Valtteri Bottas has claimed pole position for the Brazilian Grand Prix after setting a lap time of 1:08.322. The Finn fended off the Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen to take his 3rd career pole position.
World champion Lewis Hamilton suffered a shock exit from the first part of qualifying, as he crashed out on his first hot lap. Having not set a time, the 32-year-old will start tomorrow's race from the very back of the field despite a number of drivers taking grid penalties.
"I’m OK. It happened really quickly," Hamilton said. "It is what it is. Of course it’s unfortunate. I tend to just look at it as challenges are what makes life interesting and overcoming them makes life meaningful. I just need to take whatever bubble of negativity comes from that experience and move forwards and try and grow from it."
Vettel will share the front row with Bottas on Sunday and will be looking to claim Ferrari's first win since the Hungarian Grand Prix. The second row will see veteran Raikkonen alongside Max Verstappen, who once again outqualifiied teammate Daniel Ricciardo.
Ricciardo set the fifth fastest time in Q3 but will drop 10 places on the grid due an engine penalty. Sergio Perez was sixth while Fernando Alonso put in an admirable effort to slot his car into P7. Both Perez and Alonso will move onto the third row for the Grand Prix.
Pascal Wehrlein was the first driver to emerge from the garages, closely followed by the Mercedes' of Hamilton and Bottas. Hamilton sped off past Wehrlein to start his flying lap. However, at turn 6, the Briton appeared to take too much speed into the corner which meant the rear stepped out. Hamilton couldn't catch the car and was send sideways into the barriers, pulling 12.5 G's.
The world champion was out, before he even set a lap time and was bitterly disappointed as he made his way back to the paddock. The session was red flagged while the marshalls recoverd the wrecked W08 from the barriers.
When the red flag period ended, the pitlane got very busy as virtually every other driver emerged onto the track. The Renault's were the first to set a time, followed by Frenchman Estebam Ocon. The Force India was briefly P1 befrore being displaced by Valtteri Bottas.
The Ferrari of Raikkonen went quicker on the soft tyre, as did Vettel. An improvement came for Bottas on his second hot lap, before the final fastest time was laid down by Kimi Raikkonen.
At the end of the session, plenty of drivers improved, including the two Haas'. Romain Grosjean was missing half of his T-Wing but managed to jump into P7. Local hero Massa got into P4 at the end of the 18 minutes, which brought a loud cheer from the crowd.
Drivers out in Q1: Wehrlein, Gasly, Stroll, Ericsson and Hamilton
Heading into Q2 all the drivers knew there would be an extra spot in the final qualifying session, due to the crash suffered by Lewis Hamilton in the first session, so there would be a good opportunity to jump into the final session. With the threat of rain looming there was also a dash to set a flying lap as quickly as possible to not be caught out by the rain.
The first man to set a lap was the Mercedes of Bottas, with a 1:08.9 which broke the lap record around the circuit, however the two Ferrari’s of Vettel and Raikkonen were only two tenths away from Bottas’ pace, with the Red Bull’s slightly further away from the pace of Bottas.
On the cusp of Q3 were the usual midfield battlers, with only the Williams of Massa seemingly setting a good enough lap to be secure of a spot in the final session, with the McLarens, Force Indias, Renaults and Haas’ all within four tenths of a second of each other and all looking to secure a spot in the top ten.
In the end it was the shock of Esteban Ocon missing out on the top 10 shootout in 11th place ruining his run of three top six starts in a row, with the Haas cars and Stoffel Vandoorne also missing out, with Sebastian Vettel also setting a lap at the end of the session to go top of the time sheets and becoming the new favourite in the battle for pole position.
Drivers out in Q2: Ocon, Grosjean, Vandoorne, Magnussen and Hartley
Bottas was the first to get back onto the circuit for the final stage of qualifying as he looked determined to take another pole position. He was follwed out by Hulkenberg before Vettel and Verstappen made their way to the circuit.
Bottas was on his around his hot lap while the rest of the drivers took to the track. He set an initial time of 1:08.4. Moments later, Vettel came across the line to go P1 with a lap time that was a tenth faster than the Finn's.
The Red Bull's dropped away as both Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were seven and nine-tenths down on Vettel's lap. The cars returned to the pitlane to prepare for the final run which would decide the pole sitter for the race.
Vettel's second flying lap was scruffy as he failed to improve in any sectors. Raikkonen went fast in the first sector, but behind him, compatriot Bottas was going even faster. As they all came across the line, it was Bottas who was fastest, displacing Vettel previously quickest time by 0.038s.
"I was happy with my first lap," Vettel said after the session. "I think it was OK. Three hundredths you always think there's somewhere you can get that. Our long run looked good, especially to Valtteri, so let's see what happens."
Fergal Walsh and Sam Gale
Bahrain International Circuit - Winter testing