Hamilton on pole in Bahrain ahead of Bottas and Verstappen

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W11 celebrates his pole position in qualifying parc ferme. 28.11.2020. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 15, Bahrain Grand Prix
© XPB 

Lewis Hamilton eased to his 98th Formula 1 pole position for the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix, comfortably seeing off the challenge from his Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

Alex Albon bounced back from his Friday accident to secure a grid spot alongside Verstappen, with Sergio Perez picking up fifth for Racing Point ahead of Renault pair Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon.

After their brief renaissance in Turkey, Ferrari were once again in the doldrums and neither Sebastian Vettel or Charles Leclerc made it through to Q3.

McLaren's hopes of fighting for third place in the constructors championship suffered a blow when a brake issue saw Carlos Sainz spin off at the start of the second round, leaving him 15th on the grid for tomorrow's race.

The sun had just set and the spotlights were on at the Bahrain International Circuit as the drivers embarked on the first race of the final triple-header of the 2020 Formula 1 world championship. The titles might have been decided in favour of Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton, but that didn't mean that anyone was any less motivated when it came to seeking pole position and victory this weekend.

George Russell (GBR) Williams Racing FW43. 28.11.2020. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 15, Bahrain Grand Prix

Q1: Hamilton quickest, Norris just escapes early exit

First on track was George Russell, but it was a slow start to the session and the Williams driver had the place to himself for almost three minutes before Max Verstappen was next to stir. Russell pitted before setting a time, leaving the Red Bull to set the initial benchmark of 1:28.885s as others finally ventured out in a sudden rush - and immediately started to get under each other's feet as they backed up at lap 14 to find space before starting their flying laps.

Verstappen's time at the top was ended by Lewis Hamilton opening his account with a time of 1:28.343s, the world champion seemingly untroubled by the electrical issue on his Mercedes at the end of final practice two hours earlier. Hamilton's team mate Valtteri Bottas also went ahead of Verstappen, with AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly taking an early fourth place ahead of Carlos Sainz, Sergio Perez, Esteban Ocon and Alexander Albon, with the top ten rounded out by Lando Norris and Sebastian Vettel.

Almost everyone was running the soft tyres; the exception to the rule was Racing Point's Lance Stroll and the gambit left him down in 14th place, with Charles Leclerc on the bubble of the elimination zone which was populated by George Russell, Kimi Raikkonen, Romain Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen and Nicholas Latifi after the first set of runs were completed.

Russell improved to eighth place with his final run, with Leclerc and Vettel then moving up to sixth and seventh moments later. That briefly put Renault's Daniel Ricciardo in jeopardy but hs soon booked his place in Q2 with a much better run. Stroll was also far faster now he was on the soft compound, moving up to second ahead of a better effort from Albon in third pushing Bottas down to fourth.

Russell's time was enough to see him scrape through into the second round in an eventual 14th place, one ahead of Norris who had survived the scat by just 0.027s. Eliminated after the first round were the Alfa Romeos of Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen and the two Haas cars of Magnussen and Grosjean, with Latifi slowest of all in the second Williams.

Sebastian Vettel (GER) Ferrari SF1000. 28.11.2020. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 15, Bahrain Grand Prix

Q2: Hamilton stays top, Ferraris miss the cut after Sainz spins out

There was a much more brisk start to the second session with almost everyone out on medium tyres, with the exception of the two AlphaTauris which had initially opted to stick with the soft compound, and George Russell who was biding his time in the garage. It proved to be the right call, as no sooner had the drivers started their flying laps when a red flag was being shown for Sainz, who had suffered a sudden right rear lock-up at turn 1 that had sent the McLaren into a handbrake spin which had left it marooned on the outside of the corner.

Once the car was removed by the marshals, the track went back to green and the drivers returned for their second go at a first flying lap. Verstappen was once again the man to set the initial benchmark time of 1:28.025s, over seven tenths quicker than Albon, Norris and Perez; and once again it was Hamilton who was the man to dethrone him, quicker by four tenths from Verstappen with Bottas only quick enough for third.

The top three had decided that they had nothing more to do in this session and remained in the pit lane as everyone else came out - seven drivers oping for just one push lap leaving it all to do or die. It was no problem for Ricciardo who posted the fourth best time with his Renault team mate Ocon also safely through in eighth ahead of the two AlphaTauris who has swapped to the mediums after the red flag interruption.

But less successful were the two Ferraris, Vettel and Leclerc both on the wrong side of the cut when the chequered flag came out. Also eliminated were Lance Stroll (who blamed a 'miscommunication' for being sent out in traffic) and George Russell, while Sainz was already getting changed back in the McLaren motorhome.

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W11. 28.11.2020. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 15, Bahrain Grand Prix

Q3: Hamilton cruises to pole, Bottas back on the front row

The ten remaining cars were all quick to scramble into action when the track opened for the final round of qualifying. Everyone was now free to run on the soft compound tyre again, with Hamilton soon going top with a time of 1:27.677s which proved to be a tenth and a half faster than Verstappen's first effort, while Bottas was a further tenth back.

The top three were half a second quicker than Perez, Gasly and Ocon, while Albon was over a second behind his team mate in seventh followed by Norris, Kvyat and Ricciardo as the drivers headed back to pit lane for fresh tyres.

There was still time for one final push before the end of the session. Hamilton firmed up his grip on provisional pole position with a new track record time of 1:27.264s, which was out of reach of Bottas who improved to within three tenths of his team mate's time to put him on the front row ahead of Verstappen - the 11th front row lockout of the season for Mercedes.

Albon was also able to go quicker on this run and moved into fourth, but still almost six tenths behind Verstappen. Perez was best of the rest in fifth ahead of Ricciardo and Ocon while Gasly had to settle for eighth ahead of Norris and Kvyat.

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2020 Bahrain Grand Prix, Bahrain International Circuit, qualifying,