Max Verstappen faced off the challenge from seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton to score the first pole position of the new Formula 1 season, as the Red Bull driver grabbed the Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying by over 0.3 seconds.
The Red Bull Racing star was in the zone as he was fastest in all three practice sessions at the Sakhir circuit, and Hamilton was fighting Max for the top position through Q3, with the latter twice taking provisional pole before being upstaged.
Hamilton’s first Q3 run of one minute, 29.549 seconds ended up 0.023 seconds behind Verstappen’s one minute, 29.526 seconds.
On the second Q3 runs, Hamilton improved to a one minute, 29.383 seconds, but was not able to improve his personal best time in the middle sector.
Verstappen, by contrast, swept to the session’s fastest times in all three sectors on his final run, as he took pole with a time of one minute, 28.997 seconds.
Valtteri Bottas improved on his final run in Q3 to take third, with Charles Leclerc fourth for Ferrari.
Leclerc, like Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso, only did on run in Q3 and used his one shot to knocked AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly back to fifth position.
Daniel Ricciardo beat his new McLaren teammate Lando Norris to sixth, with Carlos Sainz eighth for Ferrari.
Sainz had had a nervous moment at the end of Q1 when his engine appeared to cut out on his final run after he’d clattered over the kerbs at the exit of Turn 2 and was forced to trail slowly back to the pits.
Alonso’s Formula 1 qualifying return resulted in ninth position, with Stroll shuffled back to tenth after completing his sole Q3 run in the gap between the majority of the runners doing their first and second laps.
Verstappen, the two Mercedes drivers and Gasly will start the race on the medium tyres after getting through Q2 with a significant strategy advantage over the rest of the top ten, as the soft tyres the rest will use are likely to degrade heavily in the opening stint.
Sergio Perez’s first qualifying at Red Bull did not go to plan, as he was knocked out by Norris’s final improvement at the end of Q2.
The Sakhir Grand Prix winner had had his first Q2 time deleted for running too wide and falling foul of the track limits policing at the exit of the Turn 4 wide right-hander, while running on the medium tyres.
Perez went again on the mediums at the end of Q2 and even though he went over a tenth faster than the deleted lap, other cars improving behind him meant he was shuffled out of the top 10.
Antonio Giovinazzi scored his best dry qualifying result since the 2019 Brazilian Grand Prix with P12, ahead of Yuki Tsunoda, who also could not get through Q2 on the medium tyres.
The AlphaTauri driver had finished Q1 in P2 but could not replicate his teammate’s effort on the yellow-walled rubber and was knocked out in P13.
Kimi Raikkonen finished P15, ahead of George Russell, who got out out of Q1 for the tenth time since the start of last season.
In Q1, a late Turn 1 spin for Haas driver Nikita Mazepin, who also spun off at Turn 13 at the start of the final sector in the early minutes of the opening segment of qualifying, cost two high-profile drivers.
A late improvement for Stroll meant Esteban Ocon was knocked out in P16 and left to rue the spun Haas in front of him at the start of his final lap – but this was still his best time and Ocon may be vulnerable to a post-qualifying stewards’ investigation that will examine all times set under the yellow flags that Mazepin’s off brought out.
Nicholas Latifi ended up P17 after setting his best time in Q1 ahead of Mazepin’s incident, while Sebastian Vettel’s difficult start to life at Aston Martin continued as he was knocked out in P18 – another driver who came across Mazepin’s car at Turn 1 on their final laps, and Vettel was came across yellows for Sainz’s slow travelling car exiting the Turn 8 hairpin.
Mick Schumacher’s improvement on his final Q1 lap boosted him ahead of Mazepin on the all-Haas final row of the grid.
So an exciting qualifying session with Verstappen beating the 2020 champion Hamilton to pole position. The fight between Red Bull and Mercedes is going to be intense and dramatic. This is brilliant racing!
Qualifying positions, Bahrain Grand Prix:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:28.997
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:29.385
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:29.586
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:29.678
5 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 1:29.809
6 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1:29.927
7 Lando Norris McLaren 1:29.974
8 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:30.215
9 Fernando Alonso Alpine 1:30.249
10 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:30.601
11 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1:30.659
12 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo 1:30.708
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:31.203
14 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo 1:31.238
15 George Russell Williams 1:33.430
16 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:31.724
17 Nicholas Latifi Williams 1:31.936
18 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 1:32.056
19 Mick Schumacher Haas 1:32.449
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas 1:33.273