Sakhir, (Bahrain), March 28 (IANS) Max Verstappen of Red Bull took a brilliant pole position for Sunday’s season-opening Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix by beating reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton by around four tenths of a second.
Verstappen clocked 1 minute 28.997 seconds in Saturday’s qualifying on the 5.412-kilometre International Circuit in Sakhir as temperatures began to cool in the Bahrain evening, DPA news reports.
It was Verstappen’s fourth career pole position and was delivered on his final flying lap where he put together his fastest times in all three sectors of the track.
Verstappen topped all three practice sessions but the nature of his pole is the biggest indication yet he can challenge Hamilton and Red Bull could threaten the dominance of seven-time reigning champion Mercedes throughout the marathon 23-race season to come.
“We had a good week of testing,” said Verstappen. “There are no guarantees but it’s been great so far, really enjoyable to drive.
“With the wind conditions changing, it’s not easy to change the set up of the car but I’m really happy with pole position.
“My first lap in Q3 wasn’t amazing but finally, the balance was there. You have to be careful not to overheat the rear tyres.
“The car has been steady on the short and long runs, we have a good car. We need a good, clean start.”
Red Bull emerged the strongest looking team from pre-season testing, also held in Sakhir, while Mercedes have struggled but Hamilton was competitive in qualifying before losing out by 0.388 seconds to Verstappen’s final push.
Verstappen “did such an amazing job, so fast on that last lap,” said Hamilton.
“I gave it everything I had but unfortunately not good enough. It was the best I could do and I got everything I could from the car.
“We did a really good job from testing to come here and everyone in the factory has done a fantastic job considering in testing we thought we would be further behind.”
Valtteri Bottas was third in the other Mercedes while Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari completes the second row of the grid.
Bottas admitted “the practice this morning wasn’t easy” and said he still “had a couple of issues with balance.
“We have two cars in the mix at the front with Max, so we’ll see.”
Pierre Gasly was fifth for Alpha Tauri ahead of both McLarens, for whom new boy Daniel Ricciardo edged out Lando Norris.
Carlos Sainz with eighth on his Ferrari debut while two-time world champion Fernando Alonso was ninth on his return with Alpine after two years away. Lance Stroll of Aston Martin completed the top 10.
Red Bull had less success with Sergio Perez, who failed to get out of Q2 as his runs on the medium tyres left him 11th by a fraction. Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo), Yuki Tsunoda (Alpha Tauri), Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo) and George Russell (Williams) also exited in Q2.
Sebastian Vettel’s endured a disappointing start with new team Aston Martin as he finished 18th after his final flying lap was hindered by Nikita Mazepin spinning his Haas and then Sainz slowing for a brief engine problem.
Vettel said that he was disappointed but “we had to position ourselves better” before the final decisive lap.
Russia’s Mazepin was 20th with team-mate Mick Schumacher, son of German F1 legend Michael, one spot better as the pair debuted. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) and Nicholas Latifi (Williams) also exited in Q1.
“Very short but in the end very happy,” Schumacher said of his display. “We knew that there wasn’t much (chance) of being forward but we were quite close.”