Nico Rosberg eclipses Lewis Hamilton to take Bahrain pole
Lewis Hamilton failed in his bid for perfection under the lights in Bahrain as he found himself outdone for the first time in qualifying this season by Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg.
After clinching victory in last Sunday's race in Malaysia, Hamilton proceeded to dominate all three practice sessions at the Bahrain International Circuit, with Rosberg forced to play second fiddle.
But come qualifying it was current championship leader Rosberg who took the spotlight by grabbing his first pole position since last May's Monaco Grand Prix, a run of 16 races.
As last man on track, Hamilton had the opportunity to pip Rosberg, who was ahead by a quarter of a second after the first run in the final 12-minute session.
But the 29-year-old locked up at one stage, ending his bid for a hat -trick of pole positions after taking top spot in Australia and again in Malaysia.
By way of explanation, Hamilton said: "My first lap was okay, but on the second I just locked up into turn one and didn't have another chance.
"You can't always get it right, but credit to Nico who did a great job. I'm happy for the team we're on the front row, and I'll try and do better in the race.
"Credit to the team as well because they've done a fantastic job with set-up simulations so far this weekend, and after doing a lot of testing here the car is as good as we can get it here.
"To be so competitive is an incredible feeling."
Asked whether he was disappointed not to be on pole, Hamilton added: "Not particularly. It's not a bad feeling.
"The weekend has gone pretty well, although I didn't go the right way (in qualifying) with my car maybe. I wasn't too comfortable at the end. I was much more comfortable through practice.
"But I'm happy my team-mate is there and no-one else. We're on the front row and it's still going to be an interesting race."
Despite Hamilton's dominance, Rosberg was consistently closing the gap in practice before finally catching up in qualifying.
Come the conclusion, the German was far from surprised he had taken pole for the fifth time in his Formula One career, and second in a row in Bahrain, which this season stages a night race for the first time as part of the circuit's 10th anniversary celebrations.
"It has just worked well through the weekend. I've been finding my way, making progress and getting through some issues," said Rosberg.
"And Lewis is always tough to beat. Everything needs to go right to be ahead, and here it worked out.
"So surprised? My mind is on pole when I go into qualifying, and that is what I'm going for, so no, I'm not surprised."
The battle to the first corner is likely to be an enticing encounter, with Rosberg adding: "As Mercedes we're here to put on a great show.
"You could see some action tomorrow between us. Hopefully not, but it's very possible.
"We owe it to the fans, to everybody, to put on a fantastic show, and that's what we'll do."
The best of the rest behind Mercedes' third successive all-front row was Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo, however, the Australian faces a 10-place grid penalty following an unsafe release from a pit stop in Malaysia and will start 13th.
It means all those drivers from fourth to 13th will move up a place, spearheaded by Williams' Valtteri Bottas.
Ricciardo knows he faces a battle to claw his way through the field and grab some respectable points.
"I'd love to charge through and get a podium," said Ricciardo, who was also disqualified at his home event in Australia over a fuel-flow issue which is under appeal.
"Realistically we just have to get some points to start my season, which has been going well but I don't have any points to show for it so far, so that's the first target.
"In saying that, I don't think we need to be conservative, we need to push. We are obviously out of position starting 13th, so I'll do what I can.
"If there is an opportunity to move forward then I'll take it, and hopefully I'll walk away tomorrow with some points on the board."
Behind third-on-the-grid Bottas will be Force India's Sergio Perez, followed by Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button in his McLaren.
One major surprise was that Sebastian Vettel failed to make the top 10 for the second time this season, and just a week after qualifying on the front row at Malaysia, with the four-times champion only 11th in his Red Bull.