“Obviously, I am really happy,” said Bottas. “It took a few races, but hopefully it’s the first of many.”
Bottas clocked a best lap of one minute and 28.769 seconds in the final seconds and it was, as Hamilton admitted, too good for him to beat. Hamilton had clocked 1:28.792. “He’s been working so hard and today he was just quicker and he did a better job,” said Hamilton. “The first sector was my weaker point. I’ll work on it for tomorrow. That’s how close qualifying should always be. It forces us to be on the limit.”
Bottas’ lap was comfortably faster than Rosberg’s pole time last year of 1:29.493, but the overall speed of the new era ‘fatter-and-faster’ machines was less notable in the desert heat than it had been at the two previous races. Hamilton, who was seeking his seventh successive pole position and third in a row this season, gave his team-mate a generous hug after the session.
Rosberg was amongst the first to congratulate the pole sittter. “Congrats Valtteri Bottas 1st pole! Great lap. Happy for all you guys at Merc,” tweeted the German.
Three-time champion Hamilton who shares the championship lead with Sebastian Vettel, and who had been quickest until the final runs, was unable to find the extra speed he needed on his second run in Q3 to retain pole position. Four-time champion Vettel was third fastest for Ferrari, unable to make an impact on the two Mercedes men who took the front row. It was the sixth consecutive year in Bahrain that Mercedes won pole.
“I was very happy with my first lap, crossed the line and then looked up and saw both (Mercedes) were ahead,” said Vettel. “When I got the time, I was a bit down to be honest. Four-tenths is a lot more than I expected.”
Australian Daniel Ricciardo was fourth for Red Bull ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari, Max Verstappen in the second Red Bull and Nico Hulkenberg who qualified seventh for Renault. Felipe Massa was eighth for Williams ahead of Romain Grosjean of Haas and Jolyon Palmer in the second Renault.
The conditions at the start of qualifying were cooler, and calmer, than they had been earlier in the day. The air temperature was down to 29 degrees Celsius and the track 31, down by six and eight degrees respectively compared to the earlier free practice session.
The first qualifying session saw exits for Carlos Sainz, who lost power with his Red Bull, and Stoffel Vandoorne of McLaren, Sergio Perez of Force India, Marcus Ericsson of Sauber and Kevin Magnussen of Haas. In Q2, Indy 500-bound two-time champion Fernando Alonso took it easy.