Lewis Hamilton paid another rich tribute to the professionalism of his Mercedes team on Saturday after claiming the record-increasing 98th pole position of his career for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The newly-crowned seven-time champion produced a near-flawless lap in a closely-contest qualifying session to beat ‘black arrows’ team-mate Valtteri Bottas by 0.289 seconds.
“This is a continuation of what we can do as a team,” he said, recognising it was Mercedes’ 11th front row lockout this year and their 75th overall. “I just continue to be amazed by my guys and how they work so hard — weekend in, weekend out.
“I know they are away from their families for three weeks and, no matter what the season throws at us, it’s always a tough year. I really appreciate them.
“To be out here, in Bahrain, and be able to put a lap like that together! I came today and said ‘let’s just have fun and enjoy it.’
“That’s the most important thing and, with the pressure off, it’s a bit of a release to drive like I did. I’m on the ragged edge and it’s all about trying to find that perfect balance – you want your cake and eat it!
“I thought the lap started really well. I can talk you through a lap, but there’s always just a little bit here and there… Otherwise it was a clean lap. I was happy with it.”
Asked how he had celebrated after his momentous victory at the Turkish Grand Prix, where he drew level with Michael Schumacher on seven championships in winning his record-increasing 94th race, he gave a downbeat and serious response.
“I didn’t really celebrate too much. I was training and trying to make sure I was ready for this and keeping my mind and eye on the ball….”
Hamilton clocked an all-time track record lap in 1 minute and 27.264 seconds, outpacing Bottas by 0.289 seconds. The fluency and speed of his driving emphasised his status as the man to beat at Sakhir’s Bahrain International Circuit.
‘No short cut to success’
With two races to go, Hamilton could reach a remarkable total of 100 pole positions at the final race. He is also seeking to increase his total of wins this season from 10 to a record-equalling 13 triumphs.
Max Verstappen was third ahead of his Red Bull team-mate Alex Albon, who on Saturday made a remarkable recovery in a car built with a new chassis overnight following a 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.
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…”
Verstappen felt his lap was 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…”
Talking to reporters later, Hamilton was asked if he felt more potent as a racing driver without the pressure of the championships resting on the race.
“I don’t know how much more potent I can get!” he said. “The last few races I have been pretty strong, but I’ll have my work cut out, as we all will, but we’ll keep doing the homework.
“There is no short cut to success. You have to keep working in the background, adjusting and improving.”