Fernando Alonso was eighth, whilst Russell found himself down in ninth. Pierre Gasly rounded out the top ten.
Read our round-up below, and scroll down our live blog to read qualifying as it happened.
The headline casualty in Q1 was a beleaguered honey badger: Daniel Ricciardo struggled badly, him missing the whole of the second pre-season test through Covid and yesterday due to reliability issues meaning the Australian could only manage 18th.
Lance Stroll could only chalk a 1min 33.032sec to put him 19th, with Ricciardo half a tenth better off.
1min 32,726sec meant Yuki Tsunoda was the fastest eliminated car in 16th.
Zhou Guanyu took the proverbial wooden spoon in this session as a 1min 33.543sec left him 15th.
Alex Albon had a solid first showing for Williams with 1min 32.664sec and 14th. Mick Schumacher impressed with a time good enough for 12th, whilst 1min 31.782sec meant Esteban Ocon was the quickest eliminated car.
First blood in Q3 went to the Ferraris with Sainz heading team-mate Leclerc – the Spaniard’s 1min 30.687sec a tenth better than his team-mate.
Verstappen was third fastest and Perez fourth, with many still thinking the Dutchman would snatch pole – he complained to his team that they had instructed him to go too slow on previous outlaps, causing his tyres to cool too much.
The Mercedes found themselves fifth and sixth so headed out early on second runs in a bid to take the initiative, but Russell then promptly locked up into Turn 1, meaning his time was 1sec slower than his Q2 effort.
He wound up ninth, whilst Hamilton claimed fifth.
It soon became apparent who had the pace though, Charles Leclerc set a 1min 30.558sec whilst Verstappen put in a 1min 30.681sec. They’ll start first and second in the race tomorrow.
Sainz came in third, admitting afterwards Leclerc had had the edge on him all weekend, with Perez clocking a solid fourth.
Valtteri Bottas overcame all Alfa’s pre-season woes to start an impressive sixth tomorrow with a 1min 31.560sec, whilst perhaps an even greater achievement was Kevin Magnussen’s 1min 31.808sec, putting him seventh.
The ever-consistent Fernando Alonso will start eighth tomorrow, 1.7sec off Leclerc, whilst Gasly completed the top ten with a 1min 32.338sec.