Valtteri Bottas beat his new Mercedes teammate George Russell – who is subbing the sick Lewis Hamilton – to pole position in the Sakhir Grand Prix.
With last weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix polesitter and race winner Lewis Hamilton absent after his positive COVID-19 test last week, the main focus of qualifying was whether Russell could beat Bottas to pole or suffer the first qualifying defeat to a teammate in his short Formula 1 career so far.
After the Mercedes duo had been the only drivers to get through Q2 on the medium tyres, which they will use at the start of Sunday’s race, the Black Arrows unusually opted to give them three runs in Q3.
Their first flying efforts were completed on used tyres, which meant they initially sat behind Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc on the leaderboard.
But Mercedes went again during the middle phase of the final segment of the session, with Bottas leading the way and blitzing to a 53.377 seconds, with Russell 0.142 seconds adrift.
On their final runs in the final minute, Bottas could not improve his time but held on to pole as Williams regular Russell could only close to 0.026 seconds in what was the first time he had competed in a Q3 session.
Verstappen, who went into qualifying with some hope having topped FP3 and had attempted to get through Q2 on the mediums before later going faster on the softs, finished third, with Leclerc hanging on to fourth despite getting out of his car after his run at the start of Q3 had finished.
The Ferrari driver only had one set of new softs available and therefore did not go back on to the track, but his 53.613 seconds was enough to leave ahead of Sergio Perez.
Daniil Kvyat took sixth for AlphaTauri, with Daniel Ricciardo, Carlos Sainz, Pierre Gasly and Lance Stroll rounding out the top ten.
Esteban Ocon was shuffled down the order as the chequered flag was waved. The Renault driver was knocked him out in P11 at the end of Q2, with Alex Albon out in P12 – missing Q3 for the third time this season.
Sebastian Vettel had attempted to get through on the mediums during the early Q2 running, as did his teammate Charles Leclerc, but the four-time world champion could not improve enough after switching to the softs for the final runs.
That left Vettel P13, ahead of Antonio Giovinazzi, while Lando Norris was the lowest driver eliminated in Q2 as he finished P15.
The McLaren driver had run at the head of the pack for the final run, but abandoned his first attempt at last flying lap before going again in the dying seconds – a lap he also completed well off the pace, later saying on the team radio “sorry guys, we went too early”.
In Q1, Kevin Magnussen was knocked out in P16, with Albon just scrapping through ahead in P15 as Red Bull kept him in the pits for the final minutes of the opening segment.
The Williams pair of Nicholas Latifi and Jack Aitken came next, with Latifi ahead – but only after his new teammate had led the way in the first three runs in Q1 before the Canadian was able to steal ahead by nearly a tenth.
Formula 1’s most experienced driver, Kimi Raikkonen, ended up sandwiched between the two newest drivers – as the Alfa Romeo racer could only manage P19, with Romain Grosjean stand-in Pietro Fittipaldi bringing up the rear of the field in P20 for Haas.
So solid qualifying effort from George Russell to get P2. While Valtteri Bottas stepped up to the challenge by taking pole position. It’s going to be fascinating who will win the Sakhir Grand Prix as the outer Bahrain circuit has never been ran before and the lap time is under 60 seconds, meaning a fast and frantic race. May the best driver win.
Sakhir Grand Prix, qualifying positions:
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 53.377s
2 George Russell Mercedes 53.403s
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 53.433s
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 53.613s
5 Sergio Perez Racing Point-Mercedes 53.790s
6 Daniil Kvyat AlphaTauri-Honda 53.906s
7 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 53.957s
8 Carlos Sainz Jr. McLaren-Renault 54.010s
9 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 54.154s
10 Lance Stroll Racing Point-Mercedes 54.200s
11 Esteban Ocon Renault 53.995s
12 Alex Albon Red Bull-Honda 54.026s
13 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 54.175s
14 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 54.377s
15 Lando Norris McLaren-Renault 54.693s
16 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 54.705s
17 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 54.796s
18 Jack Aitken Williams-Mercedes 54.892s
19 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 54.963s
20 Pietro Fittipaldi Haas-Ferrari 55.426s