Max Verstappen has laid down the gauntlet in the first Formula 1 qualifying session of the year, securing pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The Red Bull driver pulled out a flawless final lap in Q3 to topple Lewis Hamilton for the top spot.
Ultimately, 0.388s separated Verstappen and Hamilton in a closely fought final segment battle.
Firstly, Verstappen suffered a scare on his opening run with a violent trip across the kerbs. He still crossed the line with 0.023s in hand over Hamilton, who had also yet to string together a complete run.
Hamilton then stormed to provisional pole on the second run but was powerless to defend a trio of purple sectors from Verstappen, who claimed his fourth career pole.
“We already had a great test week and of course there are no guarantees but then we came back for the race weekend and the whole week so far, I think the car’s been working really well, and it’s just been really enjoyable to drive,” said the pole-sitter.
“With the wind changing a lot around every session, it’s not easy to set up the car but it all worked out perfectly in qualifying, so very happy with pole position.”
The sister Red Bull of Sergio Perez had a horrid qualifying. The Mexican was could only salvage 11th in Q2 and was eliminated ahead of the top-ten shootout.
Red Bull had put Perez on the slower medium compound tyre for his final Q2 run, a decision Perez backed.
“It was a good advantage to be on that tyre [medium],” Perez said. “We didn’t make that today, so that’s a bit of a disappointment.
“We have good race pace so tomorrow we should be able to come through the field and score good points. Tomorrow that is the main thing.”
Questions about whether Mercedes is now the second-fastest car behind the Red Bulls have been asked all weekend.
Despite sealing second and third on the grid, Mercedes said they expected the gap to Red Bull to be at least double what it was.
“I think this is a really good step forward for us,” Hamilton said. “Coming into this weekend, we thought it was double the gap that you see today.
“We knew from day one on track really the Red Bull was faster than us, and we know we had a bit of an uphill slope to climb.”
Fourth went the way of Charles Leclerc, continuing Ferrari’s strong return to a form at a circuit that exposed their power unit weakness in 2020.
Pierre Gasly was in fourth after the first Q3 runs but will start tomorrow’s Grand Prix from fifth.
Daniel Ricciardo fronted a McLaren 6-7, outqualifying teammate Lando Norris by 0.05s.
The second Ferrari of Carlos Sainz was eighth, with Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll rounding out the top ten.
It was a forgettable day for Stroll’s Aston Martin stablemate Sebastian Vettel after the four-time world champion was knocked out in Q1.
His final run was disrupted by two separate yellow flags, leaving him unable to improve and down in 18th position.
“I just made it across the flag by less than a second, and then I had two yellow flags, so not much you can do at that stage,” Vettel said.
“For sure, I’m upset and angry that it wasn’t our fault, in a way, not to make it through. But we have to take it and do what we can, preparing tomorrow.”
The Bahrain Grand Prix will get underway from 4 am NZT Monday morning.
|Carlos Sainz Jr||1:30.215||1.218|