Valtteri Bottas led a Mercedes front-row lockout at the Sakhir Grand Prix after narrowly beating stand-in teammate George Russell to pole position.
Bottas held provisional pole ahead of the final flying laps but failed to improve with his final effort, leaving himself vulnerable to the improving Russell, who is substituting for Lewis Hamilton this weekend after the world champion contracted COVID-19.
The young Briton started with a 0.142s deficit and set two personal best times in the second to splits, but it wasn’t enough to overturn the disadvantage, falling an agonizing 0.026s short.
It came as a relief to the Finn, who admitted his fifth pole position came on the back of an underwhelming qualifying performance.
“It’s good to be on pole, I’m happy for that,” he said. “But it’s not one of my best qualifyings. But I’m happy enough … good to see George locking the front row as well.”
Russell, who had neither qualified in the top 10 nor been beaten by a teammate in qualifying before this weekend, said he was pleased to come so close to beating Bottas after learning he would be driving the Mercedes only this week.
“It’s been in incredibly intense,” he said. “I’m really pleased. We got it pretty much all together at the final lap.
“Gutted to miss out on pole by 20 milliseconds, but if you told me last week I was qualifying second on the grid, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
Max Verstappen ran Mercedes close for Red Bull Racing, but a purple sector at the final interval wasn’t enough to split the teammates, falling 0.056 short of pole.
The Dutchman looked competitive in race trim on Friday and will start on the soft tire, whereas the two leading cars will use the medium compound for the first stint, lining up a potentially interesting strategic battle between the three.
“I think from our side we had a good qualifying,” he said. “I tried to be as close as I could today — it was a bit closer than normal, but I think the [short] layout explains that.
“It’s interesting how it’s going to play out for us. We have nothing to lose, so it’s better to have some fun tomorrow and see what we can do.”
Charles Leclerc was sensational in qualifying fourth for Ferrari. Although he was ultimately 0.236s off the pace, he said his single flyer on the one set of new tires he had available for Q3 was the most he could have extracted from his underpowered machine.
Sergio Perez qualified fifth for Racing Point to line up alongside the impressive Daniil Kvyat in sixth for AlphaTauri.
Daniel Ricciardo recovered from his difficult practice form to qualify seventh ahead of McLaren’s Carlos Sainz, a potentially crucial advantage in the fight for third in the constructors standings between the two teams.
Pierre Gasly qualified ninth for AlphaTauri ahead of Lance Stroll, who completed the top 10 for Racing Point.
Esteban Ocon couldn’t convert his single run on softs late in the session into a top-10 berth and will start 11th for Renault.
Red Bull Racing’s Alex Albon was knocked out in 12th when teammate Verstappen topped Q2. Ironically the gap between them, 0.379s, is smaller than is usually the case but amounted to a substantial difference on the grid around the short circuit.
Sebastian Vettel qualified 13th after Ferrari driver struggled to make the most of a late switch from medium tires to softs
Antonio Giovinazzi qualified 14th for Alfa Romeo ahead of a disappointed Lando Norris, who lamented to his McLaren team on his in-lap that preparation for his final flying lap was compromised by traffic.
Kevin Magnussen missed out on Q2 by just 0.085s for Haas and will start 16th.
Williams teammates Nicholas Latifi and debutant Jack Aitken qualified 17th and 18th and were split by a tenth of a second.
Kimi Raikkonen was almost half a second slower than Q2-bound Alfa Romeo teammate Giovinazzi on his way to 19th on the grid.
Pietro Fittipaldi qualified last and 0.721s shy of teammate Magnussen in 16th. The debutant Brazilian was destined to start last regardless of his result after exceeding the battery and control electronics allocation for his car, previously belonging to Romain Grosjean.