Valtteri Bottas claimed his first Formula 1 pole position by edging out his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton in a tight Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying duel.
Hamilton had taken P1 in the past two races this season and led the way again through Q1, Q2 and the initial runs in Q3 at Sakhir, but Bottas hit top position on his final run with a lap of one minute, 28.769 seconds.
Hamilton lost a chunk of time in the second sector of his final lap, and also had an oversteer moment at the final corner, so was unable to improve. He ended up second quickest by just 0.023 seconds.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was almost half a second further back in third, suggesting he “tried a bit too hard” on his final Q3 run, which was slower than his first.
Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull split the Ferraris by setting the fourth fastest time on his final run, just 0.022 seconds clear of Kimi Raikkonen.
Max Verstappen was a tenth further back, while Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg beat Felipe Massa’s Williams to the seventh fastest time, with a lap that was within two tenths of Verstappen’s.
Romain Grosjean again got the Haas team into Q3, ending up eighth quickest, well down on Massa and three tenths clear of Jolyon Palmer’s Renault.
Palmer made Q3 for the first time in his Formula 1 career, but eventually qualified over 1.2 seconds down on Renault team-mate Hulkenberg.
Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat missed out on making the top ten shootout by less than half a tenth of a second, running wide at the final corner and failing to improve on his final Q2 run.
Lance Stroll made only one run after his Williams spent a long period making adjustments in the garage and he ended up only P12.
Pascal Wehrlein qualified a brilliant P13 in the Sauber, on a track he starred at last season for Manor, ahead of the Force India of fellow Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon, and the McLaren-Honda of Fernando Alonso, who didn’t set a time in Q2 after “we broke the power unit”.
Alonso scraped his McLaren-Honda into Q2 thanks to the Toro Rosso of fellow Spaniard Carlos Sainz stopping at the final corner in the final moments of Q1.
This relegated Sainz to P16 thanks to rivals earlier improving their times, and it also forced Sergio Perez to back off while on a hot lap in his Force India.
Perez still improved by nearly four tenths of a second, but this still left him down in P18, 0.005 seconds behind the second McLaren-Honda of Stoffel Vandoorne, who had outpaced Alonso fractionally during the initial runs in Q1.
Marcus Ericsson was only P19, over half a second slower than Sauber team-mate Wehrlein, while Haas’s Kevin Magnussen qualified slowest of all after aborting his final flying lap for the yellow flags displayed for Sainz’s stricken Toro Rosso.
So a fantastic performance by Valtteri Bottas. His first pole in the sport and earning his Mercedes team a front row grid slot with Lewis Hamilton slotting in second. It’s going to be fascinating to see who will have the upper hand in the race. Bring on the Bottas versus Hamilton desert duel.
Bahrain Grand Prix, qualifying positions:
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m28.769s
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m28.792s
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m29.247s
4 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 1m29.545s
5 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m29.567s
6 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 1m29.687s
7 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m29.842s
8 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1m30.074s
9 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m30.763s
10 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1m31.074s
11 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso-Renault 1m30.923s
12 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1m31.168s
13 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber-Ferrari 1m31.414s
14 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 1m31.684s
15 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Honda No time
16 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso-Renault 1m32.118s
17 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Honda 1m32.313s
18 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m32.318s
19 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m32.543s
20 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m32.900s