Leclerc survives Baku qualifying to take pole

Charles Leclerc achieved his second successive shock Formula 1 pole position as Azerbaijan Grand Prix qualifying ended in similarly bizarre circumstances to Monaco with a late Q3 red flag.

The Scuderia Ferrari driver led the way after the first runs in Q3, but Yuki Tsunoda crashing at Turn 3 with just a few seconds of the session remaining – and Carlos Sainz also hitting the barriers just behind the AlphaTauri – secured Leclerc’s pole ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.

The session had already been heavily disrupted and delayed by three other red flags, caused by Lance Stroll and Antonio Giovinazzi crashing in Q1 and Daniel Ricciardo doing likewise in Q2.

Leclerc’s time of one minute, 41.218 seconds initial lap in Q3 came as he led the pack around, but crucially picked up a significant tow when he caught up with Hamilton – completing a second warm-up lap running behind teammate Valtteri Bottas – in the closing stages of the track.

This boosted Leclerc to a 0.232 seconds advantage over Hamilton when the Mercedes drivers did complete the first of what should have been two runs in Q3, with Bottas ending up down the order as he had towed Hamilton.

Red Bull, the favourite for pole position, ended up with Verstappen in third as he could not match Leclerc on the opening Q3 runs despite being towed by teammate Sergio Perez.

Pierre Gasly took an excellent fourth as the AlphaTauri drivers completed their first Q3 laps in the middle part of the segment when the rest of the top ten were in the pits preparing for the final goes that were ultimately aborted.

Tsunoda towed Gasly around – the rookie’s lap ending up being good enough for P8, with Bottas shuffled down to P10.

Along with the rest, he never got the chance to improve as Tsunoda – who had stayed out for a second go following a cool-down lap where the AlphaTauri drivers became mixed in with the rest of the pack, now preparing for their final runs – crashed at Turn 3 – the 90-degree left at the end of the back straight early in the first sector.

He braked too late and locked his left-front, which sent him nose-first into the barriers, with Sainz “losing the focus” as he followed Tsunoda’s lock-up and crashed, the Ferrari’s rear swinging around and its front wing being knocked off against the wall on the inside of the Turn 3 run-off area.

Behind the polesitter, Hamilton, Verstappen and Gasly came Sainz, Lando Norris and Perez, while Fernando Alonso was sandwiched between Tsunoda and Bottas in P9.

Norris faces a post-qualifying investigation for a possible red flag procedure infraction during Q1.

Q2 ended 90 seconds early after Ricciardo locked up his front left and slide straight into the wall on the outside of Turn 3.

The McLaren’s right front was knocked off in the impact and the middle segment was not restarted, which meant several drivers – including Ricciardo – were eliminated based on their initial run times.

Sebastian Vettel was vocally livid to miss a Q3 spot by 0.029 seconds as he ended up P11, ahead of Esteban Ocon, who had clipped the wall with his right rear exiting the same corner as where Ricciardo, who qualified P13, would later crash.

Kimi Raikkonen was P14 ahead of George Russell, who maintained his 100 percent progression from Q1-Q2 for Williams in 2021.

This came after he missed the opening minutes of Q1 as his team worked to switch him back to a previously used engine as the new one he had been running in FP3 suffered a water pump leak and had to be removed.

In Q1, the incidents involving Lance Stroll and Antonio Giovinazzi meant the opening segment lasted over 40 minutes.

Both drivers hit the wall at the fast Turn 15 left – the turn heading downhill at the end of the second sector where Leclerc and Verstappen crashed in FP2 and FP3 respectively – with Stroll’s occurring first just three minutes into Q1.

The Aston Martin driver struck the wall nearly square-on with his right front after sliding to the incident with understeer.

The impact snapped the suspension and he pulled over to the inside of the track’s final real corner, with the red flags brought out when only Leclerc had completed a timed lap, as he had been running at the end of pack.

After a 12-minute delay, the session restarted, with the Mercedes pair switched from mediums to the softs that the rest of the field were running, but proceedings only lasted a further five minutes before Giovinazzi hit the wall.

