Verstappen storms to pole in Bahrain qualifying

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Bahrain, Bahrain International Circuitbh

Red Bull Racing driver Max Verstappen took a sensational pole position for Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix, beating reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton by over three tenths of a second.

Q1: Vettel and Ocon out due to yellow flags

The Haas and the Williams drivers were the first to venture out to the track, albeit George Russell and Nicholas Latifi abandoned their first timed lap and headed back into the pit. Nikita Mazepin had a spin at Turn 13 while his team mate Mick Schumacher posted the first time of the session with a 1m33.861.

After proving the fastest in all three practice sessions, Verstappen continued his strong showing by topping the first qualifying segment of the afternoon. Yuki Tusnoda was the big sensation of the opening part of the all-important Saturday session with the 20-year-old Japanese driver posting the second fastest lap, beating Hamilton on the same compound.

Mazepin span at Turn 1, bringing out the yellow flag. Esteban Ocon, Nicholas Latifi, Sebastian Vettel, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin were knocked out at the end of the first qualifying segment. Of these drivers, Vettel and Ocon were affected by the yellow flag which deprived both of them of posting a good enough lap for Q2.

Q2: Ferrari duo tops the session

Mercedes, Red Bull, AlphaTauri and McLaren were eager to qualify on the medium rubber to securea tactical advantage for the race. While the Mercedes duo and Max Verstappen executed it with ease, the others had a more difficult time with the yellow-banded rubber.

AlphaTauri sticked to the Medium compound for the rest of the session which proved a big failure for Tsunoda. While Gasly managed to get into Q3 on Pirelli's C3 compound, the Japanese driver was unable to put a great lap together which brought his excellent qualifying to an early end.

Most of the drivers got a fresh set of tyres for the dying minutes of Q2 and the Ferrari drivers made the best out of the opportunity. Carlos Sainz posted a 1m30.009, which was the best time of the weekend up to that point with his team mate Charles Leclerc also clocking in a brilliant time of 1m30.099, showing the inroads Ferrari has made after their sub-optimal 2020 season.

The session ended with a big disappointment for Perez as the Mexican was knocked out of Q2, securing only the 11th starting position for his first race with Red Bull Racing. The four other drivers ending their afternoon in Q2 were Antonio Giovinazzi, Yuki Tsunoda, Kimi Räikkönen and George Russell.

Q3: First non-Mercedes pole for seven years

The first minutes of the session saw only seven of the ten drivers head out on to the track with only three of them having access to a fresh set of tyres during their first push lap. Verstappen registered the fastest lap, followed by Hamilton and Gasly.

When drivers ventured out for their final push lap, Lewis Hamilton managed to go to the top of the leaderboard, but his lead did not last a long time as Verstappen put in an exceptional performance to secure the first non-Mercedes pole position in the opening race of the season for seven years.

The reigning world champion commented: "Congratulations to Max, so fast on that last lap! I absolutely gave it everything I had, but unfortunately it wasn't good enough. There's always more, but it was the best I could do, I got everything I could from the car."

The Belgium-born driver posted a 1m28.997, repeating his best time from pre-season testing. Verstappen, who secured the fourth pole position of his F1 career, said: “We had a great testing week but there are no guarantees it translates to race weekends.

“The car has been working really well and of course I'm happy with pole. I'm looking forward to tomorrow. We need to get a clean start and take it from there,” he said.

After suffering from balance issues during pre-season testing, Bottas secured the third spot on the grid for the 56-lap Bahrain Grand Prix. "The session this morning wasn't easy and we had a couple of issues,” he added.

“This evening was a bit better, but we're not quite where we want to be - hopefully we can improve a little for tomorrow."

Although Ferrari struggled to get into Q2 the last time out when Formula One raced on this track configuration, there were definite signs of improvement at the camp of the Scuderia with Leclerc securing the fourth place for tomorrow’s race. His new team mate Sainz failed to repeat his performance from Q2, finishing only eighth on his Ferrari debut.

AlphaTauri’s Gasly ended up fifth with the McLaren duo of Ricciardo and Norris finishing behind the Frenchman. Despite being two years away from F1 action, this qualifying session saw Alpine’s Fernando Alonso deliver a masterful performance by putting his A521 on P9.

Results

Pos.No.DriverCarQ1Q2Q3Laps
133Max VerstappenRed Bull Racing Honda1:30.4991:30.3181:28.99715
244Lewis HamiltonMercedes AMG1:30.6171:30.0851:29.38518
377Valtteri BottasMercedes AMG1:31.2001:30.1861:29.58617
416Charles LeclercFerrari1:30.6911:30.0101:29.67815
510Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri Honda1:30.8481:30.5131:29.80915
63Daniel RicciardoMcLaren Mercedes1:30.7951:30.2221:29.92718
74Lando NorrisMcLaren Mercedes1:30.9021:30.0991:29.97418
855Carlos SainzFerrari1:31.6531:30.0091:30.21517
914Fernando AlonsoAlpine Renault1:30.8631:30.5951:30.24915
1018Lance StrollAston Martin Mercedes1:31.2611:30.6241:30.60115
1111Sergio PerezRed Bull Racing Honda1:31.1651:30.659-11
1299Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo Racing Ferrari1:30.9981:30.708-12
1322Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri Honda1:30.6071:31.203-9
147Kimi RäikkönenAlfa Romeo Racing Ferrari1:31.5471:31.238-12
1563George RussellWilliams Mercedes1:31.3161:33.430-11
1631Esteban OconAlpine Renault1:31.724--6
176Nicholas LatifiWilliams Mercedes1:31.936--8
185Sebastian VettelAston Martin Mercedes1:32.056--6
1947Mick SchumacherHaas Ferrari1:32.449--6
209Nikita MazepinHaas Ferrari1:33.273--7