Bahrain GP: Leclerc takes pole ahead of Vettel, Mercedes in second row

Charles Leclerc took his debut pole in Formula One, while becoming the second youngest pole sitter of all time in just his second race for Ferrari.

Charles Leclerc, Sebastian Vettel

Charles Leclerc (R) is congratulated by Sebastian Vettel after the Bahrain GP qualification.   -  Getty Images

Ferrari new boy Charles Leclerc secured his first pole position on Saturday when he set a new track record by topping a dramatic qualifying session for Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix.

In doing so, he set of host of records. He became the second youngest pole sitter of all time — behind his team-mate and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel. He also lapped the Bahrain International Circuit in one minute and 27.866 seconds to set a new track record, beating the mark set by Vettel last year while becoming the first Monaco-born driver to take pole.

His Ferrari teammate Vettel finished two tenths behind to take second and make it the team's 62nd front-row lock out.

Five-time world champion Lewis Hamilton was less than a tenth of a second behind Vettel in third ahead of Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, Dutchman Max Verstappen of Red Bull and sixth-placed Dane Kevin Magnussen of Haas.

Carlos Sainz was seventh for a resurgent McLaren ahead of Romain Grosjean in the second Haas, Kimi Raikkonen of Alfa Romeo and British rookie Lando Norris in the second McLaren.

Leclerc in the lead from the start

After a quiet start in the cooler conditions, the track temperature having dropped from close to 50 degrees Celsius to a little more than 30, it was the embryonic championship leader Bottas who briefly set the early Q1 pace before Leclerc rocketed to the top by a second.

Vettel slotted in as second fastest ahead of Bottas and Sainz with Hamilton adrift of his team-mate by two-tenths before he improved to third and within seven-tenths of the Monegasque driver.

Norris delivered an impressive lap to go through in fourth while, after a final scrap, the men eliminated were Antonio Giovinazzi of Alfa Romeo, Nico Hulkenberg of Renault, Lance Stroll of Racing Point and the two Williams men British rookie George Russell and Pole Robert Kubica.

The Q2 session began with Bottas again before Hamilton and then Leclerc trimmed the best time to 1:28.046, leaving Vettel playing catch-up after a team error sent him out in heavy traffic.

“That was the worst spot ever” he complained before climbing to second and a top 10 shootout place.

Out went Renault's Daniel Ricciardo, pipped by Raikkonen, British-based Thai rookie Alex Albon of Toro Rosso, Pierre Gasly of Red Bull, Mexican Sergio Perez of Racing Point and Russian Daniil Kvyat of Toro Rosso.

Mercedes was first out for Q3, but it made no difference as, after Hamilton outpaced Bottas, Leclerc equalled the qualifying lap record set by Vettel in 1:27.958 before trimming it on his second rapid run.

Leclerc optimistic as Hamilton vows to work out a strategy

The man on pole though is cautiously optimistic ahead of the race. "Tomorrow is the race and it's where we score points, but it's a good beginning... It seems like we did a good job so I am extremely happy," he said.

Vettel conceded that Leclerc “deserved it” in an interview after qualification. “In the end, I think Charles did a very good job and he deserved it. I was a bit shy in the second sector.”

“The Ferraris have been incredibly quick here,” said Hamilton. “But that is not all there is to it and we have to sit down and work out a way to try and beat them.”

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