Charles Leclerc took the first pole position of his career with a faultless display in qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix as Sebastian Vettel made small errors.
The Ferraris looked ominously quick throughout the weekend and that form continued throughout the first two parts of qualifying, but Vettel was on the back foot after a poor opening lap in Q2 left him needing to run again. Limited to one set of tires, Vettel could only watch from the garage as Leclerc went fastest on the first runs, with the German then joining for the final attempts.
Vettel’s last lap was solid enough to get ahead of Lewis Hamilton as Mercedes improved in the final part of qualifying, but Leclerc then went even quicker on his final attempt and with pole position assured he crossed the line to extend his advantage to 0.3s with a 1m27.866s.
A 1m28.160s left Vettel just 0.03s clear of Hamilton at the end of Q3, with Valtteri Bottas also within a tenth off the second Ferrari. Regardless, Ferrari appears to have found the answers to ensure its performance in Melbourne was just a blip after such a strong pre-season.
Max Verstappen will start from fifth place, and while a half-second gap to the top two isn’t entirely out of keeping with past performances, the fact that the midfield has closed up means Verstappen was just 0.005s quicker than Kevin Magnussen in the Haas.
Carlos Sainz was similarly just 0.06s away from Verstappen on a very encouraging day for McLaren, with both cars in the top 10. Lando Norris ended up in 10th place, 0.028s off the second Haas of Romain Grosjean, who will start a provisional eighth. Grosjean is under investigation for blocking Norris in Q1, however, which could see the McLaren rookie and Kimi Raikkonen promoted.
Red Bull appeared to be struggling in Q2, and lost Pierre Gasly early for the second race in succession. The Frenchman has yet to reach Q3 in his two qualifying sessions for the team so far, and was eliminated in 13th place but was only 0.055s off a spot in the top 10.
While Gasly will have been left frustrated, both Daniel Ricciardo and Alexander Albon will have the same feeling, with Ricciardo 0.017s slower than Raikkonen in 10th, and Albon only 0.025s further back in an extremely tight end to the session. Sergio Perez was 14th ahead of Daniil Kvyat, with the Russian running wide at the final corner and aborting his final run.
If the close nature of the midfield needed highlighting at all, there was a shock in Q1 as Nico Hulkenberg dropped out early. Hulkenberg was quick throughout practice — ending FP2 in fifth and FP3 in sixth — but missed out on a place in Q2 by less than 0.1s as half a second covered fifth to 17th.
The rest of the eliminated cars were a little more predictable, with Antonio Giovinazzi sneaking ahead of Hulkenberg by 0.008s but having been hampered by a leak during FP2 that cost valuable track time. Racing Point has also struggled slightly all weekend and Lance Stroll dropped out in 18th place, 1.5 seconds clear of the Williams pair of George Russell and Robert Kubica who were separated by 0.04s in their own private battle.