Vettel leads Ferrari front-row lockout in Bahrain

Sebastian Vettel on track at the 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix.

Sebastian Vettel has taken Ferrari’s first pole position of the season with a last-gasp qualifying lap in Bahrain.

The German spent most of the day behind teammate Kimi Raikkonen, and the Finn held provisional pole over Vettel by 0.095 seconds after the first Q3 runs, but he reversed his deficit by more than two tenths, securing P1 by 0.143 seconds

“Quite intense!” Vettel said. “First run in Q3 I was very happy — and then I tossed it away in the last corner.

“Really happy that I got the second run and got it clean.

“The car was excellent all weekend so far, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

Raikkonen has always performed strongly in Bahrain, so the Finn was disappointed to the inferior driver in Ferrari’s front-row lockout.

“For sure not ideal. Far from ideal in the last turn with the traffic, but what can I do?” he asked rhetorically.

“Obviously it’s one Saturday. Tomorrow’s the main thing. Tomorrow’s the time we get the points or don’t get the points, so obviously we’ll see what we can do then.”

Valtteri Bottas, who scored his first career pole in Bahrain last season, qualified third, just 0.166 seconds off the pace.

“I think it felt okay,” he said. “The laps were okay and getting better towards the end. I got it more or less.

“I think these guys with the red car are just a bit too quick. We can’t be happy with this, but we’re looking forward to tomorrow.”

Lewis Hamilton qualified fourth, 0.1 seconds behind Bottas, but the reigning world champion will serve a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change and start from P9.

Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo qualified fifth but will therefore start from the second row alongside Bottas.

Pierre Gasly completed a sensational afternoon by setting the sixth-fastest time, marking his Toro Rosso-Honda team as the fastest car of the midfield in Bahrain.

The Frenchman, Haas’s Kevin Magnussen, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and Force India’s Esteban Ocon will be bumped up to placed five to eight ahead of the penalised Lewis Hamilton.

Renault’s Carlos Sainz qualified 10th and last for the session.

There were two extra Q3 spots up for grabs with Max Verstappen sitting out Q2 after his earlier crash and Romain Grosjean eliminated in Q1, and the shootout came down to a battle between Force India and Toro Rosso.

Pierre Gasly was in impressive form all afternoon and secured ninth in the session for Toro Rosso-Honda ahead of Force India’s Esteban Ocon in 10th.

Brendon Hartley missed out on getting a second Toro Rosso into the shootout by less than a tenth of a second in P11, but he kept at bay Sergio Perez in P12.

McLaren only just scraped through to Q2 in the first place and ended up playing little part in the fight for the top 10, with Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne qualifying P13 and P14.

Verstappen’s crashed RB14 qualified P15, though the Dutchman didn’t take part in the session.

With the sun set and the floodlights on, Toro Rosso sent Brendon Hartley out amongst the first group of drivers to set a time early, but the Kiwi’s car was struck by a bird, damaging his front wing and requiring a change.

It was the first incident of an action-packed session as the drivers adjusted to the cooler night-time conditions after the sunny FP3 earlier in the day — Max Verstappen caused a temporary halt to proceedings with five and a half minutes remaining when he crashed his car at turn two.

The Red Bull Racing driver oversteered on the corner apex and lost control of the rear, sending him sliding into the inside barrier.

When the session resumed Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas sat atop the time sheet despite setting their best times on the soft-compound tyre to maintain their reserves of the faster supersoft tyres for later sessions. Neither they nor Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Riccardo in fifth and sixth left the pits for another lap.

But the final moments of the session were chaotic, with all 14 remaining drivers taking to the track at once.

McLaren’s Fernando Alonso was the man under most pressure after failing to set a time good enough for the top 15 thanks to a yellow flag disabling his DRS on his fastest lap.

The Spaniard improved his time, but not by much — he set the same time as Haas’s Romain Grosjean, who was the first driver eliminated in P16, but edged him by setting it first.

The Frenchman put his comedown from P7 on the Australian grid two weeks ago to a bad out-lap.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson qualified P17 but half a second behind the Haas, with William’s Sergey Sirotkin a further 0.4 seconds behind the Swede.

Their respective teammates, Charles Leclerc and Lance Stroll, qualified in P19 and P20.