Lewis Hamilton was dominating qualifying until his final lap when a number of hiccups left pole in the hands of Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
The Finn achieved his first pole by just 0.023s, and it was Mercedes’ first front row lockout of the season.
Hamilton congratulated Bottas on his achievement and relished the close-knit action, but struggled to explain why he was losing time in the first sector that ultimately contributed to his second place.
“Today he was just quicker than me and did the better job, so hats off to him on his first pole,” he said. “My lap felt great but it was so close out there.
“I was losing quite a bit of time through the first sector, which is unusual as it’s usually a very strong sector for me.
“Overall it was a great battle and that’s exactly how close qualifying should always be. It forces us to be on the absolute limit. I’m happy with the job I did and it’s great for the team to lockout our first front row.”
At least their one-two keeps the pair ahead of the Scuderia Ferraris, which has proven to be a close contender during previous races, regularly nipping at the rear of Hamilton’s Silver Arrow. The narrowness of the margin will make tyre management and pit strategy a crucial part of tomorrow’s race, with Mercedes determined not to repeat the mistakes of races past.
“Today we had a bit of a margin over the Ferraris but generally in race trim they seem to be a bit quicker, so we expect them to be closer tomorrow,” he added. “It’s definitely going to be tight.
“Looking after the tyres is difficult, so whether it is a one or two stop race will be interesting to see. Hopefully we’ll have a great battle tomorrow.”