MANAMA (REUTERS, AFP) - Seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton took his 98th career pole position in qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday (Nov 28), with Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas alongside on the front row.
The Mercedes pair delivered their 11th front row lockout of the season and Hamilton's fastest lap of 1min 27.264sec was a track record time, endorsing his status as the outstanding man to beat at Sakhir's Bahrain International Circuit.
With two races to go, the Briton could reach a remarkable total of 100 pole positions at the final race while he is also seeking to increase his season total of wins from 10 to a record-equalling 13 triumphs.
It was his 10th pole this season and third in Bahrain, which puts him level with Sebastian Vettel as the most successful qualifier at the Sakhir track.
Max Verstappen was third ahead of his Red Bull teammate Alex Albon, who made a remarkable recovery in a car built with a new chassis overnight following his heavy crash in second practice on Friday.
Sergio Perez was fifth for Racing Point ahead of the Renault pair of Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon with Pierre Gasly eighth for Alpha Tauri. Lando Norris was ninth for McLaren and Daniil Kvyat 10th in the second Alpha Tauri.
Ferrari, dominant in Bahrain last year when they locked out the top two spots in every session of practice and qualifying, failed to make it into the top 10 this time around.
They will start with Vettel in 11th and Charles Leclerc 12th. Racing Point's Lance Stroll, on pole in Turkey, was only 13th.
"I think with the pressure a little bit off, it was a release to go and drive like that," said Hamilton. "I am on the ragged edge, naturally, and it is about trying to find that perfect balance and chipping away.
"The lap started well, but a little bit of time was lost in Turn 1 - and Turn 6 I could have been a little bit better. Otherwise, it was a very clean lap so I was really happy with it."
Bottas said: "It felt good - and that's the problem! You feel you are extracting everything from the car, so that is the most confusing part. It is small things here and there, not one clear corner."
Dutchman Verstappen also felt his lap was satisfactory, if not quite good enough.
"It was pretty good, just lacking a bit of rear grip in the low-speed corner, but overall a decent qualifying.
"Let's see how we get on in the race as it is very hard on tyres, but I think we have prepared for that. Mercedes picked up their pace today."
The hour-long session was interrupted by a brief halt after a spin for Carlos Sainz. The Spaniard's McLaren appeared to suffer a locked rear axle under braking for the first corner, which left him stranded at the edge of the track.