Sports Desk, Dec 5 (efe-epa).- Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) took pole position Saturday in qualifying for the Sakhir Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit by a whisker over his temporary teammate, George Russell, who could be on the verge of his first podium finish in Formula One.
The Finn achieved a fastest lap of 53.377 seconds, just 0.026s better than Williams drive Russell, the man tapped by Mercedes to fill in after seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton tested positive for Covid-19.
Russell, 22, dominated both practice sessions Friday in the car usually driven by his fellow Briton and he brought that momentum into qualifying and Mercedes secured yet another front row lockout.
Dutch driver Max Verstappen (Red Bull) grabbed P3 and Monaco’s Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) was fourth, ahead of Mexican Sergio “Checo” Perez (Racing Point).
Starting alongside Checo on Sunday will be Russia’s Daniil Kvyat (AlphaTauri), while Australian Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) and Spaniard Carlos Sainz (McLaren) will share the fourth row on the grid.
Frenchman Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) and Canada’s Lance Stroll (Racing Point) complete the top 10, who were separated by only a second on a course nearly 2km (1.2mi) shorter than the one for last week’s Bahrain Grand Prix, which saw Hamilton extend his record for F1 victories to 95.
“It’s a different situation to have a new teammate, but all the (preparation) has gone into focusing on my own doing and not to waste energy anywhere else, so I think I managed to do that, but I think strategy-wise we are in a great place as a team and good to see George locking the front row as well,” Bottas said.
“It’s good to be on pole, I’m happy for that but not my best qualifying, but I’m happy it was enough,” the Finn said on the eve of what he hopes will be a 10th win in F1.
But Bottas will be looking over his shoulder at Verstappen, who trails the Mercedes man by just 12 points in the contest to finish second in the driver standings.
To nobody’s surprise, the two drivers making their F1 debut this weekend – Brazil’s Pietro Fittipaldi and Briton Jack Aitken – were among the five competitors knocked out in Q1 on Saturday.
Pietro, grandson of racing legend Emerson Fittipaldi, was brought in by Haas to replace Romain Grosjean as the French driver continues his recuperation from the burns he suffered when his car burst into flames after crashing on the opening lap of the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Aitken took Russell’s spot with Williams.
Frenchman Esteban Ocon (Renault), Thailand’s Alex Albon (Red Bull), German four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari), Italy’s Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) and Briton Lando Norris (McLaren) failed to make it out of Q2.
Albon’s disappointing performance could have implications for Perez’s future.
Racing Point declined to renew Perez’s contract for 2021 and Checo, who was poised to finish third in the Bahrain Grand Prix until a mechanical failure forced him to retire with a few laps left, said earlier this week that he is ready to sit out next season if Red Bull doesn’t offer him the seat now occupied by Albon.