The Alfa Romeo driver locked his left-front and went further into the barriers than Stroll, with Giovinazzi stopping immediately with the right-side of his car heavily damaged.

The red flags returned with the Mercedes drivers among those still yet to set a time, although Hamilton eventually took his used softs to the fastest time in the opening segment.

When Q1 eventually finished, Nicholas Latifi and the Haas duo were eliminated, with Mick Schumacher leading Nikita Mazepin, who had to take to the escape road at Turn 4 on his final flying lap – where he was running just in front of Hamilton.

So a dramatic qualifying session with four red flags. In the end, Charles Leclerc survived the chaos to take the fastest lap and pole position in Baku.

Azerbaijan Grand Prix, qualifying positions:
1 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:41.218
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:41.450
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:41.563
4 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1:41.565
5 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:41.576
6 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1:41.747
7 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1:41.917
8 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 1:42.211
9 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1:42.327
10 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:42.659
11 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:42.224
12 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1:42.273
13 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1:42.558
14 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:42.587
15 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1:42.758
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1:43.128
17 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 1:44.158
18 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 1:44.238
19 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes No time
20 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari No time

Verstappen wins at Monaco and becomes new championship leader

Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen drove a brilliant race to take victory at the Monaco Grand Prix and becomes the new Formula 1 championship leader.

Verstappen dominated from the front and finished ahead of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris, after polesitter Charles Leclerc could not start and Valtteri Bottas was forced to retired.

Following his late Q3 crash, Leclerc reported a problem with his gearbox on his only pre-race lap to the grid – although Ferrari later announced a damaged driveshaft meant he could not take the start.

Lewis Hamilton could only finish in seventh, frustrated with Mercedes strategy call after he lost two positions during the single pitstop phase.

When the five red lights went out, Verstappen immediately moved to block Bottas’s run to the inside line for Ste Devote from his P2 grid spot, cutting off the Mercedes, which had made a slightly better launch off the line from third.

Verstappen’s aggressive defence easily kept him in the lead, with Bottas briefly locking his left-front as the pack steamed into the first corner.

The two leaders quickly surged clear of Sainz’s third place, the Ferrari initially unable to match their pace.

The opening stage of the 78-lap race featured the leading drivers managing their pace as they worked to create a pitstop gap to the runners using the medium and hard tyres in the pack behind.

Verstappen controlled the pace up front – his laps gradually getting quicker – with Bottas running just out of DRS range in second, as Sainz closed again on the two leaders until his gap to Bottas almost reached the two-second mark, where it remained.

The leader’s advantage extended to nearly three seconds by the one-quarter-distance mark, after Mercedes had asked Bottas to show his best pace, as the Finn in fact fell further back towards Sainz.

Bottas could not match Verstappen’s pace in the low one minute, 16 seconds at this stage and the gap between them grew to nearly five-seconds once 25 laps had been completed.

After Hamilton had kicked off the pitstops by stopping for hards at the end of lap 29, in a doomed attempt to undercut Pierre Gasly’s fifth place, Bottas came in the next time around.

But a disastrous pitstop where the right-front soft remained stuck on Bottas’s W12 because the wheel nut machined onto the axle and could not be removed, which meant the Finn’s race was ended.

Sainz came in two laps later, now comfortably in second, while Red Bull waited until lap 34 to bring in Verstappen, who emerged with a 6.5 seconds lead over the Ferrari once all the stops had shaken out.

In the immediate phase after the stops, Sainz managed to cut Verstappen’s lead in half as he lapped in the low 1m15s, before the Red Bull upped its pace and the gap between the pair stabilised.

They regularly ran in the mid-1m14s during the middle phase of the race, exchanging quicker times over several tours, but the difference between them remained steady.

Heading into the final 15 laps, Verstappen was able to pull away slightly as he asserted control over the gap to second once again, eventually coming home with a winning margin of 8.9s as Sainz faded as the completed laps built up.

The result gives Verstappen the lead of the drivers’ standings for the first time in his career.

Bottas’s retirement meant Lando Norris moved up to third as McLaren negotiated the pitstop phase smoothly, with the Briton having something of a lonely race for the majority of the event to take the final spot on the podium behind the dominant leaders.

