World Champion Lewis Hamilton bagged the 98th pole position of his Formula 1 career, and 10th of his title-winning 2020 season, during qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Hamilton went fastest through both Q3 runs at the Bahrain International Circuit and clocked a new track record of 1:27.264s to finish 0.289s clear of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Red Bull locked out the second row of the grid as Max Verstappen trailed the Mercedes drivers while Alexander Albon lifted himself above the midfield after an error on his first Q3 lap.
Verstappen was 0.414s behind Hamilton and while Albon was almost six-tenths further back the gap the leading two teams had over the rest was sufficient for the Anglo-Thai to equal his best grid spot.
Perez excels to front midfield
Sergio Perez accepted on Thursday that his hopes of a 2021 Formula 1 seat now rest solely with Red Bull and he finished just 0.048s behind Albon.
Perez’s lap was sufficient to ensure he jumped the Renault duo of Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon to front the third row of the grid.
Ocon had been ahead of Ricciardo after the first Q3 runs but as the chequered flag came out the Australian inched clear by just 0.002s to preserve his unbeaten dry-weather head-to-head record against his team-mate.
AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat took eighth and 10th respectively, split by McLaren’s Lando Norris.
Ferrari fails to make Q3
Ferrari has shown improved one-lap pace in recent dry-weather sessions, particularly in the hands of Charles Leclerc, and locked out the front row of the grid at Formula 1’s last visit to Bahrain in March 2019.
But it has lacked speed throughout the weekend and neither Sebastian Vettel nor Leclerc made it through to the top 10 shootout.
Vettel got the better of Leclerc by 0.016s but it was quick enough only for 11th on the grid.
Lance Stroll claimed a shock pole in Turkey but was never in contention in more normal conditions and fell in Q2, taking 13th spot.
George Russell executed a strong Q1 lap to secure progression through to Q2 for the ninth time this year but he was the slowest of the 14 drivers to register a lap time.
McLaren’s Carlos Sainz participated in Q2 but was pitched into a spin at Turn 1 with a suspected mechanical issue on the right-rear of the MCL35 and did not set a time.
Usual suspects at the back
Alfa Romeo had both cars into Q3 in Turkey but regressed to its usual position in Bahrain as Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen came only 16th and 17th respectively, split by three-tenths of a second.
Haas has previously run strongly at the circuit but fell at the first hurdle, with Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean 18th and 19th, the duo separated by a mere 0.027s, but a whopping six-tenths down on Giovinazzi.
Sole rookie Nicholas Latifi, victorious at the venue in Formula 2 last season, qualified at the rear of the 20-car field.
Sunday’s 57-lap Bahrain Grand Prix is scheduled for 17:10 local time.