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Nico Rosberg took pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday with teammate Lewis Hamilton ensuring a Mercedes front row lockout, further loosening struggling Sebastien Vettel’s grip on his world title.
Rosberg, the world championship leader after two races, clocked 1min 33.185sec to edge Hamilton by 0.279sec as Mercedes stayed on course for a third win in three races this season.
It was German driver Rosberg’s fifth career pole and first of this season after Hamilton had started from the front in Australia and Malaysia.
“Starting from pole is great but it’s a whole different story tomorrow. The challenge waiting us is tyre degradation but I’m confident I can stay ahead in tomorrow’s race,” said Rosberg, who won the season opener in Australia.
Mercedes have been untouchable in Bahrain with Hamilton and Rosberg dominating all three practice sessions.
Rosberg will head into Sunday’s floodlit race with 43 points to his teammate’s 25 after Hamilton, who made a slight error on his last flying lap, missed out on what would have been a third pole in three races in 2014.
“I am not disappointed, congratulations to Nico. He has done a great job this weekend, he is improving and picking up the pace. I locked up in the last lap,” said the 2008 world champion who won from lights to flag in Malaysia last week.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was third fastest but he will be demoted 10 places on Sunday’s grid after being punished for a pit-lane offence in Malaysia last weekend.
That leaves a second row featuring Finland’s Valtteri Bottas in a Williams and Mexico’s Sergio Perez of Force India.
Kimi Raikkonen in a Ferrari, Jenson Button, in a McLaren and racing in his 250th grand prix, are on the third row with Williams’ Felipe Massa and Kevin Magnussen in the second McLaren on the fifth row.
Fernando Alonso, a three-time winner at the Sakhir track, is on the fifth row in his Ferrari alongside four-time world champion Vettel.
The German, in the second Red Bull, was eliminated in the second qualifying session.
“The Mercedes are out of reach — this track suits them here,” Vettel told the BBC.
“Hopefully we can do a good job at the moment and rescue some points this weekend. Things are going on in the background which haven’t helped and we haven’t done many laps here. You can have days where it’s quite tight to get into Q3.”
Vettel was joined on the Q2 sidelines by Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, Toro Rosso duo, Daniil Kvyat and Jean-Eric Vergne, Sauber’s Esteban Gutierrez and Romain Grosjean in a Lotus.
In Q1, both Caterhams of Kamui Kobayashi and Marcus Ericsson as well as fellow backmarkers, Marussia’s Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton were eliminated.
They were joined by Pastor Maldonado in a Lotus and Adrian Sutil in the second Sauber as the early drivers to drop out of qualifying.