Norris did struggle for tyre life in the closing stages, with Sergio Perez closing in rapidly in the second Red Bull but he was unable to find a way by ahead of the finish.

Perez, who had started a net eighth with Leclerc’s absence, was the big winner during the pitstops, where Hamilton ended up immensely frustrated at Mercedes’ strategy.

Being the first driver to stop did not pay off for the world champion, as Gasly was able to stay ahead when he came in one lap after Hamilton, who then lost a place to Sebastian Vettel as well when the Aston Martin driver jumped up two spots by staying out longer and overcutting the AlphaTauri and the Mercedes.

But Red Bull left Perez out in clear air even longer, the Mexican eventually coming in one lap 35 having lapped in the mid 1m14s bracket as he enjoyed strong pace in clear air.

Perez actually cycled through to temporarily lead just before he stopped and handed his teammate back the P1 stop Verstappen would not lose again, as Perez rejoined well clear of the Vettel-Gasly-Hamilton train.

After initially failing to make much in-road on Norris’s advantage in third, he rapidly cut the gap approaching the final 15 laps, but his chase ended up stalling with the gap to Norris just over a second, with the margin at the finish exactly 1.0 seconds.

Vettel came home solidly in fifth, with Hamilton trailing Gasly by 14.3 seconds at the flag after stopping to move back to softs late on to chase the fastest lap point.

He successfully managed that quest, setting a new track record of one minute, 12.909 seconds.

Lance Stroll gained from his net P12 starting spot by running the hard tyre from the start and then staying out until lap 58, where he maintained the eighth place he had risen too after switching to the softs.

Stroll was investigated for potentially crossing the pit exit line as he rejoined after his stop, but the stewards took no action and he came home untroubled in eighth.

Esteban Ocon defied late pressure from Antonio Giovinazzi, as the Alpine and Alfa Romeo drivers rounded out the top ten – the former struggling for tyre life after being given mediums at his stop compared to the hards on his rival’s machine.

Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo were not far behind at the finish – the latter ending up a lap down on his McLaren teammate – with Fernando Alonso 13th a chunk further back.

With Bottas the only retirement and Leclerc not starting, the rest of the finishers were Williams pair George Russell and Nicholas Latifi, Yuki Tsunoda – who stopped last of all on lap 65 and ended up with the second fastest race lap, 1.128 seconds slower than Hamilton’s effort – and the Haas duo Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher.

So congratulations to Max Verstappen with this Monaco Grand Prix victory. He becomes the new Formula 1 championship leader. What a drive in the Red Bull-Honda.

Monaco Grand Prix, race results:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:38:56.820
2 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 8.968
3 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 19.427
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 20.490
5 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 52.591
6 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 53.896
7 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:08.231
8 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes +1 lap
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault +1 lap
10 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +1 lap
11 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +1 lap
12 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes +1 lap
13 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault +1 lap
14 George Russell Williams-Mercedes +1 lap
15 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes +1 lap
16 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda +1 lap
17 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari +3 laps
18 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari +3 laps
– Valtteri Bottas Mercedes DNF
– Charles Leclerc Ferrari DNS

Leclerc takes Monaco Grand Prix pole position despite crashing

Scuderia Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc claimed pole position at the Monaco Grand Prix in a bizarre circumstances as he crashed with seconds remaining in Q3, which prevented any of his rivals improving.

Leclerc had claimed provisional pole with a time of one minute, 10.346 seconds lap after the opening runs in Q3, where the drivers were each taking several warm-up laps to get their tyres to the best operating temperatures.

He led Max Verstappen by 0.230 seconds, with the Red Bull leading the pack around to start the final runs.

Verstappen had just set the session’s fastest time in the first sector when, ahead of him on the track and about to finish his final flying lap of the session, Leclerc clipped the inside barrier at the second part of the Swimming Pool.

That broke the Ferrari’s right-front suspension and sent him into the barriers on the outside, with the red flags showing with just over ten seconds remaining on the clock.

The Q3 session was not restarted, which meant Leclerc’s lap from earlier stood as the pole time, with Valtteri Bottas ending up third position behind Verstappen.

