Verstappen won his fourth career pole to deny Hamilton his 99th, edging the world champion by 0.39 seconds on his last attempt.
“The whole weekend has been pretty good so far,” said Verstappen. “We knew what our weaknesses were last year and it looks like we fixed them.”
Verstappen praised Honda for improving its reliability.
“Honda has worked very hard to improve their engine,” he said. “Their rotation has been very good and their understanding of the engine is impressive. They are flat all the time and want to win. ”
Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas was 0.59 behind Verstappen in third, while Charles Leclerc qualified in an encouraging fourth for Ferrari. Another encouraging sign for Honda, Pierre Gasly finished fifth for AlphaTauri, which also uses their engine.
Verstappen clinched the end of the season in Abu Dhabi last December on pole and is now the 11th win of his career. Hamilton is looking for a record 96th victory.
“We knew it would be a challenge, a little hard work,” said Hamilton. “Congratulations to Max. I gave everything I had. ”
Verstappen led the first part of qualifying, known as Q1, ahead of Japanese AlphaTauri rider Yuki Tsunoda, 20. Both cars use Honda engines and the Japanese automaker is in its final season before leaving F1.
Sebastian Vettel, who had a scorching season last year with Ferrari, started the news badly. He was one of the five drivers eliminated from Q1 and started 18th for Aston Martin.
Michael Schumacher’s son Mick Schumacher starts 19th on the track where his father won the inaugural race in 2004, the year he claimed his seventh F1 title. Hamilton is looking to win a record-breaking eighth title.
Ferrari duo Carlos Sainz Jr. and Leclerc dominated Q2 ahead of Hamilton, an encouraging sign for the famous Italian manufacturer given last season’s struggles.
Earlier in the day, Verstappen clocked the fastest time in final practice as, in warm conditions, he was 0.74 seconds faster than Hamilton. Vettel returned to the garage with about 20 minutes left in the session, telling his team that debris had struck his racing helmet.
Qualifying took place in the evening in cooler conditions as the sun set over the Sakhir Desert track.
Verstappen has continued his form since pre-season testing and last year’s end-of-season Abu Dhabi GP, which he won.
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