Valtteri Bottas beat Lewis Hamilton to pole position for the Bahrain GP as the Finn claimed his first-ever pole in F1.
Bottas, a fraction behind Hamilton after their opening runs in Qualifying Three, drove a finely-judged final lap to edge out his Mercedes team-mate by less than a tenth of a second.
“Today he was just quicker, he did a better job,” said Hamilton. “That’s how close qualifying should always be.”
The three-time world champion had set a new personal best at the start of his own final flying lap but made a mistake through the middle sector.
Joint-championship leader Sebastian Vettel was third quickest but almost half a second behind the two Silver Arrows. It constituted a disappointing performance for the Scuderia who appeared to have an edge on the Mercedes in Friday practice.
Bottas, Hamilton and Vettel have started all three of 2017’s races from the front-three starting positions with Hamilton previously taking pole in China and Australia.
In another surprise, Daniel Ricciardo out-qualified both Kimi Raikkonen and Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen for a second-row starting berth.
Nico Hulkenberg excelled again as he took seventh for Renault, over a second faster than Jolyon Palmer as the Englishman reached Q3 for the first time.
But there was more misery for McLaren’s Fernando Alonso as the Spaniard’s Honda engine broke at the start of Q2. To add insult to injury, a grid penalty now looms for the Spaniard.
After Red Bull set the pace in final practice, sparking hopes of a three-way fight at the front, Vettel then all-but matched both Mercedes cars in Q2 with the trio split by less than a tenth of a second.
But the Ferrari was unable to respond when Mercedes turned up their power for the top-ten shoot-out, leaving Vettel shocked and temporarily dejected.
“Four tenths was a lot more than I expected,” conceded Vettel. “When I saw the time I was a bit down.”
Team-mate Raikkonen was another three tenths further behind. The Finn hasn’t been able to get to grips with the 2017 Ferrari car yet and described himself as “struggling like crazy with understeer” after his opening Q3 run.
But the Ferrari is at least expected to be a far tougher proposition on race day than it was over a single lap when measured against the Mercedes.
Bahrain Grand Prix Grid:
1. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, 1:28.769
2. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, + 0.023
3. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari, + 0.478
4. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, + 0.776
5. Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, + 0.798
6. Max Verstappen, Red Bull, + 0.918
7. Nico Hulkenberg, Renault, + 1.073
8. Felipe Massa, Williams, + 1.305
9. Romain Grosjean, + 1.994
10. Jolyon Palmer, Renault, + 2.305
11. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso, 1:30.923
12. Lance Stroll, Williams, 1:31.168
13. Pascal Wehrlein, Sauber, 1:31.414
14. Esteban Ocon, Force India, 1:31.684
15. Fernando Alonso, McLaren, No time set
16. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso, 1:32.118
17. Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren, 1:32.313
18. Sergio Perez, Force India, 1:32.318
19. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber, 1:32.543
20. Kevin Magnussen, Haas, 1:32.900