Carlos Sainz Jr took fourth, with Lando Norris fifth for McLaren – taking an contra-approach in Q3 by running in the middle of the segment and returning to the pits ahead of the final runs.

Pierre Gasly finished sixth, with Lewis Hamilton only seventh for Mercedes.

The world champion struggled with oversteer throughout the session, never looking like he was set the threaten the top spots, and at one point late in Q3 appearing to clip the barrier at Portier.

Sebastian Vettel was eighth ahead of Sergio Perez and Antonio Giovinazzi, who gave Alfa Romeo its first Q3 appearance of the season.

Esteban Ocon found a chunk of time on his final lap in Q2 but ended up 0.077 seconds slower than Giovinazzi as the highest faller in the middle segment.

Behind him, Daniel Ricciardo, Lance Stroll and Kimi Raikkonen all found time on their last laps but were also knocked out.

George Russell qualified P15 after continuing his record of progressing from Q1 at every event so far in 2021. He went faster again in Q2, but could not climb any higher.

In Q1, where all the field completed several laps to build up to speed – Verstappen and Norris had the joint lowest lap count, seven – all the fallers completed their best times in the opening segment on their final runs.

But those improvements where not enough for Yuki Tsunoda and Fernando Alonso, who became to surprise exits for AlphaTauri and Alpine respectively.

Behind them came Nicholas Latifi and Nikita Mazepin, with the latter’s teammate, Mick Schumacher, set to start the race in last after his FP3 shunt at Casino Square.

The damage to the rear and left-hand side of Schumacher’s Haas chassis was so severe that he could not take part in qualifying, with the team continuing to evaluate just how much damage had been done ahead of the session starting.

So an anti-climax end to qualifying as Max Verstappen was about to challenge Charles Leclerc for pole position. But Leclerc misjudged the apex at the Swimming Pool section and into the barriers. At least he achieved the fastest time to take P1 for Ferrari.

Monaco Grand Prix, qualifying positions:
1 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:10.346
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:10.576
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:10.601
4 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:10.611
5 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1:10.620
6 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1:10.900
7 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:11.095
8 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:11.419
9 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1:11.573
10 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:11.779
11 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1:11.486
12 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1:11.598
13 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:11.600
14 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:11.642
15 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1:11.830
16 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 1:12.096
17 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1:12.205
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1:12.366
19 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 1:12.958
20 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari –

Hamilton and Mercedes wins strategic battle to take victory

After scoring his 100th pole position, Lewis Hamilton won the Spanish Grand Prix thanks to a superior pitstop strategy to rival Max Verstappen.

The two title contenders came extremely close to touching at Turn 1, with Verstappen making an aggressive move to get ahead, which forced Mercedes into making two bold strategy calls to get Hamilton back into a position to win his 98th Grand Prix.

At the start, Verstappen appeared to make a faster getaway from the front row, but dipped in behind Hamilton once the Mercedes shot up to speed.

But Verstappen stole to the inside for the first corner and boldly held on to take the racing line through Turn 2, which meant the two leaders came very close to touching – Hamilton backing out and a collision avoided by the barest of margins.

Bottas followed the top three through the opening two turns, but as he trailed Hamilton through Turn 3 he was overtaken by Charles Leclerc roaring around on the outside line – emulating Fernando Alonso’s similar move at the start of the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix.

Leclerc muscling into third meant the top two easily began to romp away in the closing stages of the 66-lap race, with Verstappen and Hamilton the only drivers lapping in the one minute, 23 seconds.

Verstappen was able to edge clear to a near two-second lead before Hamilton had just begun to close back in when the race was suspended by a safety car period called on lap eight so Yuki Tsunoda’s car could be recovered from the outside of the reprofiled Turn 10 – the AlphaTauri appearing to shutdown on Tsunoda as he approached the long left-hander.

When the race restarted on lap 11, Verstappen dropped Hamilton exiting the final chicane and weaved across the main straight to try and disrupt the tow going back the Mercedes, which was in any case close to the following Leclerc.

