(Photo credit: Morio)
Before the first green light set Q1 in motion, all the talk was how tight things were looking. Vettel had issues in the earlier practice session, Hamilton had a grid penalty to work into the equation, while Kimi Raikkonen was just damn quick. So how would all this play out as the drivers laid down their respective markers in qualifying?
The first indications were that Kimi was still quick and Vettel had put his practice woes behind him as Ferrari set the early pace. Meanwhile, Nico Hulkenberg was trying to extend his record by emerging from Q1 for the 57th consecutive time.
Over at Red Bull, things took an early turn for the worse as Max Verstappen locked up and slammed his car into the wall at Turn Two. He walked away solemnly, red flags waving in the background.
With just over five minutes remaining and the track temperature dropping, the green light glowed for a second time. Romain Grosjean and Fernando Alonso were the two significant names still in the danger zone. As the clock rushed towards zero, both men crossed the line in exactly the same time but Alonso progressed to Q2 having completed his lap first - a wide final turn ultimately costing Grosjean. Meanwhile, Pierre Gasly continued his good weekend form, recording a ninth-best time.
Alonso was eventually culled after Q2, while Renault snatched two top-ten spots along with Gasly and Esteban Ocon in the Force India. In the other McLaren, Vandoorne also missed the cut along with Perez and Brendon Hartley who at least ensured that both Toro Rossos out-paced the McLarens.
In Q3, Raikkonen once again set the early pace with an absolute lap record of 1:28.101 as he hunted down his first ever pole position in Bahrain. His teammate was not far behind while Hamilton and Bottas made up the top four. With two-and-half minutes remaining the Ferraris went out again, keen to consolidate their one-two.
Hamilton made another lunge for pole aware that he would be pushed back down the grid - the fewer cars he has to pass tomorrow the better. However, he could only go fourth quickest as Bottas leapfrogged him to move into second. Vettel then went quickest, while Raikkonen, now third, made one final charge. However, he could not pip his teammate to pole but at least preserved the Ferrari one-two pushing Bottas back into third.
With Hamilton facing a grid penalty, Pierre Gasly will start the race in fifth.