Hamilton leads Mercedes front-row lockout in Bahrain

Lewis Hamilton is on track to take a century of pole positions this season after recording his 98th qualifying triumph at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The Mercedes driver set a new track record to beat teammate Valtteri Bottas to pole by 0.289 seconds for Mercedes’s 11th front row lockout of the year.

Hamilton already holds the record for most pole positions in Formula One, and with two rounds remining after this weekend’s race the Briton could raise the bar to 100 at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in a fortnight.

This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.

Aiding him is a newfound sense of freedom since securing his seventh world championship two weeks ago in Turkey, which he credited for claiming this weekend’s comfortable pole.

“I think with the pressure a little bit off, it’s a bit of a release to drive like I just did,” he said. “This is the continuation of what we’re able to do together as a team, I continue to be amazed by it.”

Bottas was mystified by the gap to his teammate and was forced to admit he had no answers to Hamilton’s pace.

“It felt good,” he said of his qualifying. “That’s the problem — the lap tie is not there, that’s the most confusing part.

“There were no mistakes and the last lap I thought was really good.”

Even so, the Finn’s best effort was enough to keep Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen at bay, relegating him to third on the grid, and the Dutchman admitted he was pessimistic he could compete for victory.”

“I definitely think they [Mercedes] picked up their pace a bit today,” he said. “Tomorrow it will be hard to beat them.”

Thai teammate Alex Albon will start alongside him on the grid from fourth, albeit having qualified 0.6s off the pace.

Albon’s future remains unclear, with Red Bull Racing so far unwilling to commit to retaining him after a lacklustre sophomore season in the sport.

Sergio Perez was a strong fifth only 0.048s shy of Albon’s best effort, but his Racing Point team will be wary of Renault teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon starting behind him in sixth and seventh as the two teams battle for third in the championship.

AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly qualified eighth after McLaren’s Lando Norris made a mistake at the first corner of his final lap to qualify ninth, while Daniil Kvyat will start 10th.

Both Ferrari drivers were eliminated in Q2, with Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc set to start 11th and 12th at the power-sensitive circuit.

Lance Stroll was a shock knockout in 13th, the Canadian half a second off the time required for the top-10 shootout.

George Russell was 14th in his ninth Q2 appearance of the year in his uncompetitive Williams car.

Carlos Sainz was knocked out in 15th after the Spaniard’s rear axle seized at the first corner of his first flying lap in Q2. The McLaren driver had been fifth fastest in Saturday practice but is at risk of starting near the back of the grid if his gearbox of power unit were damaged in the incident.

Alfa Romeo teammates Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen will start 16th and 17th ahead of Haas partners Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean.

Williams rookie Nicholas Latifi will start 20th and last.