Red Bull’s Max Verstappen has beaten Sir Lewis Hamilton by three-tenths of a second to take pole for the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix. The Dutchman put in three fastest sectors to secure back to back poles and top every session for the first time in his career.
Verstappen set a 29.5 on his first lap before finding half a second compared to his previous lap, throughout the session to secure pole position. He has dominated the weekend so far his only mistake running a little bit wide in Q1 damaging his floor on one of the kerbs.
Red Bull has not started the season on pole since 2013 and brought to an end Mercedes seven consecutive pole positions at the opening race of the year.
Many predicted a close battle between Mercedes and Red Bull, and it came down to the final moments of the session with Hamilton unable to respond. Hamilton had a narrow upper hand following the first runs going just under a tenth faster, but Verstappen managed to pull out three tenths on his final run.
His teammate Valtteri Bottas took third half a second behind Verstappen, the Finn was unable to improve by enough on his final Run to challenge the top two.
Verstappen, the two Mercedes drivers and Gasly will start the race on the medium tyres after getting through Q2 with a significant strategic advantage over the rest of the top ten, as the soft tyres the rest will use are likely to degrade heavily in the opening stint.
A delighted Verstappen, who also claimed the final pole and win of last season in Abu Dhabi, said, “There are no guarantees coming to the first race weekend but the whole week so far the car has been working really well and it’s just been really enjoyable to drive.”
Hamilton said: “Amazing. Max did such a great job. He was so fast on that last lap. Absolutely gave it everything I had, but unfortunately, it wasn’t good enough. It was the best I could do. I got absolutely everything out of the car – we did such a good job since testing, the guys back at the factory”
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc put in a solid performance going fourth fastest six tenths behind Verstappen, a decent start for the Monacan after failing to get through to Q3 in last years race. That put him ahead of the Alpha Tauri of Pierre Gasly who managed to out-qualify by both McLaren’s by over a tenth of a second.
Leclerc made it through to Q3 after pushing Sergio Perez out when he set a lap on the soft tyres vaulting up the order at the end of the second part of the session. Gasly also looks to have the edge over Leclerc, the McLarens and Alonso in that he made it through Q2 on the medium tyre, which is the favoured tyre for the start of the race, whereas the other leading midfield cars are starting on the soft.
The midfield battle was close, Daniel Ricciardo out-qualifying teammate Lando Norris by four-hundredths of a second to take sixth. Setting up for as predicted a close midfield. Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz was eighth fastest, seven-tenths behind his teammate
Fernando Alonso on his return to F1 was ninth, he reached Q3 for the first time since Monaco 2019. While the biggest surprise was Sebastian Vettel, the Aston Martin driver was caught out by yellow flags on his final run in Q1 leaving him unable to improve and saw him eighteenth.
Vettel’s teammate Lance Stroll was tenth, slowest of those who made it through to Q3. One of the biggest surprises of the session was Sergio Perez he missed out on the final part of qualifying after deciding to stay on medium tyres, while others made headway on the quicker soft compound.
While Vettel was impeded by the Haas of Nikita Mazepin who spun as the four-time champion started his final lap, and then came across a slow Ferrari through the hairpin at Turn Eight. That would have not helped his already difficult reputation, with his debut weekend already being marked by four spins, and in qualifying, he ignored the unwritten rule not to overtake other cars in the queue to start a fast lap in the final corners of the circuit.
Perez had two of his laps deleted for track limits after running wide at Turn Four before others behind him managed to improve. The Mexican’s choice continuing on the medium tyres left him four-tenths behind his teammate by the end of the segment.
Antonio Giovinazzi had his best dry qualifying since Brazil 2019, putting his Alfa Romeo twelfth almost half a second ahead of Yuki Tsunoda.
Perez’s former teammate Esteban Ocon was another to be caught out by Mazepin’s spin, he starts sixteenth missing out on Q2.
The Japanese driver as expected was the best of the rookies getting himself into Q2, going second fastest at the end of Q1. However, he was unable to repeat that in Q2 leaving himself thirteenth splitting the two Alfa Romeos, going three hundredths faster than Kimi Raikkonen.
George Russell continued his run of never being out-qualified by a Williams teammate getting through to Q2 ending the session fifteenth. The third time from three races in Bahrain he has got out of Q1.
Mick Schumacher improved on his final lap retaining nineteenth, eight tenths ahead of Haas teammate Mazepin.