As DRS was suspended for the first two laps after the restart, Hamilton could not get close while running at just under a second behind and Verstappen was able to just creep his advantage up above the critical one-second threshold when DRS was reactivated.

Much like at the start, Verstappen and Hamilton quickly pulled clear of Leclerc and Bottas – again lapping at a low one minute, 23 seconds pace that the rest of the pack could not match.

As the race moved past the end of its first third, Hamilton began to heavily pressure Verstappen, who pitted at the end of lap 24 to take the medium tyres – but had to endure a 4.2 seconds stop as the Red Bull’s new left-rear tyre was still coming out of the garage when the Dutchman arrived at his box.

But Mercedes did not bring Hamilton in to cover the Red Bull stop on the next tour – team boss Toto Wolff heard complaining to race director Michael Masi about Nikita Mazepin holding up Hamilton on the lap after Verstappen came in.

Hamilton was left out for three further laps before he came in to take the mediums, with Leclerc following him in far behind and emerging well adrift of Bottas, who had pitted the lap before Verstappen.

Verstappen comfortably retook the lead with Hamilton in the pits and had a 5.5s lead at the end of the Mercedes driver’s out-lap.

But Hamilton’s tyre offset meant he could run at a much quicker pace – the world champion carving into Verstappen’s lead by around 1.5 seconds a lap as he logged successive laps in low-to-mid one minute, 21 seconds.

By the start of lap 34, he was just a second behind the leader and continued to home in – with Mercedes even telling Bottas that his pace in third was good enough to catch the Red Bull by the end.

In the subsequent phase of the race, Hamilton was in and out of Verstappen’s DRS range, but was unable to get really close to the leader, who had upped his pace significantly to reach the one minute, 21 seconds bracket when Hamilton reached the critical on-second deficit.

With the gap at the front relatively stable, Mercedes made an aggressive call to pit Hamilton again at the end of lap 42 for another set of mediums – these ones used from earlier in the weekend.

At the end of Hamilton’s out-lap, he faced a 22 seconds gap to close, with Red Bull opting to leave Verstappen out on a one-stopper to the finish as he had no medium tyres left heading into the race.

Hamilton again carved into Verstappen’s lead – regularly setting fastest laps and going over 1.5 seconds quicker – but he did appear to lose time at one point passing Bottas just as the final 15 laps approached, with the second Mercedes ordered not to hold up the other car, but Hamilton still having to make closer-than-comfortable move into Turn 10 on lap 53.

But once Hamilton was clear he continued to rapidly close in on Verstappen with a string of fastest laps and reached the leader again on lap 59.

As they ran down the pit straight at the start of the next tour, Verstappen weaved to break the tow once again, but Hamilton’s pace was so much higher with DRS that he shot ahead on the outside line and swept back into the lead at the exact spot he had lost it on the opening lap.

Red Bull immediately then opted to pit Verstappen for a second time to chase the fastest lap bonus point – a tactic Mercedes had already taken with Bottas.

Hamilton came home with a comfortable 15.8 seconds lead at the finish, with Verstappen winning the battle to take the fastest lap with a one minute, 18.149 seconds.

Leclerc finished a lonely fourth – Bottas had had to pass him with a DRS blast in the closing stages after the Mercedes driver’s late second stop – well clear of Sergio Perez, who came home fifth after winning a lengthy mid-race scrap with McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo.

Carlos Sainz finished seventh ahead of Lando Norris, who received a black-and-white flag sanction for an aggressive late move to defend against the Ferrari into Turn 1 as the race entered its final quarter.

Esteban Ocon lost ground from his fifth place grid spot at the start and he eventually came home ninth ahead of Pierre Gasly, who came out on top of an intense fight with the pack just outside the top ten – which was at the time headed by Fernando Alonso, who eventually came home P17 – in the final laps.

Gasly had to serve a five-second penalty at his first stop for lining up too far over of his grid spot for the start.

So congratulations to Lewis Hamilton in winning the Spanish Grand Prix from title rival Max Verstappen. The two-stop strategy was far superior even though track position is key around this circuit. Better grip and speed will reward a great result.

