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Hamilton takes pole in Bahrain


Whisper it, but today's qualifying session could be a bit special.

While Turkey saw Mercedes miss out on pole - indeed, the front row and second row - for the first time this season, with no disrespect to Lance Stroll and Racing Point, today could see the Black Arrows beaten fair and square in 'perfect' conditions.

Having looked strong yesterday, this morning Max Verstappen pulled out all the stops and went fastest, eclipsing Lewis Hamilton by 0.263s and Valtteri Bottas by 0.366.

Despite an oscillating DRS flap, the Dutchman looked very much at ease, while the Mercedes pair, particularly Bottas, have never seemed quite so happy.

Hamilton's mood cannot have been helped by an electrical issue at the end of FP3, though this has seemingly been resolved.

Whether Verstappen can convert this morning's pace into pole remains to be seen, but it will be fascinating to see him try.

Then comes the other big battle, for as Racing Point, McLaren, Renault and Ferrari fight for third in the standings, it is the Woking outfit that has looked strong thus far, while its rivals, particularly the Italian and French teams, have struggled.

Furthermore, AlphaTauri has looked strong, prompting speculation that the Faenza outfit could make a late charge for the best of the rest title.

Following his big accident in FP2, Alexander Albon has a new chassis, and while the Thai driver was fourth earlier, he remains 0.6s off his teammate's pace.

In an odd move, the FIA, which in recent weeks has come down hard on drivers exceeding track limits, has decided - in its infinite wisdom - to scrap the rule here so there will be no repeats of yesterday's deleted times.

Ahead of Q1, the air temperature is 27 degrees C, while the track temperature is 28 degrees.

With the sun having set the circuit is once again bathed in artificial light.

The lights go green and Russell is first out of the box.

As he begins his flying lap the Williams driver has the track entirely to himself.

As he crosses the line marking S2, Russell is joined on track by Verstappen who is making an early appearance, possibly to check his DRS following his issue earlier.

Russell lifts off and decides to abort the lap, and heads into the pits.

As Grosjean, Magnussen and Latifi head out, Verstappen crosses the line at 1:28.885.

In no time at all, all twenty drivers are on track. All are on softs bar Stroll, who is on mediums.

As he completes his first flyer, Magnussen passes a number of rivals who slow almost to a halt.

The Dane posts 30.596, as Hamilton stops the clock at 28.343 and Perez 29.178.

Bottas goes second with a 28.767.

This morning, while the Mercedes pair were unable to improve on their second flyer, Verstappen was.

Albon goes eighth, Vettel tenth and Leclerc 15th, as Ferrari continues to struggle.

Gasly goes fourth (28.971), ahead of Sainz, Perez, Ocon and Albon.

Clearly lessons have not been learned, with so many drivers on track, all looking for clear air, we witness some grind to a halt in a bid to create some space. God alone knows what's going to happen next week.

On those mediums, Stroll could only manage 14th (29.978).

Ahead of the final run, the usual suspects fill the drop zone, with Leclerc and Stroll - last week's pole-man - hovering.

While Verstappen and Gasly opt not to run again, the Mercedes pair head out. Sainz also stays put, as does Ocon.

Russell improves to 8th with a 29.294, while Vettel goes sixth.

Perez goes seventh, but is demoted when Kvyat improves.

Ricciardo goes sixth as Norris and Stroll look set to improve.

Stroll goes second with a 28.679, while Norris eases off knowing that he has made the cut... just.

Hamilton is quickest, ahead of Stroll, Albon, Bottas, Verstappen, Gasly, Sainz, Ricciardo, Leclerc and Vettel.

We lose Giovinazzi, Raikkonen, Magnussen, Grosjean and Latifi.

The lights go green for Q2 but it is a couple of minutes before a car appears, it's Ricciardo, who is followed by Kvyat, Leclerc, Vettel, Sainz and Hamilton. Most are on mediums, bar Gasly and Kvyat who are on softs.

Russell, who is last out, is also on the softs.

Out come the yellows when Sainz stops on track. Indeed, the session is red-flagged.

"There is no drive," reports the Spaniard.

The stoppage comes as most were on their first flying laps.

Replay shows the McLaren spin as the car suddenly 'seized up'.

With Sainz set to start from 15th tomorrow - and Norris making the cut into this session by the skin of his teeth - this will compromise McLaren tomorrow in its battle for third.

The session resumes and teammate Norris leads the way, followed by Verstappen, Albon and Perez. Eventually they are joined by the Mercedes pair.

Those six appear to be going for two runs whilst the rest - no doubt limited by their number of tyre sets - are going for the one run.

Verstappen posts 28.025 but Hamilton is already quickest in S1.

Albon goes second (28.749), ahead of Norris and Perez.

Hamilton continues to set a blistering pace, finally crossing the line at 27.586, while Bottas claims third with a 28.063.

All are on mediums.

As the remaining nine head out, all are on mediums bar Russell, who isn on softs.

Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen opt not to make a second run, Albon heads out again, having switched to softs.

Ocon goes seventh, but is demoted when his teammate goes fourth.

Gasly goes tenth, while the Ferrari pair both fail to make the cut.

Hamilton is quickest, ahead of Verstappen, Bottas, Ricciardo, Albon, Norris, Perez, Ocon, Kvyat and Gasly.

We lose Vettel, Leclerc, Stroll, Russell and Sainz.

"I had a couple of problems," moans Vettel, "arggh!"

"Miscommunication, we'll talk about it later," warns Stroll ominously.

Check out our Saturday gallery from Bahrain, here.


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