The Saturday in F1 Bahrain GP qualifying had a similar tune with Mercedes ahead but Red Bull would be hoping they can foil with two cars up there.

An unspectacular F1 Qualifying session in Bahrain GP on Saturday saw Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton emphatically lay claim to a 98th career pole, with the Brit topping the time sheets convincingly in each of Qualifying’s three segments.

Hamilton says confidence in his W11’s set-up from the very start of the day enabled him to continually improve. “It was quite a difficult Friday, with practice and using different tyres; it was quiet confusing,” he said. “But today has been a good day. We did some really good work overnight and the decisions we took after FP3 into F1 qualifying were pretty spot on. I was really happy with the car from the get-go in Q1,” he said.

Hamilton was able to improve drastically in Q3, gaining five tenths of a second on his previous laps. “All the laps had been good and then I got to Q3 and Q3 run one was OK, but there was plenty of room for improvement. Fortunately I managed to do that on the last night, so really happy with that and really grateful to the guys who I think this weekend seem a little bit more relaxed, naturally, as the pressure is off.

“I think we are all enjoying it a lot more. It’s definitely more enjoyable when you don’t have the pressure as much and you can just do what you do to the best of your ability without any additional added pressure,” he said in reference to his early F1 championship win last time out at Turkey.

In second on the timing boards was Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, who was engaged in a Qualifying battle with the Red Bull of Max Verstappen. The Finn usurped the Dutchman of his second place at the end of Q3 but couldn’t understand why the gap to the Brit was that much as he felt he eked out all he could.

“The end of Q3 lap was actually really good,” said Bottas. “It felt like there was not much more to really find, that was the feeling when I crossed the line, so I was pleased with that. But obviously it wasn’t enough for F1 pole and I was quite surprised when I saw the gap,” he said, before explaining that different set-ups between himself and Hamilton could equalize the two.

“I think we ended up with quite different set-ups, with Lewis, and we’ll see if that makes any difference in the F1 race. He’s had a really good weekend overall, every session and all the time I’ve had the feeling that I definitely have the speed but I haven’t quite put it all together. I got it together at the end but obviously it wasn’t enough,” Bottas added.

A mildly-unenthused Verstappen did say that his F1 team’s weekend has been positive, but that Qualifying pace was lacking more so than would be desirable. “It was alright to be honest. Just following a bit the track progression. You always want more. But it’s more important to just stay realistic and work on the little things, right? And there is of course still some work to do. Overall, I think the weekend in general was pretty positive, just lacking a little bit too much in qualifying I think.

“I don’t know why that was exactly. We have to find out. It’s quite aggressive on tyres here so hopefully it will be quite an interesting race,” Verstappen added when pressed further. In the other Red Bull, Alexander Albon managed an impressive fourth, with the Thai driver noting that the result equals his best-ever in F1 Qualifying.

Albon said that he did “want more,” but recognises that – after a difficult FP3 – this result is a reasonable one. “It feels good to equal my best quali, I did want more from the session but if you look how it was 24 hours ago, this was a good result,” he said. “Starting on the second row puts us in a good position to take the fight to Mercedes. Coming from FP3, the car was feeling really strong and I was ready to push hard in qualifying.

“We were surprisingly quick compared to Friday but I haven’t done a long run yet so let’s see how that goes. I’ll be starting on the mediums, I think the deg will be high so managing the F1 tyres will be crucial.” He managed to get ahead of the Racing Point and Renault, with Sergio Perez following the Red Bull pairing in P5. The Mexican was excited by his result, having been enabled by a strategic decision in Q1 that allowed him to spare fresh tyres for use during Q3.

“P5 is a great result for the team and I’m very happy with our performance,” Perez said. “We were able to be really decisive on the strategy and get through Q1 by using just one set of the soft tyres, which was absolutely the right call and meant we could use two sets of new soft tyres in Q3. When you look at the fact that I found two tenths on my second run in Q3, that call helped earn us several spots on the grid. It was a good lap at the end of Q3, although I think I lost a little bit of time in Turn 13 that might have helped me get P4.

“It’s a real shame what happened to Lance [Stroll] in Q2 because his pace looked good, but I’m sure he can recover in the F1 race and score points, which will be crucial in a close midfield battle. What matters is strong race pace, which I think we have, and it’ll be important to get a strong start and make good strategy calls. It looks like a two or three-stop race, so there’s plenty to play for and the goal is to score big points,” Perez said, acknowledging his teammate’s failure to make Q3.

Stroll showed remarkable Q1 pace, putting his Racing Point car P2 in the first of three sessions. Upon the completion of his efforts, the Canadian alluded to a communication error to the befuddlement of many. He clarifies that he was needlessly put on older medium tyres, while the rest of the field used fresh F1 rubber.