Spanish Grand Prix, race results:

1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:33:07.680
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 15.841
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 26.610
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 54.616
5 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1:03.671
6 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1:13.768
7 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:14.670
8 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes +1 lap
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault +1 lap
10 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda +1 lap
11 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes +1 lap
12 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +1 lap
13 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes +1 lap
14 George Russell Williams-Mercedes +1 lap
15 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari +1 lap
16 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes +1 lap
17 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault +1 lap
18 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari +2 laps
19 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari +2 laps
– Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda DNF

Hamilton achieves his 100th career pole position

Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton achieved his 100th Formula 1 career pole position at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, edging out main rival Max Verstappen for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Valtteri Bottas will start third in the other Mercedes, with both Black Arrows cars and the leading Red Bull joining the rest of the Q3 runners in getting through the middle segment of qualifying on the soft tyres, on which they will start the race.

Hamilton led the way after the opening runs in Q3 with a one minute, 16.741 seconds, with Verstappen slotting in 0.036 seconds behind.

But none of the top three went faster on their second runs, with Hamilton falling from a personal best in the first sector to end up behind overall – particularly losing a chunk sliding wide and onto the big kerb at the exit of the penultimate corner.

That gave Verstappen a chance to steal ahead, but failed to improve on his best times in any of the Barcelona track’s three sectors, as did Bottas.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc did set a personal best on his final Q3 lap to take P4 ahead of Alpine driver and Carlos Sainz, who had headed Leclerc throughout Q1 and Q2.

Daniel Ricciardo surged back from his Portimao Q1 elimination to take seventh for McLaren and beat Sergio Perez, who spun heading into the downhill Turn 13 right ahead of the final chicane on his opening run in Q3.

Perez had dipped his left-side wheels into the gravel and violently spun around as a result, but was able to get away from the danger spot before Hamilton, who was running behind the Red Bull on his way to set what was the pole time, came through.

Lando Norris finished ninth in the second McLaren ahead of Fernando Alonso.

In Q2, Ricciardo’s improvement on his final flying lap – which included the segment’s best time in the first sector – knocked out Lance Stroll.

Pierre Gasly had looked rapid in Q1 but was eliminated in Q2 for the first time this season, finishing just ahead of Sebastian Vettel, who did not set a personal best with his final flying lap and ended up P13.

Antonio Giovinazzi beat George Russell to P14 after the pair had escaped Q1 together for the second race in a row.

Russell ran out of sequence with the rest of the Q2 runners, setting his time ahead of the final runs in what was a single effort that was significantly off the pace in the middle part of the session.

Giovinazzi took a sighter on the mediums early in Q2 and then improved when switching back to the softs for a final run in the session’s final moments to comfortably slot in ahead of Russell.

Q1 had several big moments involving traffic backing up ahead of their flying laps, one of which, where Norris was coming to complete a hot lap and caught three cars at the final chicane, with two more going slowing out of the sequence, is being investigated now qualifying has finished.

Yuki Tsunoda was the shock elimination in Q1, after the AlphaTauri driver had pushed on during his warm-up lap to overtake Leclerc to run at the head of the pack.

He set a personal best time on his last lap, as did all the other drivers knocked out in Q1, but Tsunoda was shuffled back down the order as others improved, with Russell completing the final flying lap to edge out Tsunoda at the very last moment.

Kimi Raikkonen ended up P17 ahead of Mick Schumacher, who scored his best on-merit Formula 1 qualifying position in P18 (the Haas driver also finished P18 in Imola qualifying, after Tsunoda had crashed out at the start of Q1).

Nicholas Latifi ended up behind Schumacher after damaging his car running heavily over the kerbs at the exit of Campsa mid-way through Q1 – an incident that also smashed the Williams’s left-hand side wing mirror.

Nikita Mazepin brought up the rear of the field in the Haas.

So a wonderful achievement by Lewis Hamilton to grab his 100th career pole position in the sport. He is number one in Formula 1’s history in terms of starting at the sharp end of the grid. Congratulations.

