RACE DEBRIEF

    Much has been made of Valtteri Bottas going up against George Russell at the Sakhir Grand Prix , with outsiders keen to frame this weekend as a shoot-out between the pair for a drive at Mercedes in 2022. But Bottas said that tuning out that kind of talk was key to taking his fifth pole of the season – and the 16th of his career.

    With Bottas and Russell – replacing the ill Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes this weekend – running three push laps in the Q3 segment of qualifying, Bottas set his eventual pole time of 53.377s on his second run. And while he ultimately failed to improve on his last effort, it was enough to give him pole by just 0.026s from Russell, as Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took P3, 0.056s behind – with Bottas on pole for the first time since Imola.

    READ MORE: Russell misses out on maiden Mercedes pole by 0.02s as Bottas stamps his authority in Sakhir

    And for the Finn, there was a degree of validation, with Russell having stolen the headlines after leading both of Friday’s practice sessions, on a day where Bottas appeared to be fighting with his Mercedes W11.

    “It’s good to be on pole, I’m happy for that – not my best qualifying but I’m happy it was enough,” said Bottas. “For sure it’s a different situation to have a new team mate but all the [preparation] has gone into focusing on my own [performance] and not to waste energy anywhere else, so I think I managed to do that.

    2020 Sakhir Grand Prix Qualifying: Bottas beats Russell to pole position

    “Yesterday was quite a tricky day for me personally,” added Bottas, having trailed Russell in both Free Practice 1 and 2. “But today was better; the car felt more complete and more driveable so I could really build lap by lap in Practice 3 and then with a good feeling into qualifying. Just slightly disappointed... I didn’t improve at the end, but I was also the only car without any tow. The lap was not that great, so I didn’t improve on the last run but I’m really happy to be on pole.”

    READ MORE: Sakhir GP not a shoot-out between Russell and Bottas for 2022 Mercedes seat, insists Wolff

    Bottas knows all too well the advantage of starting on pole at Bahrain, having had to start P2 to Hamilton at last week’s Bahrain Grand Prix and struggling to get off the line as Hamilton led away. And with such a short track in use this weekend at the Sakhir Grand Prix – the 3.5km Outer Track just 0.2km longer than Monaco – Bottas was hopeful of escaping the melee behind him early on and checking out for what would be his third win of the season.

    “It’s a bit of an unknown really how the racing is going to be,” said Bottas. “It didn’t feel that easy to follow other cars so I’m really pleased to be on pole and I can go from there. But hopefully we’ll see a fun race.

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    Bottas praised Russell – but was probably glad to qualify ahead of him

    “I think strategy-wise we are in a great place as a team,” added Bottas, with Russell and he having made it through Q2 on the medium tyres – meaning they’ll start on those strategically advantageous tyres – while Verstappen was forced to use a set of softs. “It’s good to see George locking the front row as well.

    “I have to say, George really did a good job, he was really building up to it and I could see the progress in qualifying. So I’m really happy for us as a team that we can be one-two on the grid. That’s a big achievement for us.”