• Lewis Hamilton is on pole for Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
• It is his 10th pole of the season and 98th of his Formula 1 career.
• Hamilton qualified first ahead of team mate Valtteri Bottas.
• For more motoring stories, go to www.Wheels24.co.za
Newly-crowned seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position for Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix with an impeccable record-breaking lap on Saturday as Mercedes dominated the floodlit qualifying session.
The 35-year-old Briton clocked an all-time track record lap in 1:27.264 seconds to outpace team mate Valtteri Bottas by 0.289 seconds, the pair delivering Mercedes’ 11th front row lockout of the season.
It was Hamilton’s record-increasing 98th career pole position and the fluency and speed of his driving endorsed his status as the outstanding man to beat at Sakhir’s Bahrain International Circuit.
With two races to go, Hamilton could reach a remarkable total of 100 pole positions at the final race while he is also seeking to increase his total of wins from 10 to a record-equaling 13 triumphs.
Pressure is off
Max Verstappen was third ahead of his Red Bull team-mate Alex Albon, who made a remarkable recovery in a car built with a new chassis overnight following his heavy crash in second practice on Friday.
Sergio Perez qualified fifth for Racing Point ahead of the Renault pair of Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon with Pierre Gasly eighth for Alpha Tauri.
Lando Norris was ninth for McLaren and Daniil Kvyat 10th in the second Alpha Tauri.
Hamilton said: “I think with the pressure a little bit off, it was a release to go and drive like that. I am on the ragged edge, naturally, and it is about trying to find that perfect balance and chipping away. The lap started well, but a little bit of time was lost in Turn 1 – and Turn 6 I could have been a little bit better. Otherwise, it was a very clean lap so I was really happy with it.”
Bottas said: “It felt good – and that’s the problem! You feel you are extracting everything from the car, so that is the most confusing part. It is small things here and there, not one clear corner.”
Verstappen also felt his lap was satisfactory, if not quite good enough: “It was pretty good, just lacking a bit of rear grip in the low-speed corner, but overall a decent qualifying. Let’s see how we get on in the race as it is very hard on tyres, but I think we have prepared for that. Mercedes picked up their pace today.”
The floodlit session began in near perfect conditions with an air temperature of 27-degrees and the track at 29, with George Russell out quickly in a bid to lift his Williams out of Q1 again and the rest in hot pursuit. Hamilton was soon back on top of the times ahead of Bottas, the champion having shrugged off the electrical gremlins which had halted him in the final seconds of third practice.
After his crash on Friday, Albon came back with determination to succeed and was third for Red Bull, behind Stroll, at the end of Q1, which saw exits for the Alfa Romeo pairing, both Haas drivers and Nicholas Latifi of Williams.
Russell went through to Q2 in 14th place, maintaining his reputation as a strong qualifier and his sobriquet of ‘Mr Saturday’.
Eight minutes into Q2, just as the cars ventured out, the session was red-flagged when Carlos Sainz, on his first run, lost control of his McLaren under braking at Turn One and spun to a halt. After a delay of seven minutes, the session continued with Sainz condemned to watch from the McLaren garage as Verstappen went top before Hamilton, with some ease, beat him by a cool four-tenths.
Bottas went through to the top ten shootout in third, but it was a grim day for Ferrari as both Sebastian Vettel, in 11th, and Charles Leclerc, 12th, were eliminated along with Lance Stroll of Racing Point, Russell and Sainz.
The Ferrari men had shared the front row of the grid last year.
The Q3 session began with a flurry of cars on track, all ten forming a fast train with Norris in front, but it was Hamilton who set the provisional pole time in 1:27.677 – another all-time lap record – and Verstappen second 0.146 adrift.
The Dutchman, a tenth clear of Bottas, complained of a loss of rear grip as the temperature fell with nightfall before Hamilton, again, on his second run, smashed his own record to take pole.
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