Red Bull’s Max Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes to take a superb pole position at the season opener Bahrain Grand Prix.
The Dutchman was 0.388 seconds faster than Hamilton as Red Bull pulled off the pace the world champion had always said he had before the season.
Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas finished third, ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly’s Alpha Tauri.
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez finished 11th and Sebastian Vettel 18th for Aston Martin.
What about Verstappen?
Red Bull had looked at the fastest car in pre-season testing, at least in the hands of Verstappen, and Hamilton had said ahead of this race that Mercedes was “not the fastest”.
Verstappen had played down his status as a favorite, but his confident demeanor and body language told a different story, and the car’s pace on the track and its handling underscored it.
Verstappen was the fastest in the three test sessions, and again in the first qualifying session, and his pace in the final session was all he had promised so far.
Verstappen beat Hamilton by just 0.023sec on his first lap of the final session, but took one storm out of the bag on his final race.
“Of course we’ve already had a great week of testing,” said Verstappen. “There are no guarantees but the whole week the car has been running so well and has been really fun to drive. Everything went perfectly, so of course very satisfied with the pole position.
“My first lap in Q3 wasn’t amazing so I knew there was more. I didn’t know how well but the balance was there and I could push more and luckily when it mattered we could perform.
“In general, the car performs very well on short and long journeys. “
Hamilton said: “Amazing. Max did a great job. He was so quick on that last lap. Absolutely 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’ve done such a good job from testing, guys back to the factory, getting the car where we needed it to be closer to the Red Bulls. During the tests, we thought we were further behind. ”
Behind the big three
Leclerc lived up to his reputation as one of F1’s fastest drivers in a single qualifying lap with an outstanding performance in the Ferrari.
He had been passed by new teammate Carlos Sainz for most of the weekend, but on his final lap he rekindled memories of some of his stellar performances last year and beat Sainz by 0.537sec.
The Spaniard finished eighth fastest, just ahead of Fernando Alonso’s Alpine, back in F1 after a two-year absence.
Alonso seemed to struggle during practice, but he came to life in qualifying. He was 0.5 seconds faster than his teammate Esteban Ocon on his first round of the first session before the Frenchman was hampered by a yellow flag on his second round and was eliminated at the end of Q1.
Behind Leclerc, Gasly proved that the Alpha Tauri team, Red Bull’s second team, had made great strides this winter, to beat the McLarens of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris.
The Frenchman’s rookie teammate Yuki Tsunoda of Japan caused a sensation when he passed second fastest in the first session, but fell as qualifying progressed, and failed to make it through the second session. to line up 11th on the grid.
Gasly has an advantage over Leclerc, McLarens and Alonso as he passed Q2 on the medium tire, which is the preferred tire for the start of the race, while the other cars in the leading midfielder start on the soft.
Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll was the last driver in the top 10.
A bad start for Perez and Vettel
Perez was signed by Red Bull in hopes he might be closer to Verstappen than his predecessors Alex Albon and Gasly.
But the Mexican stalled in the second session, when he chose to continue on medium tires for a second run, after being 0.4 seconds slower than Verstappen in his first run, and was edged out by other drivers with slower cars switching to softts.
It was even worse for Vettel. The four-time champion had been behind his teammate Stroll all weekend and had a poor lap in his first round in Q1. He couldn’t improve in his second run because Haas rookie Nikita Mazepin spun past him at Turn 1 and pulled out yellow warning flags.
Mazepin, who has completed four laps over the weekend so far, will not have won any friends by his actions, as there is a gentlemen’s agreement not to overtake the other cars in the queue for start a quick lap around the last corners of the circuit.
His teammate Mick Schumacher, son of seven-time champion Michael, qualified 19th on his debut with Haas.
George Russell arrived in Q2 and finished 15th for Williams.