Formula One: Stoffel out-qualifies veteran Button on his début

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Qualifying in Bahrain was almost a carbon copy of Mclaren’s qualifying performance in Australia a fortnight ago.

Both drivers conducted two runs on the Option tyre in Q1, comfortably edging through into Q2. In the second session, without a second set of tyres to take the fight to the cars at the front, each driver completed a single run, establishing us on the fringes of the top 10, just as in Melbourne.

Stoffel will start his first grand prix 12th; Jenson, who wasn’t entirely happy with his car’s balance during his Q2 lap, will line up directly behind him in 14th.

Stoffel Vandoorne

I think I can be pretty happy with today’s result. I didn’t really know what to expect, but from yesterday onwards I’ve felt quite confident in the car and today was all about fine-tuning it.

“Free practice earlier today was quite good; I still knew there was a bit more time to come, and I think we more or less maximised everything in qualifying today. It was a close call in Q1, but then in Q2 I had a clean lap without mistakes. We could see it was very close in front of us, and if we’d gained one or two tenths we could maybe have got into Q3. So unless you’re on pole there’s always some margin for improvement, but overall I’m very happy with the qualifying I just had.

“I knew after yesterday and this morning that I had quite similar pace to Jenson, and that if I improved a little bit I could maybe therefore challenge him. He’s a world champion, and an excellent driver obviously, so he’s been a really good benchmark for me this weekend. I have a lot of respect for him.

“I’ve won here in Bahrain before, and I like the circuit. I know it well – and it definitely helps if you know a circuit before you make your grand prix debut there. Obviously I didn’t know the car before getting here this weekend, but it helped that I knew the circuit.

“It’s a good feeling to have done a decent job, but now our focus in only on tomorrow: to try to have a good race. It’s not really sunk in yet that tomorrow I’ll drive my first grand prix – I’ve just been focusing on qualifying so far – but now I’ve got some time to think, prepare for the race and do my very best to make a good job of it.

“There’s lots to analyse before tomorrow, lots of different strategies to go through, but I feel confident I can do an okay job. What it will bring us, I think it’s still too early to say, and I don’t want to make any predictions. So we’ll see.”

Jenson Button

“The car has been really good all weekend: I’ve been mostly struggling with a bit of understeer, but, for my Q2 run, we came up a tiny bit on the front wing, and the car was the complete opposite – big oversteer.

“Oversteer is not something I particularly like – so I wasn’t very happy with my Q2 lap. Having said that, Stoffel did a good job today, and I didn’t do such a good job. He’s very competitive, he’s quick, he’s won here before, and I think he’s proven how good he is around a place like this. We knew how quick he could be – especially over one lap. He’s been a big part of this team for the past couple of years, and as I say he did a really good job.

“Still, we know the pace is in the car, so hopefully tomorrow will be a bit better. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen in the race. It’s a tricky one – we’ve got three different tyres to work with, and I think we have a reasonable understanding of what to do, but you never know until the race starts. There are so many options – and we fell foul of that at the last race, so hopefully we won’t do that here and we’ll have a stronger performance on Sunday.

“There’s definitely more to come from the full package.”

Eric Boullier

“Although we’ll never be exultant about 12th and 14th place on the grid, undoubtedly Stoffel’s qualifying performance on his first ever grand prix Saturday was pretty special.

“We already knew he was quick – he’s shown that countless times in World Series by Renault 3.5, in GP2 and indeed in testing for McLaren – but what has been so particularly commendable these past two days has been his studious dedication to the complex procedural endeavour that constitutes getting the very best out of today’s state-of-the-art Formula 1 cars. He didn’t put a foot wrong. Chapeau!

“I also want to say ‘well done’ to the team, who have prepared him so well for his grand prix debut weekend, and who made sure that he was able to slide into Fernando’s car so seamlessly here at such short notice.

“Jenson did his usual very professional job, and may well have gone quicker still had we optimised his Q2 set-up. In Q1 he’d had a bit of understeer, so we’d attempted to dial it out in Q2 by giving him a little bit more front wing. But, as things turned out, we slightly over-compensated, and the result was oversteer.

“Having said all that, both our drivers are well positioned to mount a sustained attack on the Bahrain International Circuit tomorrow evening, in an effort to score points if possible, and to put on a good show for our Bahraini part-shareholders, who’ll be watching the race in our paddock hospitality units as avidly as always.”

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