Russell beaten by Bottas to pole by just 0.026s as Mercedes lock out Sakhir front row
George Russell missed out on pole position for the Sakhir Grand Prix by just 0.026 seconds on his Mercedes qualifying debut to leave polesitter Valtteri Bottas breathing a huge sigh of relief.
The Finn ultimately clinched the 16th pole position of his Formula 1 career, but he was run close by Russell with the Briton standing in for Covid-hit Lewis Hamilton.
Around the lightning-quick outer track of the Bahrain International Circuit, Bottas set a time of 53.377s, leaving 22-year-old Russell beaten in a qualifying session for the first time in his 37-race career.
Red Bull's Max Verstappen, who held provisional pole midway through Q3, was undone by the fact Mercedes strapped fresh sets of soft tyres on Bottas' and Russell's car for the final run, which ultimately paid dividends.
The second AlphaTauri of Pierre Gasly lines up ninth, with Lance Stroll in his Racing Point 10th, with the Canadian just over eight-tenths down on Bottas.
Renault's Esteban Ocon will line up 11th, with a surprise alongside him in Alex Albon in his Red Bull at a time when the Thai-British driver is trying to secure his future for 2021.
The team had earlier gambled with Albon's time in Q1 as he was sat in his car in the closing stages, leading to him scraping through by 0.085s.
Come Q2, Albon failed to hook up his car and finished a third-of-a-second adrift of Verstappen at the end of the session after the Dutch driver had posted the leading time, leading to team principal Christian Horner shaking his head on the pitwall.
Sebastian Vettel, whose crew executed what was described as a "precautionary" power unit change in between the final practice session and the start of qualifying, starts 13th, finishing 0.350s adrift of Leclerc in Q2
After aborting his first lap, Norris then claimed over the radio he "went too soon" in starting his second to leave him languishing in 15th on the grid ahead of Haas' Kevin Magnussen, who came within a tenth of knocking out Albon.
For the first time in his F1 career, Nicholas Latifi out-qualified a Williams team-mate - after competing against Russell for the previous 15 races in his rookie campaign - as he finished just 0.096s ahead of Russell stand-in Jack Aitken in his first qualifying
Aitken will likely be kicking himself as he was ahead of Latifi after the first two runs, and should have finished ahead after the third only to veer wide at the final corner.
Raikkonen starts a poor 19th considering the performance of Giovinazzi, with the most experienced driver on the grid lining up alongside a driver making his debut in Pietro Fittipaldi.
The Brazilian, on his debut with Haas as a replacement for Romain Grosjean in the wake of the Frenchman's fiery crash in Sunday's Bahrain GP, was due to start at the back of the grid anyway after taking a power unit penalty.
Fittipaldi ultimately finished nearly half-a-second adrift of 41-year-old Raikkonen.
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