Valtteri Bottas will start tonight’s Sakhir Grand Prix on pole position, the sixteenth of his career, after beating stand-in team-mate George Russell to the top spot in qualifying.
Starting the race in first and second positions, means it will be the twelfth front row lockout of the season for the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team.
Bottas had a lot of pressure this weekend to outperform Russell – who is standing in for Lewis Hamilton as he isolates after testing positive for COVID-19 – and secured the top spot by a very narrow margin of 0.026s.
In spite of this, the Finn claims it wasn’t his very best qualifying performance, saying: “It’s great to be on pole, I’m happy with that, but this wasn’t my best qualifying. My second run in Q3 was decent, but I think there was still a bit of time missing in Turn 7 and 8. I was the first car out on track on the final run, so I didn’t have a tow and ultimately couldn’t improve. It was fairly close in the end, so I’m pleased it was enough for pole position.”
Russell, who is on loan to the team from Williams Racing for the Sakhir Grand Prix, has proved his talents over the whole weekend, having topped the times in the Friday practice sessions in his first outings in the W11. A staggering performance in qualifying ensured that he lined up alongside Bottas, in what was the Brit’s first Q3 appearance in his Formula 1 career.
“After final practice, I’d have been happy to just get through to Q3, so I was a bit nervous heading into qualifying. But I managed to get in the groove and was getting better and better every lap,“ said Russell. “Obviously, I’m a bit gutted to miss out on pole by 20 milliseconds, but if you’d told me last week that I’d be qualifying P2 on the grid, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
Team principal Toto Wolff is hopeful for a successful race later this evening, with him believing Bottas and Russell are in the best position to gain an advantage.
“Scoring a front row lockout in such a close qualifying session is a fantastic result for the team. This circuit is so short and with lap times below one minute, it was always going to produce very tight gaps and we saw that with less than a tenth between P1 and P3.” Said Wolff, “I’m really happy with the result, Valtteri put in a good lap in Q3, which was enough for him to take pole position. George has settled in really well, particularly when you consider the circumstances, so I’m really pleased with his performance and it’s great to see him up there on the front row.
“This obviously puts us in a good position for tomorrow and we’re starting on the Medium tyre, which we feel is the best compound for the race. It’s going to be challenging and a bit of a step into the unknown on this track and with so many laps. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens and it’s sure to be very exciting.”