Valtteri Bottas has beaten his Mercedes teammate George Russell by two-hundredths of a second to secure pole position for the Sakhir Grand Prix. The Finn put in a good lap to increase his lead over Russell and take his fifth pole of the season.
It was a brilliant effort from Russell in his first outing for Mercedes, but pole appeared to be just too far out of his hands. It ends its thirty-six qualifying sessions where he has out-qualified his teammate, but a great effort on his debut for Mercedes.
Momentum appeared to shift overnight to Bottas, who had admitted last night it would be ‘embarrassing’ to be out-qualified by the Englishman, he was four-tenths up in FP3, although Russell closed that gap to just a few hundredths at the end of Q3.
Bottas sets the new record for fastest qualifying time, the first sub-minute time set in F1 since the 1976 French Grand Prix, Verstappen was the closest he has been all season.
Russell was three-hundredths of a second faster than the Red Bull of Max Verstappen, the Red Bull driver attempted to split the two Mercedes but was three-hundredths behind the Englishman.
It marks the first time since 2018 F2 Hungarian Grand Prix that Russell has failed to out-qualify a teammate. He missed his chance, Bottas failed to improve on his final lap, although Russell improved on his final run it was not enough to take a maiden pole, two-hundredths short.
Bottas said “It is a different situation to have a different team-mate but I just wanted to focus on what I was doing and not waste energy on anything else. Strategy-wise we are in a good place and It is good to see George on the front row. Not my best qualifying but I am happy with pole.”
Russell added, “It has been incredibly intense, so much to learn, getting used to the car, seat, everything. It felt really alien, to begin with. A different way of driving, trying to unlearn what I learnt at Williams and learn how to drive this car fast.”
Verstappen was three-hundredths behind but proved a permeant threat to the world champions. The Dutchman who was never far away, going quicker in Q2, before Russell managed to improve on the final run, but didn’t improve their position.
The Red Bull driver will also be on the back foot needing to get through Q2 on softs which he will start the race on, giving Mercedes the edge on the first stint in the race after they got through Q2 on mediums. Verstappen looked to be closer, but couldn’t hook up his final lap.
Charles Leclerc was a surprise fourth, a week ago on the slower circuit both Ferrari’s failed to get through to Q3, but despite that the Monacan managed to out-qualify Sergio Perez by a tenth and a half.
Leclerc also chose not to do a final run in Q3, as he didn’t have a new set of soft tyres. It was one of the best laps of the season for Ferrari, he said, “This lap was very good.”
Ferrari was expecting to struggle this weekend but was two tenths off Mercedes the closes they’ve been at this type of circuit all season.
Sergio Perez was fifth fastest, the Racing Point driver going over a tenth faster than the Alpha Tauri of Daniil Kvyat. The Russian going ahead of his former teammate Daniel Ricciardo in seventh, with Carlos Sainz eighth, in his best qualifying in eighteenth months.
In the close midfield fight for third, Racing Point, McLaren and Renault were covered by two-hundredths of a second with their fastest drivers.
Pierre Gasly was ninth just under half a hundredth ahead of the second Racing Point of Lance Stroll. The session proved very tight in terms of lap times, and drivers found it very difficult to find enough clean air to do their best lap times.
Many of which came at the end of the session, as drivers improved Esteban Ocon was pushed down to eleventh. The Renault driver missing out by a tenth of a second to get through to Q3.
Red Bull’s Alex Albon was another driver to miss out, the British-Thai driver knocked out after qualifying fourth last weekend. Albon starts twelfths after just scraping into Q2, the team had decided not to do a final run in Q1 pushing him down to fifteenth.
Although the British-Thai driver was only three tenths off, he was not where he needs to be as he looks to retain his seat with Red Bull.
Sebastian Vettel was another driver who was unable to get through to Q3, the four-times champion failed to improve on his soft run in Q2. That left Vettel thirteenth ahead of Antonio Giovinazzi. Lando Norris had a difficult Q2 leaving him fifteenth.
The McLaren driver was first out on the final runs in Q2, but backed off a lap where he struggled for pace, later saying on the team radio “sorry guys, we went too early”. Norris aborted his last lap early on, admitting it was not quicker than his best lap.
Kevin Magnussen missed out on Q2 by eight-hundredths of a second, but the reason why Haas didn’t send the Dane out for a final run is unclear. Magnussen out-qualified the Williams of Nicolas Latifi, the Canadian managing to out-qualify a teammate for the first time.
Russell’s replacement Jack Aitken was just nine hundredths behind Latifi, but the British-Korean driver ran wide at the last corner on his final lap. Aitken however was the best of the two reserve drivers, Pietro Fittipaldi was seven-tenths off Haas teammate Magnussen.
Fittipaldi starts behind Kimi Raikkonen, but the Brazilian faced a grid penalty because engine component changes and was always likely to start from the back of the grid regardless.