Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton
HAMAD I MOHAMMED / POOL / AFP
MANAMA - 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 one minute and 27.264 seconds to outpace his ‘black arrows’ 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-equalling 13 triumphs.
Max Verstappen was third ahead of his Red Bull team-mate Alex Albon, who on Saturday made a remarkable recovery in a car built with a new chassis overnight following his heavy crash in second practice on Friday.
Sergio Perez 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.
"I think with the pressure a little bit off, it was a release to go and drive like that," said Hamilton.
"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.”