Lewis Hamilton has taken his 98th career pole with an assured performance at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The 2020 champion-elect’s time of 1m27.264s was a new track record for this layout of the Bahrain International Circuit and more than 0.289s quicker than teammate Valtteri Bottas could muster to deliver a Mercedes front-row lockout.
Hamilton, who already guaranteed himself the championship with victory at the Turkish Grand Prix two weeks ago, said he felt liberated in the car with title already secured.
“I think with the pressure a little bit off, it’s a bit of a release to drive like I just did,” he said of his 10th pole of the year. “This is the continuation of what we’re able to do together as a team. I continue to be amazed by it.”
Bottas found almost half a second between Q3 laps but still fell short of his teammate’s benchmark, and the Finn had little choice but to admit he’s lacked Hamilton’s edge all weekend.
“It felt good — that’s the problem,” he said. “The lap time is not there, that’s the most confusing part. At least we locked out the front row.”
Max Verstappen qualified third for Red Bull Racing and 0.4s off pole. The Red Bull Racing driver conceded his car didn’t have the pace to compete, and though he suggested a race of high tire wear might be to his favor, he was pessimistic about mounting a victory challenge.
“Overall I think it was quite a decent qualifying,” he said. “I definitely think they [Mercedes] picked up their pace a bit today. Tomorrow it will be hard to beat them.
“Let’s see how we’ll go tomorrow in the race — it’s very hard on tires, so I’m hoping we made the right compromise on that.
Alex Albon will start alongside his Red Bull Racing teammate on the second row, but the Thai was 0.6 slower than the sister car. Sergio Perez almost edged Albon in his Racing Point, falling just 0.048s short to slot into fifth on the grid.
Renault teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon were split by just 0.002s in sixth and seventh, with the Australian maintaining his qualifying supremacy over the Frenchman.
Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat qualified eighth and 10th for AlphaTauri, the pair split by a disappointed Lando Norris in his ninth-placed McLaren.
Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc will start 11th and 12th, testifying to Ferrari’s horsepower deficit at this power-sensitive circuit. They were evenly matched but 1.5s off the Q1 benchmark and more than a tenth shy of a Q3 berth.
Lance Stroll blamed a miscommunication with his pit wall for his lowly 13th qualification more than half a second off 10th place.
George Russell converted his ninth Q2 appearance of the year into 14th off the grid, albeit with his best time more than three seconds off the pace.
Carlos Sainz was knocked out in 15th after failing to set a time in Q2 after his rear axle locked at the first corner of his first flying lap of the segment, spinning him around and bringing his McLaren to a halt on the track. The Spaniard’s car was stranded, necessitating a red flag to recover his stricken machine. Any resultant damage to the gearbox or motor will risk dropping him further down the grid.
Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi missed out on snatching a Q2 berth by just 0.027s, instead qualifying 15h and 0.3s ahead of teammate Kimi Raikkonen.
Haas pair Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean were closely matched and equally disappointed to qualify 18th and 18th.
Nicholas Latifi was slowest of all for Williams and will start last.