Heading into the season, Mercedes had started on pole for the first race of the year without fail since 2014, Hamilton scoring six of these personally.
Throughout winter testing and in the early stages of the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend, Red Bull had looked the team to beat with Max Verstappen topping every session.
Less than one-tenth separated Hamilton and the Red Bull driver after the first runs of Q3 but the Mercedes driver was powerless to match Verstappen’s pole time of one minute 28.997secs, the Brinton eventually falling 0.388secs short.
“Congratulations to Max, he was so fast on that last lap,” said Hamilton. “I absolutely gave it everything I had but unfortunately, it wasn’t good enough.”
“There is always more but it was the best that I could do for sure. I got everything I could from the car.”
After struggling in testing, Hamilton praised the effort of his team to pull back the deficit in time for the start of the season.
He added: “We did a good job from testing to come here, back at the factory, they did such an amazing job and our aerodynamicist, she has given such great information for us to improve and be where we needed to get closer to the Red Bulls.
“After testing, I thought we would be further behind.”