Lewis Hamilton’s qualifying cleansweep continued in Bahrain, where he captured an emphatic pole to make it four from four in 2015.
Sebastian Vettel prevented the expected Mercedes one-two by taking P2 for himself, however, with Ferrari noticeably closer after the first quick runs of the session.
The Ferrari was 0.411 seconds behind Hamilton’s headline time of 1 minute 32.571 seconds.
I feel great. I feel very happy,” said Hamilton. “The laps were pretty good.
“I’m really grateful to have this beast underneath me to really attack these corners. Last year I wasn’t able to do so, so it’s a great.
“Obviously that was the target, to really master this track and get the car into an area I’m really comfortable with, and that’s bow the weekend’s gone “
Vettel was similarly happy with his efforts to put Ferrari into a valuable second place, and the team is quietly confident of its chances in Sunday’s race.
“Very happy with second today,” he said. “It was a tough session that beginning.
“I didn’t find the rhythm I had in practice, [but] towards the end it was getting better — I was feeling happier in the car and more comfortable to push.
“Hopefully tomorrow we can have a good start and have a good race from there. In the race I think we are for sure a bit closer, so we’ll see what happens.”
The second Mercedes, piloted by Nico Rosberg, qualified third with a half-second deficit to his teammate.
Rosberg had a minor meltdown after missing pole and losing the race in China, but put his third place down to thinking about the race more than the task at hand.
“Strategy wise I got it wrong,” explained Rosberg. “I was thinking too much about the race and I underestimated Sebastian’s speed.
“[Because I was] taking it easy in qualifying two on the set of race tyres, I lacked the rhythm as a result. Then I had one shot at the end on a new set, that’s where I went wrong today.
“I’m disappointed because Sebastian beat me. If I was second it would still be damage limitation, but third isn’t ideal.”
Q3 was billed to be a close affair, and Daniel Ricciardo set the pace early during the top ten’s first runs, but the Red Bull was the only car shod with new set of soft tyres.
Even then, Hamilton wasted little time superseding his time by 0.3 seconds on older rubber despite Rosberg being unable to usurp the Australian himself.
Bottas slotted in behind Rosberg and ahead of the Ferraris’ Vettel and Räikkönen, with Felipe Massa and Romain Grosjean the last of the eight to partake in the first set of flying laps.
All cars returned to the pits to switch onto new softs for their final fast laps, and though Ricciardo was first out and improved his time, he was soon relegated to bit part in proceedings
Vettel seized provisional pole at first, before Valtteri Bottas put himself six-tenths of a second behind in an attempt to claim a spot on the front row.
The Williams driver was dropped to third by Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen with a four-tenths of a second buffer to temporarily lock out the front row for the Scuderia.
Rosberg was the penultimate qualifying protagonist to complete his lap but he was immediately underwhelmed with a time good enough only for P2, one-tenth behind Vettel.
Hamilton finally dealt the knockout blow for his teammate, pulling a four-tenths of a second gap over Vettel to confirm an ugly 0.5 second advantage over his teammate.
Valtteri Bottas finished just one-tenth behind the battling pack in Williams’ now-traditional third-fastest place, outpacing teammate Felipe Massa by 0.3 seconds for a Williams third row lockout.
Daniel Ricciardo was a further tenth off Massa’s pace, but could be considered out of place in P7 given the gap to his fellow Renault-powered cars, only one of which managed to make it through to Q3.
Red Bull Racing compromised Ricciardo’s aero package by running it with a low downforce configuration to compensate against Renault’s lack of straight line speed, which was as significant as 15 kilometres per hour during practice.
Nico Hülkenberg was happy to qualify eighth in a car that seemed far more suited to the desert circuit than it has on any track so far this season, though was a more than half a second behind Ricciardo.
Carlos Sainz, driving the Toro Rosso as the only other Renault representative in the top ten, missed on Hülkenberg’s sport by 0.01 seconds, but fended off Lotus’ Romain Grosjean by a similarly small margin.
Sergio Perez was denied a Q3 berth by 0.05 seconds for an apparently exuberant Force India outfit despite the negligible development of its launch-spec car.
Sauber duo Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson looked comfortable around Bahrain, with the former outqualifying his more experienced teammate by three-tenths of a second in P12 and P13.
Fernando Alonso brought the newly reunited McLaren-Honda outfit its first Q2 appearance of 2015, beating away more fancied opponents in the process to P14.
McLaren tuned up its Honda power unit in Bahrain, partly after both cars finished last week’s Chinese Grand Prix and likely partly because the Bahrain royal family owns shares in the team.
Though the effects of the power boost proved spectacularly unreliable in Jenson Button’s car, which stopped on its first lap of the evening, Alonso’s car showed the next degree of McLaren’s potential.
Max Verstappen was slowest of the middle qualifying session in his Renault-powered Toro Rosso and will start from P15.
Pastor Maldonado’s Mercedes-powered Lotus suffered an engine problem that left him vulnerable in Q1. Max Verstappen eventually obliged and pushed him into the knockout zone.
Daniil Kvyat was the biggest shock of Q1, however, with the Red Bull Racing driver qualifying a lowly P17.
Renault was significantly concerned going into the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend and was unable to guarantee failures that befall them in China last week wouldn’t occur again.
Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz temporarily looked like joining Kvyat in the knockout zone, but their final laps were quick enough to jump above the cut-off time.
Will Steven outqualified teammate Roberto Merhi for the third race in a row, this weekend by more than one second — albeit three seconds slower than the next-quickest car.
Jenson Button retired from the session almost immediately upon joining the track just eight minutes into the session.
The qualifying on-track stoppage was his third of the weekend after completing extremely limited mileage in both FP1 and FP2 on Friday.
Electrical problems have plagued the Honda power units all season, and McLaren suggested car electrics were the culprit for grinding Button’s car to a halt.
The Englishman will start last six places behind his teammate Alonso.
2015 BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX: QUALIFYING RESULTS
|7||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull/Renault||1:33.832||1.261s|
|8||Nico Hulkenberg||Force India-Mercedes||1:34.450||1.879s|
|9||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso-Renault||1:34.462||1.891s|
|11||Sergio Perez||Force India-Mercedes||1:34.704|
|15||Max Verstappen||Toro Rosso-Renault||1:35.103|
|17||Daniil Kvyat||Red Bull-Renault||1:35.800|