Valtteri Bottas has claimed his first F1 career pole position in qualifying for the 2017 Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir.
Bottas and Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton were closely matched throughout the session, with the Finn marginally quicker at the beginning of the pair’s final laps, but a poor middle sector from Hamilton handed pole to the younger man.
“Obviously really happy,” said Bottas. “It’s my fifth season now in Formula One — it took a few races, but I got it!
“I think we’ve done a really good job this weekend to focus on the evening conditions. Hopefully that’s going to help us tomorrow, so I’m grateful to the team.”
Hamilton’s margin to Bottas stood at 0.023 seconds at the end of qualifying, but the two Silver Arrows held more than 0.4 seconds in hand over the rest of the field.
“Firstly, a big congratulations to Valtteri,” Hamilton said. “He’s been working so hard and has done so well with the team.
“Today he was just quicker and did the better job, so hat off to him.
“That’s how close I think qualifying should always be. It forced us to be always on the limit.”
Sebastian Vettel was next quickest in third, the Ferrari driver too distant from the Mercedes duo to challenge for the front row but with a 0.3-second margin to his next-best rivals.
“Overall I was very happy with how qualifying went and how the car felt,” said Vettel.
“I was very happy to go into Q3, I was very happy with my first lap [but] when I got to the time, I was a bit down, to be honest, because four tenths was a lot more than I expected and more than I felt.”
Daniel Ricciardo impressed with fourth place, splitting Vettel from teammate Kimi Räikkönen, who qualified fifth and a significant 0.798 seconds behind pole — or 0.320 slower than his German teammate.
Max Verstappen’s best lap was good enough for sixth, 0.918 seconds off the pace and only one tenth ahead of a superb Nico Hülkenberg in his Renault.
Hülkenberg was separated from Felipe Massa’s Williams in eight by 0.3 seconds, who in turn held 0.6 seconds over Romain Grosjean’s Haas.
Jolyon Palmer brought up the rear of the top 10 in his first ever Q3 appearance in Formula One, but the Briton was a woeful 1.2 seconds off his Renault teammate’s pace.
The second segment of qualifying came down to a final flurry of laps at the chequered flag, the result of which was P9 to P13 separated by just half a second.
Jolyon Palmer snuck through to Q3 in tenth just 0.04 seconds ahead of Daniil Kvyat, who made a mistake on his quickest lap.
Lance Stroll couldn’t repeat his Chinese Q3 appearance, the Canadian knocked out in P12 0.2 seconds ahead of Sauber’s Pascal Wehrlein.
Esteban Ocon could manage just P14, while McLaren’s Fernando Alonso ended the session without a time when the Spaniard’s Honda power unit failed, requiring an engine change for Sunday’s race.
Qualifying got underway as the sun set, but the twilight did nothing to alter the lower midfield order.
The fight to avoid elimination was fought chiefly amongst McLaren and Sauber, but a number of higher midfield teams struggled to set clean, competitive laps.
Carlos Sainz was due to put his Toro Rosso into the second segment of qualifying, but on his final hot lap his car lost power, forcing him to pull to the side of the road with just the sixteenth-fastest time.
Stoffel Vandoorne was again eliminated in the bottom five, this time in P17 and again outqualified by Fernando Alonso.
Sergio Perez, meanwhile, was the shock elimination of the session despite upgrades to his Force India car ensuring the progression of teammate Esteban Ocon.
Marcus Ericsson qualified nineteenth and was thoroughly outperformed by his returning teammate, Pascal Wehrlein, who put 0.6 seconds between the two Sauber cars.
Kevin Magnussen, after scoring his first points for Haas last weekend in China, was the slowest of all at the end of the first session.