Leclerc snatches maiden pole as Ferrari locks out Bahrain front row

Pole for Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF90, 2nd for Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari and 3rd for Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1.
© XPB 

Ferrari's new 21-year-old driver Charles Leclerc became the second youngest polesitter in F1 history after beating his team mate Sebastian Vettel to the top spot for Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix.

It's Ferrari's 62nd front row lock-out, with the two Mercedes drivers three tenths of a second off the pace of their rivals. Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will have to settle for a second row formation in tomorrow's race.

Max Verstappen claimed fifth on the grid for Red Bull ahead of Haas' Kevin Magnussen, with Carlos Sainz taking a commendable seventh ahead of Romain Grosjean, Kimi Raikkonen and Lando Norris.

Nico Hulkenberg (GER) Renault F1 Team RS19.

Q1: Ferrari fastest, but Hulkenberg falls at the first

The setting sun, falling temperatures and sparkling floodlights set the scene for the first round of qualifying in Bahrain, as the first cars emerged from the pit lane to begin the 18-minute segment. They were led by Williams' Robert Kubica who had previously been pole winner here all the way back in 2008 with BMW Sauber; this time it was Toro Rosso's Alex Albon who set the initial benchmark of 1:31.125s.

It proved to be a slow start to the session, with the front runners holding back until a full six minutes had passed before coming out to play. No sooner had Mercedes duo Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton gone top than they were displaced by a mighty effort from Ferrari new boy Charles Leclerc posting a time of 1:28.495s, over two tenths faster than team mate Sebastian Vettel and a full second clear of Bottas. A second push from Hamilton put the reigning champion up to third, but he remained 0.767s off Leclerc's top time so far.

Carlos Sainz proved that McLaren's earlier practice pace was no flash in the pan by going fifth, just three hundredths behind Bottas. His rookie team mate Lando Norris had been looking even faster on his lap before running up behind a dawdling Romain Grosjean in the Haas who appeared unaware of his presence, resulting in a near-miss that prompted post-session interest from the race stewards.

On the elimination bubble after the first run was Racing Point's Lance Stroll, with Toro Rosso's Daniil Kvyat on the wrong side of the cut. Antonio Giovinazzi was also struggling in the Alfa Romeo, with Sergio Perez slightly further back albeit still a second faster than the two Williams of Kubica and George Russell.

Everyone at risk of missing out on Q2 had time for one more run; even Sainz felt the need to cover his fifth position, although Red Bull's Max Verstappen was content to stay in the garage even though he sat two places further back. Kvyat soon demonstrated the opportunity available to those now out on track by leaping up to ninth place, with Norris shooting up to fourth with his own latest run.

Perez was also able to claw his way to safety in 13th ahead of Red Bull's Pierre Gasly and Alfa Romeo's Kimi Raikkonen, but there was no such good news for Giovinazzi who was the first of the five to miss the cut. The shock of the session was Nico Hulkenberg ending up 17th in the Renault ahead of Stroll and the still-moribund brace of Williams drivers.

Sebastian Vettel (GER), Scuderia Ferrari 30.03.2019.

Q2: Leclerc stays on top, Vettel grapples with traffic

First blood in the second round went to Hamilton with an opening gambit of 1:28.578s, a quarter of a second quicker than Bottas with Kevin Magnussen third fastest for Haas ahead of the two McLarens of Norris and Sainz.

Another superlative lap for Leclerc saw the Ferrari go half a second clear of the rest of the field, but the news was less good for Vettel who lost a bunch of time in traffic in the middle sector and was only sixth fastest just behind a new effort from Red Bull's Max Verstappen. Vettel wasn't happy with the tean's decision when to send him out - "Okay that was the worst spot ever!" - and now faced a second run and squandering another set of of soft tyres to ensure progression.

At the half-way point of the segment, Raikkonen was clinging on to the final prospective Q3 spot but had just 0.017s in hand over Renault's Daniel Ricciardo. Gasly, Kvyat, Albon and Perez were also looking up against it if they were to make it through to the top ten pole shoot-out round.

Only Leclerc, Hamilton and Bottas were content to stay in pit lane as the clock counted down to the end of the session, with Vettel proving a point by claiming his rightful second place at the second attempt. On the flip side, Kvyat aborted his final run, meaning that he was the first driver officially out of the running to make Q3.

Ricciardo was unable to improve on his earlier time and finished the session in 11th, ahead of a slightly improved Albon in 12th. Gasly reported traction issues preventing him opening up the throttle fully as he ended up in 13th ahead of Perez and Kvyat. It meant that Raikkonen did progress in tenth, the first time that the former Sauber squad had made it through to Q3 in Bahrain since 2012.

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF90 takes his 1st pole position.

Q3: Leclerc out of reach as Ferrari completes sweep

A great effort from Magnussen put the Haas ahead of Sainz, Grosjean, Norris and Raikkonen, before the two Mercedes cars claimed the top honours with Hamilton holding the advantage over Bottas.

However once again Ferrari were operating at a different level, Leclerc shooting ahead with a time of 1:27.958s, matching last year's pole and more than two tenths ahead of both Silver Arrows. Meanwhile Vettel was playing the long game, making up for his Q2 issues by making only one run in Q3. Similarly, Verstappen had only one set of new tyres left to him for the session and therefore was in no hurry to join the fray.

There was only a short intermission before everyone was back out for their final push of the day, Leclerc the final man on track and having to slightly hustle to ensure he made the line before the chequered flag.

There was an immediate improvement from Raikkonen who was up to fifth place ahead of Magnussen and Norris. Vettel's flying lap was only good enough for second place and neither Hamilton nor Bottas were unable to improve to break into the front row as time ran out in qualifying.

Verstappen's single effort proved good enough to secure fifth place on the grid putting him alongside Magnussen, with Sainz pushed back to seventh where he is due to line up next to Grosjean - providing the race stewards don't have any ideas about that near-miss with Norris in Q1.

Norris himself was tenths fastest in the final round, meaning he will start just behind Kimi Raikkonen when the lights go out and the floodlights snap on for Sunday's twilight race.

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