Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc beat team-mate Sebastian Vettel to take his maiden pole position at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The Monegasque, 21, beat the four-time world champion by 0.294 seconds as Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas took third and fourth for Mercedes.
Leclerc was fastest in all three parts of qualifying, a powerful statement of intent.
Hamilton was 0.324secs behind, pipping Bottas by just 0.66s.
Leclerc said: “I am truly happy. In the last race I was not satisfied with my qualifying and I worked really hard to do better.
“Seb is an amazing driver and I have learned a lot from him and I will learn from him all year. But today is a good day for me.”
Vettel, who had only one run in final qualifying, said: “In the end, Charles did a very good job today and he deserves to be on pole. I felt happy with my only run and we are in a good place for the race.”
Leclerc delivers on potential
Leclerc’s switch to Ferrari this year, as a replacement for Kimi Raikkonen, was highly anticipated as he has talent in abundance.
He qualified fifth for his first race two weeks ago but finished it on Vettel’s tail and had to be told to back off by the team to protect their positions in the closing stages.
Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto said on Friday that Leclerc was free to lead the race and stay there, so their new driver has a great opportunity to take his first win on Sunday if he can convert pole into a lead at the start.
It remains to be seen whether Ferrari really will carry through on their commitment to let the drivers race, but with this performance Leclerc has confirmed his huge potential.
He has looked quicker than Vettel for much of the weekend and was ahead throughout qualifying.
Vettel actually made a mistake in the second session on his first lap, forcing him to have to take a second set of tyres for a second lap to ensure he progressed.
That left him with only one run in the top-10 shootout. By the time Vettel went out, Leclerc had already taken provisional pole, and after the German completed his sole lap, Leclerc rubbed salt into his wounds by going quicker again.
Leclerc said: “A lot of emotions but I am trying to stay as cool as possible because there are no points for pole position. It has been a great weekend for us but now we have to focus on the race and do the best race possible.”
Ferrari come good
Ferrari struggled at the opening race of the season but have dominated in Bahrain after analysing what went wrong.
Vettel said: “We are both much happier with the car this weekend. The credit goes to the team.
“They have done very hard work trying to understand we were not happy what the car in Melbourne but we came here and proved we are capable of fighting at the front and for pole and locking out the front row is a great testament to their work.”
Hamilton said: “Ferrari have been incredibly strong. I couldn’t have done Charles’ time. We have some work to do.”
Red Bull adrift of the top
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was fifth but the Dutchman was a massive 0.886s off the pace, while his team-mate Pierre Gasly did not even make it into the top 10, ending up 13th and struggling with his tyres.
Haas driver Kevin Magnussen was sixth, ahead of the impressive McLaren of Carlos Sainz, whose rookie team-mate Lando Norris made it into the shootout for the second race in a row in 10th, behind the second Haas of Romain Grosjean and Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen.
Daniel Ricciardo was 11th for Renault, ahead of the impressive Anglo-Thai rookie Alexander Albon in the Toro Rosso, who, thanks in part to Gasly’s struggles, ensured Red Bull’s junior team outqualified at least one of the cars from the senior outfit.