“We made some changes to the car after FP3 that really paid off and I was happy with the balance of the car going into qualifying, which we demonstrated in Q1 by going P2,” said Stroll. “Unfortunately, the red flag during Q2 ended up having a big impact on us. After the red flag, there was a miscommunication that cost us a potential place in Q3. We went out on a used set of mediums, when the rest of the field were on new tyres and it stopped us from having any chance of getting into Q3.”

Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo managed a notable sixth place, for which the Australian was satisfied. He also considers it an important achievement in the context of the F1 constructor’s championship squabble over third. “I’m happy with the top six,” he said. “It was very close, but I was pleased with my lap to put us up there at the top end of the timesheets. I used both new sets in Q1 so I only had one new set in Q3 and maybe with an additional run it could have been a little better.

“It’s still good, though, and I’m happy Esteban is up there as well,” Ricciardo said, before again predicting a two-stop race as has been mooted by Pirelli. “t’s important for the Constructors’ and we need to put pressure on Sergio. I think the race will be interesting. The compounds are softer than last year, so I’ll be surprised if it’s a one-stop.”

Ricciardo’s teammate Esteban Ocon said his car felt “awesome”, and his pace was enough to earn him a P7 finish – a result which leaves him “very happy”. “The car felt awesome and I’m very happy with our qualifying result,” said Ocon. “It was a good lap in Q3 with just 0.002secs between Daniel and I, which is almost as tight as it gets.

“Overall, we produced a good session and it was very well managed by the team. We got through Q1 on one set and then in Q2 we managed to qualify in the top ten on Mediums. It’s great that we have both cars in the top ten, but it’s not done yet.” It was, in contrast, a disappointing day for a close rival of Renault’s, McLaren. As a result of a brake failure, the team’s Carlos Sainz was unable to complete the session and will line up 15th.

The incident left Sainz disappointed, especially given the pace he possessed which he was unable to convert into a result. “Very disappointing as I was feeling comfortable with the car and managed to go through Q1 with only one set of tyres, saving two new sets of Softs for Q3,” he said. “We obviously hit an issue at the start of Q2, which locked up the rear axle and that was it.

“It’s very frustrating that I couldn’t qualify higher despite having strong pace. We start on the back foot for, so we need to decide carefully which is the best strategy, taking into account that the top-10 qualified on the Mediums,” Sainz said ahead of a F1 weekend during which they seek to catch Racing Point in the constructor’s standings.

The team’s sole representative to make Q3, Lando Norris only managed ninth place, the result of an error at turn one on his final attempt. “We had a slight issue with the car in the first run of Q1, but other than that my only bad run was on the very final set where I made a mistake at Turn One,” he said. “It cost me probably a tenth which was a good few positions today, so I’m quite frustrated and annoyed – but I’ll try to make up for it.”

Neither Ferrari, meanwhile, mustered up the pace to front a Q3 challenge, with both drivers Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel being relegated to Q2 as they came 11th and 12th. The latter of the two, who came ahead of his teammate, explains that traffic hindered his efforts. The German adds that there remains an opportunity to find more success.

“Being able to do just a single lap is never ideal and that was clearly the case in Q2,” said Vettel. “We missed the cut to the next stage by a little over a tenth, but on my only quick lap, I first had George Russell ahead of me, which stopped me getting a tow from Charles, and then I didn’t manage to have a perfect second sector.

“That just adds to the disappointment because even if we expected to be in the F1 midfield here, we could just as easily have been in the top ten rather than on the sixth row. All the same, I am confident that the team can still bring home a good amount of points. Because of the track characteristics, the race will be mainly about tyre management and I think that we can do something good on that score.

“We will have to be as sly as a fox, be patient and make no mistakes,” he said, with Leclerc adding: “After FP3 I didn’t think we could have ended up higher than P12, but looking back at how quali went, I feel I could have done a better job here and there, so I cannot hide the fact that I’m disappointed not to make it to the top ten.

“Seb and I are the first on the grid to have the freedom of going for a different strategy but I don’t think this is going to be much of an advantage, to be honest, since starting on the Medium seems like the best option and the top ten will be starting on the Medium too. It’s going to be a tricky race where tyres will overheat quickly so managing them will be key.”

Outperforming Ferrari, albeit sacrificing tyre choice in doing so, was AlphaTauri, whose drivers Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat will line up eighth and tenth respectively. Despite the good result, the former was left feeling as though more might have been possible given the slight margin to P5. The latter, meanwhile, was happy with his performance, which was made possible with the use of soft tyres in Q2.

Here’s how F1 Bahrain GP qualifying panned out