Formula One: Valtteri Bottas on pole with George Russell alongside at Sakhir

Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas and George Russell in action during qualifying session.
Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas and George Russell in action during qualifying session.PHOTO: REUTERS

MANAMA (REUTERS) - A relieved Valtteri Bottas admitted he felt as much relief as joy on Saturday (Dec 5) after he pipped stand-in Mercedes team-mate George Russell to take pole position for Sunday’s Sakhir Grand Prix.

Having been embarrassed by him on Friday, when Russell outpaced him and topped the times in both practice sessions, the Finn was under pressure to respond.

He did, but without enough conviction to prevent the 22-year-old Englishman taking all the glory after his late call-up from Williams.

“It wasn’t one of my best qualies, but I’m happy that it was enough,” Bottas said. “It’s a different situation for me, but I just wanted to focus on my own doing and not to waste energy anywhere else and I managed to do that.

“Strategy wise we are in a good place and it’s good to see George locking out the front row.” 
Bottas’  best lap came on the second of his three runs in Q3, when Mercedes surprised their rivals by switching tactics from the usual two runs. 

He clocked a best lap in 53.377 seconds at the short-lap high-speed outer loop of the Bahrain International Circuit – enough to pip Russell’s best effort, on his final lap, by 0.026 in the final seconds.

It brought him his 16th career pole position – three years after scoring his maiden pole at the same venue in 2017 – and inflicted Russell’s first qualifying defeat by a team-mate albeit in helping Mercedes clinch another front row lockout.

Max Verstappen was third for Red Bull ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, Sergio Perez of Racing Point and Daniil Kvyat of Alpha Tauri with Daniel Ricciardo taking seventh for Renault.

Carlos Sainz took eighth for McLaren ahead of Pierre Gasly in the second Alpha Tauri and Lance Stroll in the second Racing Point.

‘Mickey Mouse track’

“It’s good to be on pole and I’m happy with that,” added Bottas. “It didn’t feel that easy to pull that out of the car, but we’ll go from there and we’ll just have to wait-and-see for the race.

“It feels like a bit of a Mickey Mouse track, but we’ll see tomorrow.”

Asked how different it was for him to be without Hamilton, Bottas said it was a different challenge entirely after spending the season chasing the champion.

“I could see George was fast and how much he developed through the weekend,” he said.

Russell said he was delighted and disappointed at the same time. He had felt very nervous before the qualifying session following a poor third practice punctuated by errors.

“I was trying too hard and I made mistakes and, honestly, I was nervous before qualifying,” he said.

“But I worked hard and I managed to get my rhythm going again and in the end I was gutted not to get pole.

“But if you told me last week that I would get P2 I wouldn’t have believed you! Valtteri has pushed Lewis a huge amount over the years and we all know how great Lewis is – he is usually about one-tenth behind him.

“So, to be right behind Valtteri, coming in at the last minute, I am pleased. Let’s see what we can do tomorrow.”

Russell added that he felt bruised and battered by his experience after squeezing his much taller frame into the cockpit of the champion’s car and taking a drop in shoe size to squeeze his feet in the pedal area.

“It’s been incredibly intense. There has been so much to learn and to get used to. The car felt alien to begin with – it’s a different way of driving.

“I had to un-learn what I learned at Williams and re-learn how to drive this car. I would have been happy with making Q3 after final practice. So I am pleased, but I’m gutted to miss out on pole!”