MANAMA (Reuters) – Seven-times Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton stormed to pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix with a record lap in Saturday’s qualifying session, ahead of team mate Valtteri Bottas who completed a front-row lockout for Mercedes.
The Briton lapped the 5.4-kilometre floodlit Sakhir desert track in one minute 27.264 seconds, beating his Finnish team mate by 0.289 seconds.
Max Verstappen took third place for Red Bull.
It was the 98th pole of Hamilton’s career and puts him on course to complete a century, with the Bahrain race the first of a season-ending Middle Eastern triple-header.
It was his 10th pole this season and third in Bahrain, putting him level with Sebastian Vettel as the most successful qualifier at the Sakhir track.
“You know I came today and I was like, let’s just have fun and enjoy,” said Hamilton, who equalled Michael Schumacher’s record haul of seven championships at the last race, in Turkey, two weeks ago.
“And that’s the most important thing, to enjoy what you’re doing, and with the pressure a little bit off, it’s a bit of a release to go and drive like I just did.”
ALBON JOINS VERSTAPPEN ON SECOND ROW
Bottas said of his team mate: “He’s had a really good weekend overall every session.
“I’ve all the time had the feeling that I definitely have the speed but I haven’t quite got it all together,” added the Finn. “I felt like I got it together at the end but obviously it wasn’t enough.”
Verstappen had denied Hamilton, who was fastest in both practice sessions on Friday, a clean sweep when he set the pace in Saturday’s final session of running ahead of qualifying.
His hopes of denying Mercedes pole for only the second time this season came to nothing but the Dutchman and Bottas could challenge Hamilton on Sunday at a track where the pole-sitter has gone on to win only six of the 15 races to date.
“We’ll see what we can do tomorrow,” said Verstappen. “It’s quite aggressive on tyres here. Hopefully it will be quite an interesting race.”
Alexander Albon recovered from his crash in Friday’s practice to go fourth quickest. Running a new chassis, he will line up alongside team mate Verstappen on the second row of the grid.
Sergio Perez was fifth for Racing Point ahead of Renault pair Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon, while Pierre Gasly was eighth for AlphaTauri ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris.
Daniil Kvyat in the other AlphaTauri rounded out the top 10.
Ferrari, dominant in Bahrain last year when they locked out the top two spots in every session of practice and qualifying, failed to make it into the top 10 this time. They will start with Vettel in 11th and Charles Leclerc 12th.
Lance Stroll, on pole in Turkey, was only 13th.
The hour-long session was interrupted briefly after a spin for Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard’s McLaren appeared to suffer a locked rear axle under braking for the first corner, which left him stranded at the edge of the track.
(Reporting by Abhishek Takle; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Clare Fallon)