By Abhishek Takle
MANAMA (Reuters) – Charles Leclerc seized the first pole position of his Formula One career on Saturday to lead Ferrari to a front-row lockout in qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Calm and composed in only his second race for the Italian team, the 21-year-old Monegasque was 0.294 seconds clear of last year’s pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel who will start alongside under the Sakhir floodlights.
Five-times world champion Lewis Hamilton was Ferrari’s closest challenger in third for Mercedes, but the Briton was still 0.324 seconds off the pace with team mate Valtteri Bottas alongside in fourth.
Leclerc is the second youngest pole sitter of all time after Vettel, who did it at 21 years and 73 days with Toro Rosso at Monza in 2008.
He will also be the first driver from Monaco to start at the front since the world championship started in 1950.
“Thanks guys! The car was amazing,” Leclerc said over the team radio after his track record time of one minute 27.866 seconds.
“Today is a good beginning, I’ll try and finish the job tomorrow.”
The pole was Ferrari’s first since last September’s Italian Grand Prix.
Behind the top four, Max Verstappen was fifth for Red Bull ahead of Kevin Magnussen in the Haas, McLaren’s Carlos Sainz and Romain Grosjean for Haas.
Kimi Raikkonen was ninth for Alfa Romeo while McLaren’s British rookie Lando Norris completed the top 10.
Fallen champions Williams unsurprisingly propped up the timesheets with rookie George Russell edging out experienced Pole Robert Kubica.
(Editing by Alan Baldwin/Christian Radnedge/Pritha Sarkar)