Valtteri Bottas claimed pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix, edging team-mate Lewis Hamilton by just two hundredths of a second to claim the first front-of-grid start of his career. Sebastian Vettel was third for Ferrari ahead of Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo and the second Ferrari of Kimi Räikkönen.
Pascal Wehrlein got things underway in Q1 with a time of 1:33.502, but that was soon eclipsed by Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and then by Bottas, who elected to run with soft tyres as he set a P1 time of 1:31.041. The Finn was then bounced out of P1 by Verstappen who set a time of 1:30.904 on supersoft tyres. Hamilton, though, was just about to cross the line and when he did so it was in a time of 1:30.814, set on soft tyres. Both Ferrari drivers also set their opening times on soft tyres, with Vettel slotting into third behind Verstappen and Räikkönen taking seventh behind Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo.
As the clock wound down, Räikkönen elected to take to the track again, this time on supersoft tyres and despite an imperfect run that saw him go wide, breaking a piece of bodywork, the Finn climbed to third place behind Hamilton and Verstappen. The remainder of the top placed drivers chose to stay in the garage and all eased through to Q2 with Ricciardo being the lowest place of those who stuck with their first laps in P10.
At the lower end of the order, Carlos Sainz was the first driver eliminated. The Spaniard’s session ended when he pulled over at Turn 14 and reported a loss of power. That left him in P16 ahead of McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, Force India’s Sergio Pérez, Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson and the Haas of Magnussen.
As has become tradition, Mercedes were early runners in Q2 with Bottas taking the track, this time on supersofts, as did team-mate Hamilton.
The Finn set the early pace with a lap of 1:29.555 but Hamilton quickly went two hundredths of a second faster to take P1. Behind Bottas, Vettel slotted into P3 ahead of Räikkönen, Verstappen and Ricciardo.
In the drop zone ahead of the final Q2 runs were 11th placed Haas driver Romain Grosjean, followed by Force India’s Esteban Ocon, Wehrlein, Williams’ Lance Stroll and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.
Grosjean was the one to make the jump to Q3, with the Frenchman slotting into P9 as the final times were logged. Renault’s Jolyon Palmer also enjoyed a good session, making it through to Q3 for the first time in his F1 career in 10th place.
It meant that the man bumped out in P11 was Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat. The Russian might have edged Palmer but a mistake in the final corner saw the Russian run wide and the time lost cost him a Q3 berth. Eliminated behind him were Stroll, Wehrlein, Ocon and Alonso. The McLaren driver opted to not run in Q2.
It was Hamilton who held sway after the first runs, the Briton posted a provisional pole time of 1:28.792, five hundredths of a second clear of Bottas. Vettel was third ahead of Räikkönen, Verstappen and Ricciardo.
With Hamilton having beaten Bottas in the previous two qualifying sessions, the form guide dictated that it would again be the Briton on pole, but Bottas wasn’t paying attention to form and the Finn managed to find a fraction more pace on his final run to edge the three-time champion by just two hundredths of a second to take his first career pole with a lap of 1:28.769.
Vettel took third for Ferrari 0.478 behind Bottas. Ricciardo, meanwhile, put in a superb final flyer to improve on his opening time by almost half a second. That left him fourth ahead of Räikkönen and Verstappen, who did not improve on his opening time. Seventh place went to Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, with Williams’ Felipe Massa eighth ahead of Grosjean and Palmer.