Mercedes hadn't topped any of the free practice sessions before qualifying. But Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton were both in determined mood on Saturday evening in Bahrain to outdo the competition - and each other.
Hamilton had already been narrowly fastest in both Q1 and Q2. On his first flying lap of Q3, he initially edged his team mate for provisional pole by half a tenth of a second. But it was Bottas who was able to find more speed in his second run, setting a benchmark of 1:28.769s.
Hamilton was unable to match the new target and had a poor final lap. That meant Bottas had clinched his first-ever Formula 1 pole position.
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel was almost half a second off Bottas' lap in third place ahead of the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo, who saw off Kimi Raikkonen by a couple of hundredths.
In the second Red Bull, Max Verstappen took sixth place ahead of Renault's Nico Hulkenberg. Romain Grosjean bounced back after his FP3 accident and a big lock up in Q1 to take ninth place. Jolyon Palmer will start from tenth, with Renault delighted to get both cars into the final round.
Sainz and Perez knocked out in Q1
Conditions for qualifying were better under the floodlights than they had been during the searing heat of daytime. Hamilton topped Q1 with a lap of 1:30.814s on soft compound tyres, nine hundredths of a second faster than Verstappen on the supersofts. Of the leading drivers, only Raikkonen came out for a second bite at the cherry, promoting himself to third place as the chequered flag came out.
Haas' Romain Grosjean and Renault's Jolyon Palmer looked to be in trouble before their final efforts put them clear of elimination. Pascal Wehrlein also made it through in his first qualifying session of the year for Sauber. He was just ahead of Fernando Alonso, who narrowly squeaked into Q2 six hundredths of a second ahead of Carlos Sainz. The Toro Rosso's promising second run was thwarted by a loss of power that forced him to pull over at the side of the track.
Also out at the end of the first round was Stoffel Vandoorne, who complained of very poor brakes on the McLaren. Force India's Sergio Perez was a shock elimination in 18th place, while Sauber's Marcus Ericsson and Haas' Kevin Magnussen will start from the back row of the grid on Sunday.
Alonso forced to sit out Q2
Supersofts were the unanimous choice for the second round. Hamilton edged out his team mate by two hundredths of a second with his first and only lap of Q2 of 1:29.535s. Vettel was just four hundredths further back, but Raikkonen complained of mismatched tyre temperatures and aborted his first lap.
Strong final flying laps from Hulkenberg and Palmer put both Renaults through into the top ten shoot-out. Daniil Kvyat narrowly missed out when the Toro Rosso ran wide out of the final corner on its final effort, meaning the Russian will start from 11th place.
Lance Stroll was limited to just one run in Q2 after being delayed while Williams addressed technical issues with the FW40. He ended in 12th and will start just ahead of Wehrlein and the Force India of Esteban Ocon.
Fernando Alonso didn't get to come out to play in the session at all. He's set to start from 15th place after the McLaren suffered another power unit failure.
|4||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||1:31.667s||1:30.497s||1:29.545s|
|6||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||1:30.904s||1:30.307s||1:29.687s|
|11||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||1:31.531s||1:30.923s|
|14||Esteban Ocon||Force India||1:31.774s||1:31.684s|
|16||Carlos Sainz||Toro Rosso||1:32.118s|
|18||Sergio Pérez||Force India||1:32.318s|