Lewis Hamilton delights in his 98th career pole at Bahrain F1 GP

Lewis Hamilton had been unequivocal in his determination to close the Formula One season with a statement of intent. Securing pole for Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix could not have been more emphatic. Once more he was untouchable and as almost every record falls to the world champion his form at the Sakhir circuit puts him on course to score a unique century.

Hamilton’s seventh title is already secured and with it he has equalled Michael Schumacher’s record. His pole in Bahrain was an object demonstration of why the Mercedes driver took the championship this season with three races to spare.

The 35-year-old does not chase numbers but they fall to him nonetheless and the heights he is reaching are in rarefied air. This was his 98th pole and with two races to come he could yet be the first driver to make it to 100. On this form, it would be brave to bet against him.

Hamilton emphasised he was not focusing on the milestone but there would be no let up in his attempts to lead the field at every opportunity.

“It has been such an incredible year, anything from now is a bonus,” he said. “It’s close between the three of us [Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen] and we have a couple of tricky races ahead, so it’s not something I am thinking about. I will get there eventually and not necessarily in the next two but I will be pushing as hard as I can that’s for sure.”

On top throughout qualifying, Hamilton was indomitable. Finishing with a fine run at the sharp end he beat his Mercedes teammate Bottas into second with Verstappen third for Red Bull.

Hamilton has two previous poles in Bahrain and once more found an immaculate touch at the track. On his first hot run in Q3 he clocked 1min 27.677sec, pushing with consummate control, and while he was quickest believed he could still improve.

On the final hot runs Hamilton duly found even more. Wanting to stamp his authority on the session, he went out first. He promptly went even quicker, fastest in every sector, and closed with a 1.27.264, four-tenths up on his previous lap.

Bottas made it Mercedes’ 11th front-row lockout in second but he was still over two-tenths down, with Verstappen a full four-tenths behind. These final races may be dead rubbers but Hamilton is showing absolutely no sign of releasing his iron grip atop the F1 grid.

Earlier, Schumacher’s son Mick lost points to Britain’s Callum Ilott as his lead narrowed in a closely-fought battle in the F2 championship. Both drivers are members of the Ferrari academy and hoping to secure a place in F1 next season. In the first race of the weekend Ilott finished second with Schumacher in fourth, cutting his lead over the British driver to 12 points. Three races remain, one on Sunday and two more, also in Bahrain, next weekend. Schumacher is strongly expected to be given a drive with Haas next season.

It was a strong result for Mercedes, who have been denied pole in Bahrain by Ferrari in the past two years. The team have already taken the constructors’ title but are determined to extract the maximum from their car to end the season strongly. They have shown form across a variety of tracks and once more looked very strong.

The circuit is tough on tyres, however, its abrasive surface especially unforgiving on the rears out of the high-traction, slower-speed corners. With long runs in practice limited owing to red flags, the race – likely to be a two-stopper – may not present Mercedes with the kind of single-lap domination they enjoyed on Saturday.

Hamilton and Bottas were on top in first practice, run during the daytime but in the only session representative of qualifying and race conditions, the evening on track of FP2, Hamilton was once more on top, three-tenths up on Verstappen and Bottas. On Saturday afternoon, however, Verstappen had the edge, two-tenths up on Hamilton and Bottas.

Red Bull have second place in the constructors’ championship sealed but behind them a real tussle for third remains. Racing Point lead on 154 points, with only 24 separating the chasing pack of McLaren, Renault and Ferrari.

Alex Albon was in fourth for Red Bull and Racing Point’s Sergio Pérez in fifth. Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon were in sixth and seventh, AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat in eighth and tenth, with McLaren’s Lando Norris in ninth.

McLaren’s Carlos Sainz stopped on track with a rear brake failure in Q2, causing the session to be red-flagged and he will be 15th on the grid. Both Ferraris struggled with Sebastian Vettel in 11th and his teammate Charles Leclerc in 12th. George Russell kept up his excellent qualifying form with 14th place for Williams, while Lance Stroll was in 13th.

Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Räikkönen were in 16th and 17th, the Haas cars of and Haas Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean in 18th and 19th, with Nicholas Latifi in 20th for Williams