Spanish Grand Prix, qualifying positions:

1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:16.741
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:16.777
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:16.873
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:17.510
5 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1:17.580
6 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:17.620
7 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1:17.622
8 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1:17.701
9 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1:18.010
10 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1:18.147
11 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:17.974
12 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1:17.982
13 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:18.079
14 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:18.356
15 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1:19.154
16 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 1:18.556
17 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:18.917
18 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 1:19.117
19 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1:19.219
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 1:19.807

Hamilton is victorious at Portimao

Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton was victorious in the Portuguese Grand Prix, finishing ahead of Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas.

Such was Hamilton’s commanding position approaching the finish, Verstappen and Bottas stopped for an extra pitstop to chase the fastest lap bonus point, which extended his gap at the chequered flag.

At the start, Bottas leapt off the front row best, with the polesitter then racing down to the rapid right-hand Turn 1 to extend his advantage as Verstappen had a half look at passing the Hamilton before backing out.

Behind the leaders, Sergio Perez lost fourth position with a slow getaway, which allowed Carlos Sainz to jump up to fifth on the run to Turn 1, with Esteban Ocon and Lando Norris battling over sixth further around lap one – the McLaren driver moving by on the outside run through Turn 11.

Valtteri’s lead at the end of lap one of 66 was 0.8-seconds, but that was soon gone as the safety car was called out to allow the Portimao track marshals to clear debris caused by Kimi Raikkonen after colliding with his Alfa Romeo teammate Antonio Giovinazzi as they started lap two.

The collision, with Raikkonen closing on Giovinazzi, broke the 2007 world champion’s front wing, which became wedged under his car and meant he skated straight on into the gravel at Turn 1, where he retired.

The race resumed at the start of lap seven – the pack brought twice through the pitlane under the suspension as the main straight was cleared – Bottas waited until he reached the grid hatchings before roaring back to speed, which caught out Hamilton.

Verstappen was therefore able to close in on the world champion and pass him with a thrilling move around the outside of Turn 1 before chasing after Bottas.

For the next few tours it looked as if Hamilton was struggling to hang onto the leaders, but Verstappen sliding coming out of the penultimate corner on lap ten gave the Mercedes driver the chance to attack as the Red Bull lost DRS to Bottas.

Hamilton attacked at the first chance, using DRS to shoot to the inside line at Turn 1, sealing the move before Verstappen attacked back on the outside of the ever-tightening right of Turn 3, where Hamilton ran him out of road on the outside and chased on after Bottas.

For the rest of the race’s opening third, Bottas and Hamilton edged slightly clear of Verstappen, but he remained resolutely in play as they all worked on keeping their medium tyres in shape.

After a cagey period with Bottas holding firm in front as the leaders regularly lapped in the mid-to-high 1m22s, Hamilton gained considerably running onto the main straight at the end of lap 19, and with DRS at the start of the next he attacked for the lead.

Bottas defended the inside line, but Hamilton swept around the outside line to seize the lead for first time, quickly scampering out of DRS range ahead of his teammate.

As the race approached half-distance, Hamilton had worked his lead above three seconds, with Verstappen remaining within DRS range of Bottas but unable to get close enough to mount a move for lap after lap.

Just as Verstappen dropped out of DRS threat, Red Bull called him to take hard tyres at the end of lap 35 – the Dutchman locking up both front tyres approaching the speed limit line.

Mercedes brought Bottas the following time by, where a stop taking one-second longer than Verstappen’s – 3.3 seconds versus 2.3 seconds – meant the Red Bull was able to get close going through the opening turns after Bottas rejoined.

The Mercedes driver lost momentum with cold tyres coming out of Turn 3, which gave Verstappen his chance to pounce with warmer rubber, and he attacked out of Turn 4 and took second down Bottas’s inside at the hairpin.

Up front, Hamilton came in at the end lap 37, also taking hards – albeit a slightly used set compared to the brand-new ones on Verstappen’s car.

Once the pitstop sequence had shaken out, Hamilton’s lead was 3.2 seconds over Verstappen, who initially started to eat into that advantage before falling back again over the next few laps as Hamilton recorded a string of fastest laps.

