Verstappen takes Bahrain pole in close qualifying session

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Bahrain, Bahrain International Circuitbh

Max Verstappen will start from the best possible position in tomorrow's Bahrain Grand Prix, the season opener of the 2024 Formula One season. Verstappen was 2 tenths faster than Ferrari's Charles Leclerc who will join on the front row .

Qualifying for the first race weekend of the season is typically the first true indicator of performance where everybody runs the minimum fuel levels and use full power.

When the light at the end of the pitlane went green, the Ferraris and Alpines were first to take to the track all opting for the medium compound tyre. Of them, Sainz ended up fastest, 0.052s ahead of Charles Leclerc.

Strangely everybody else waited until the first four were back in the pits, leading to a big queue in the pitlane, again due to people trying to get some gap ahead of them without falling foul to the minimum laptime rule during qualifying to prevent dangerous pace reductions on track.

By the time this pack ended up on track, the other early runners joined the action again as well, this time on the soft compound, just like everybody else.

Piastri was the first those who are expected to be near the front to cross the line on the softs, setting a 1:30.692. Clearly the pace is a lot higher than last year but that lap only put him 10th after everybody completed their first laps. Sainz ended up fastest, a tenth ahead of Verstappen and another tenth ahead of Norris. Alonso was fourth, then Perez, Leclerc, Russell, Hulkenberg and Albon in 9th.

Hamilton was down in 12th only after that first lap while the Alpines ended up at the very back, closely matching each other at 1.352s and 1.372s off the pace setter.

The small margins triggered every driver to go out again except for Sainz who gambled on making it through with his 1:29.909 lap. Norris and Leclerc both went out on fresh tyres but then returned to the pits without completing a lap.

At the end of Q1 there were no real surprises with regards to those who were eliminated. The Alpines did improve on their times and ended up at 1s off the pace setter but still 19th and 20th. Sargeant and both Kick Sauber drivers joined them towards the exit.

The second session kicked off with the Haas cars but they were soon followed be the other remaining 13 cars. This time around the Red Bulls had clearly turned up their engines, sending Verstappen to top the timesheet with a lap in 1:29.374, 6 tenths faster than Sainz's topping time of Q1.

Sergio Perez ended up a solid 5 tenths behind, closely followed by Norris. Leclerc was 4th, then Alonso and Hamilton. Carlos Sainz in 7 was already more than a second down while Magnussen ended up 15th after his laptime got deleted.

Everybody went out for another run though Verstappen returned to the pits after a sluggish couple of sectors. Leclerc improved massively and took the top with 2 tenths ahead of Verstappen's effort. Sainz slotted into 3rd as Hamilton improved to 4th, Alonso into 5th and Hulkenberg 7th.

Tsunoda was disappointed to end up eliminated by just 0.007s against Piastri. Stroll was eliminated too, along with Albon, Ricciardo and Magnussen.

Q3 kicked off with Hulkenberg once again, and again he surprised, performing well above what Haas had expected themselves in this first weekend of the season. Verstappen eventually ended up fastest but Charles Leclerc was only 0.059s with used tyres. Russell with fresh softs was 2 tenths away, as was Sainz. All those behind set their first flying laps on used tyres.

Alonso meanwhile didn't go with the flow and went out only when everybody else returned to the pits. The Spaniard therefore had the track for himself in his flying lap. Alonso had a solid lap and ended up third, 0.121s away from Verstappen.

Nearly everybody still managed to improve again on their second laps but it was Verstappen who maintained the lead and took pole position by 0.228s. Leclerc will start on the front row with Russell and Sainz behind.

Overall the gaps were small with 9th placed Hamilton just 0.531s behind Verstappen. With such small gaps the race is likely to be a close affair with the smallest mistake probably going to be a big deal.