuderia Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, a two-time World Champion and winner of the Malaysian Grand Prix, will start ninth after opting to sit-out the final session to save a set of Pirelli tires for the 57-lap/189.559-mile race. Teams have experienced tire degradation on a Sakhir Circuit that has been plagued by temperatures as high as 109 degrees and wind-whipped dust from the desert.

The venue has not hosted an F1 event since 2010 – when Vettel qualified on-pole and Alonso won – and the massive grandstands were eerily nearly empty during time trials. Last year’s race was canceled because of anti-government protests that remain a concern for event organizers and the sanctioning FIA. Several websites reported security remained tight around the elaborate facility, and that checkpoints were in place on roads leading to Bahrain International Airport.

Bahrain’s Interior Ministry reportedly opened an investigation Saturday after the body of a man was found near the scene of Friday’s clashes between protesters and security forces near the circuit. Demonstrators continue to demand that the race to be canceled until the ruling Sunni dynasty enacts meaningful reforms aimed at addressing concerns of the Shiite majority. At least 50 people have died in the unrest since February 2011.

SPEED’s live coverage in the USA is set for Sunday at 7:30 a.m. (EDT).

Starting grid for the Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix with driver, country, team and time:

1. Sebastian Vettel, Germany, Red Bull Racing/Renault, 1 minute, 32.422-seconds

2. Lewis Hamilton, Great Britain, Vodafone McLaren/Mercedes, 1:32.520

3. Mark Webber, Australia, Red Bull Racing/Renault, 1:32.637

4. Jenson Button, Great Britain, Vodafone McLaren/Mercedes, 1:32.711

5. Nico Rosberg, Germany, Mercedes AMG, 1:32.821

6. Daniel Ricciardo, Australia, Scuderia Toro Rosso/Ferrari, 1:32.912

7. Romain Grosjean, Switzlerland, Lotus/Renault F1 Team, 1:33.008

8. Sergio Perez, Mexico, Sauber/Ferrari, 1:33.394

9. Fernando Alonso, Spain, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, No Time

10. Paul di Resta, Great Britain, Force India/Mercedes, No Time

11. Kimi Raikkonen, Finland, Lotus/Renault F1 Team, 1:33.789

12. Kamui Kobayashi, Japan, Sauber/Ferrari, 1:33.806

13. Nico Hulkenberg, Germany, Force India/Mercedes, 1:33.807

14. Felipe Massa, Brazil, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, 1:33.912

15. Bruno Senna, Brazil, Williams/Renault, 1:34.017

16. Heikki Kovalainen, Finland, Caterham/Renault, 1:36.132

17. Pastor Maldonado, Venezuela, Williams/Renault, No Time*

18. Michael Schumacher, Germany, Mercedes AMG, 1:34.865

19. Jean-Eric Vergne, France, Scuderia Toro Rosso/Ferrari, 1:35.014

20. Vitaly Petrov, Russia, Caterham/Renault, 1:35.823

21. Charles Pic, France, Marussia/Cosworth, 1:37.683

22. Pedro de la Rosa, Spain, HRT/Cosworth-F1, 1:37.883

23. Timo Glock, Germany, Marussia/Cosworth, 1:37.905

24. Narain Karthikeyan, India, HRT/Cosworth-F1, 1:38.314

*Pastor Maldonado qualified 17th but will start 22nd because of an unscheduled gearbox change and five grid-spot penalty.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 21 2012
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