Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton stormed to pole position in qualifying for today's Bahrain Grand Prix, fending off a challenge from rivals Ferrari to lead team-mate Nico Rosberg in a front-row lockout for Mercedes.
Lewis Hamilton salutes after securing pole position in the qualifying session of Bahrain Grand Prix in Manama on Saturday. Pic/AFP
Hamilton lapped the 5.4-kilometer long Sakhir circuit in one minute 29.493 seconds to take the 51st pole of his career and second in a row. The Briton's lap was also the fastest ever recorded at Bahrain, smashing the benchmark set by Mark Webber in 2005.
Championship leader Rosberg fell just 0.077 seconds short of beating Hamilton but sealed Mercedes' eighth straight front row lock out.
Sebastian Vettel led Ferrari's charge in third ahead of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen. After a faltering start to their weekend in Friday's opening practice sessions, the Maranello-based squad seemed a lot closer to their German rivals on Saturday.
They kept Hamilton and Rosberg honest throughout qualifying, their battle for pole livening up what was threatening to be another anti-climactic session run to the controversial rolling-elimination format.
But even as Rosberg and Hamilton improved on their final runs, the Ferraris fell back. The Italian squad was strong here last year, however, and Vettel and Raikkonen are optimistic of taking the fight to Mercedes in today's race.
McLaren reserve Stoffel Vandoorne, standing in for the injured Fernando Alonso, shone on his qualifying debut, beating world champion team-mate Jenson Button. The 24-year-old will line up 12th for his maiden grand prix, two places ahead of the Briton.
Daniel Ricciardo will start fifth for Red Bull ahead of the Williams pair of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa. Force India's Nico Hulkenberg will start eighth ahead of Romain Grosjean in the Haas and Toro Rosso's Max Verstappen who rounded out the top ten.
Defending triple champion Hamilton goes into today's race hunting for his third straight win in Bahrain and the first of his season. Meanwhile Rosberg, who leads the Briton by seven points in the standings having won the season-opener in Australia, is aiming to stretch his unbeaten run to five straight races.