Valtteri Bottas sprung the biggest surprise of the season so far after he beat Lewis Hamilton in Bahrain to secure the first pole position of his career. Hamilton appeared set to claim his seventh pole on the spin, and 64th of his career, before Bottas – the man who has replaced champion Nico Rosberg at Mercedes this season – edged out his teammate with the final throw of the dice.
Hamilton’s championship rival, Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, lines up in third, with the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo fourth on the grid.
“For a short period of time you have to enjoy what you have done over the weekend, but the main point is tomorrow so there is no point starting to dream about anything,” Bottas, 27, said.
“It is all about focusing on the race, and getting the maximum out of it. Hopefully we can get the team’s first one-two of the year.”
Hamilton added: “Firstly, a big congratulations to Valtteri. He has been working so hard and jelled so well with the team. Today he was just quicker, and did a better job, so hats off to him.”
Vettel, tied on points with Hamilton at the summit of the championship, said: “I was a bit down to be honest, because four tenths of a second was a lot more than I expected, given how good the lap felt. On the next run I tried too hard.”
Ferrari, starved of championship glory for a decade, have finally produced a car which appears capable of challenging once more for motor racing’s biggest prize. And, prior to qualifying, there had been a sense of a changing of the guard after Mercedes failed to top either of the three practice sessions for the first time since the start of the 2014 season. But as has so often been the case for the past three seasons, they delivered when it mattered most. It was not Hamilton however, who will line up on the front slot on Sunday, but Bottas after he edged out his teammate by just two hundredths of a second over 3.4 miles of track.
Hamilton was quickest in Q1, Q2 and then seemingly in the shoot-out for pole, only for the Finn to nick it in the closing seconds with his best lap of one minute and 28.769 seconds.
Bernie Ecclestone, meanwhile, is back in a Formula One paddock for the first time since he was ousted by the sport’s new owners Liberty Media following their £6.4 billion purchase in January. And, perhaps not surprisingly, the 86-year-old, who on Friday admitted he had never exchanged a single word with Sean Bratches – the American now operating as the sport’s commercial chief – claimed he would not have allowed Fernando Alonso to miss next month’s blue-riband Monaco Grand Prix to take part in the Indianapolis 500.
The Spaniard suffered another miserable day in which an engine problem meant he did not take to the track in the second phase of qualifying.
He is to start 15th today if his McLaren can get to the grid.