Lewis Hamilton maintained the momentum from last week’s stunning win in Brazil to claim pole for the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix after qualifying on Saturday.
Max Verstappen, who leads his Mercedes rival by 14 points with three races to go, will start alongside Hamilton on the front row on Sunday.
But the gap will give all at Red Bull a restless night – almost half a second, a clear sign Hamilton’s new engine fitted last weekend has injected fresh life into his quest for an unprecedented eighth world title.
His flying lap time of 1:20.827 that clinched Qatar’s first ever pole position proved too much for Verstappen, who was 0.455 slower.
Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas posted the third quickest time under floodlights at the Losail circuit to fill the second row with Pierre Gasly for Alpha Tauri.
Mercedes were handed an unexpected advantage in their titanic title battle with Red Bull after Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Perez failed to make it to the Q3 top 10 shoot out.
With the Mexican down in the sixth row on Sunday’s grid Red Bull’s tactics to upset Mercedes rest on a one-man band named Verstappen.
This was Hamilton’s 102nd career pole but his first since Hungary almost four months ago.