Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari gave F1 fans a taste of what could be a proper fight for the 2018 FIA Formula 1 World Championship by grabbing pole position and locking out the front row for Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir.
With a stunning lap of 1min.27.958sec. around the 15-turn, 5.412km Bahrain International Circuit, Vettel was just 0.143 seconds faster than teammate Kimi Raikkonen who had been fastest in the seond and third free practice sessions and was looking the quicker of the two drivers until the very end of the final of three segments of the knockout qualifying system.
Last year's polesitter Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes AMG F1 was third quickest, just 0.023 seconds slower than his Finnish compatriot while defending champion Lewis Hamilton was fourth fastest just under 0.1 seconds slower than Bottas.
However, Hamilton will incurr a five-place grid penalty after Mercedes was forced to change his car's gearbox prior to qualifying and will start the race in ninth place.
Another big name forced to make his way through the field will be Max Verstappen who crashed out towards the end of the first segment of qualifying after losing control of the rear end of his Red Bull-Tag Heuer (Renault) while trying to be too early on the power at the exit of a turn.
Verstappen's teammate Daniel Ricciardo fared a lot better however, as he was fifth fastest, but clearly slower than the Ferrari and Mercedes drivers. He will start the race from fourth place, following Hamilton's grid penalty.
GASLY LEADS MIDFIELD PACK
The biggest revelation of the session was, however, Pierre Gasly and the Toro Rosso-Honda team. The highly rated Frenchman rode the improvement in form of Toro Rosso from their disappointing showing in the opening round of the season by qualifying sixth fastest to lead F1's tight midfield battle. He was 1.371 seconds adrift of pole position, however, the sharp end of the grid is not what Toro Rosso boss Franz Tost would be looking at.
He would likely have been pleased to see both Gasly and teammate Brendon Hartley qualify ahead of McLaren-Renault in the second segment of qualifying that saw both McLaren drivers, Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne, get knocked out.
Hartley just missed out on making it to the final segment but was classified eleventh while Gasly was ninth. Hartely was a tenth of a second faster than Alonso and four tenths faster than Vandoorne while Gasly's gap to the two McLaren drivers was four tenths and seven tenths of a second.
Completing the top ten behind Gasly was Haas-Ferrari's Kevin Magnussen, Renault F1's Nico Hulkenberg, Force India-Mercedes' Esteban Ocon and Renault F1's Carlos Sainz.