Hamilton’s lead was never under threat from there, although he had to make one more pass for the lead – an easy DRS overtake on the main straight to get by Perez, who had cycled into the net lead by completing a very long opening stint, the second Red Bull only coming in at the end of lap 51 and taking softs.

Hamilton’s margin of victory was 29.1 seconds at the flag, with Verstappen initially just keeping Bottas at bay over the initial laps of the second stint, much as the Finn had done in reverse towards the end of the first half of the race.

The gap between the pair was then grew when Bottas spent two laps approaching the final ten laps losing two seconds each time to Verstappen due to an exhaust temperature sensor briefly robbing him of top speed.

As Bottas was far enough ahead of Perez, who had taken the fastest lap with his softs, Mercedes brought its second car in with three laps remaining to try and sneak back the bonus point.

Bottas did achieve that with a one minute, 19.865 seconds, but only because Verstappen’s one minute, 19.849 seconds was deleted for running too wide exiting the penultimate corner on the final lap.

Behind the top three came Perez, who had run behind Norris after the restart after the pair had shuffled Sainz back.

The Red Bull then soon brought its pace advantage to bear to retake fourth and Perez began his long drive to extend the life of the mediums he had started on.

With Perez gone ahead, Norris saw off Ferrari’s attempt to undercut at the pitstops – where he and Sainz exchanged softs for mediums – and the Briton then kept the softer rubber alive much better than his former teammate.

Sainz tumbled to P11 at the flag, with the drivers initially behind him taking hard tyres at their stops and enjoying much fastest pace across the rest of the race.

Norris did not face this problem, as he came home fifth ahead of Charles Leclerc, who had been the first driver to start Sainz’s plunge shortly after half distance.

Ocon finished seventh ahead of teammate Fernando Alonso, who made notable progress the longer the race went on, enjoying his time on the hard rubber to the finish.

Daniel Ricciardo rose brilliantly from P16 on the grid in the early stages, making up several places in the early laps, then executing a long first stint that meant he was on the attack late-on, albeit passed by Alonso when the Alpine was demonstrating superior pace.

Pierre Gasly rounded out the top ten ahead of Sainz.

So congratulations to Lewis Hamilton by scoring his 97th career win in Formula 1. A super impressive achievement. The battle between Max Verstappen continues as the Spanish Grand Prix follows next weekend.

Portuguese Grand Prix, race results:

1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:34:31.421
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 29.148
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 33.530
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 39.735
5 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 51.369
6 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 55.781
7 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1’03.749
8 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1’04.808
9 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1’15.369
10 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1’16.463
11 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1’18.955
12 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari Alfa 1 lap
13 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1 lap
14 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1 lap
15 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 1 lap
16 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1 lap
17 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 2 laps
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 2 laps
19 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 2 laps
– Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari DNF

Bottas takes pole position at Portimao

Valtteri Bottas denied his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton by coming out on top in qualifying for 2021 Portuguese Grand Prix with Imola winner Max Verstappen only third for Red Bull Racing.

The sport’s top two teams opted for different tyre strategies for the final runs in Q3, with the Mercedes drivers returning to medium compound with which they had dominated in Q2, and used to top qualifying at Portimao in 2020, while Verstappen stuck with the softs throughout.

But the tyre change did not work for either of the Black Arrows drivers, as Valtteri’s lap of one minute, 18.38 seconds that was set on the first Q3 runs on the softs ended up being the pole time.

Both Bottas and Hamilton could not improve on their final efforts, which meant the former’s 0.007 seconds advantage from the soft tyre runs gave him his first pole of 2021.

Verstappen had lost his first Q3 saving an oversteer snap to the right as he ran through Turn 4 and beyond the track limits onto the back straight and so was under extra pressure for the final runs.

The Red Bull driver was also only taking a single warm-up lap on the tricky low-grip surface compared to the two most other drivers completed.

Despite having to pass traffic on what would be his sole legal Q3 lap, Verstappen reached third but ended up 0.398 seconds slower than Bottas.

Behind the leaders came Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz, who outqualified Charles Leclerc for the first time as a Ferrari driver.

Esteban Ocon was sixth ahead of Lando Norris and Leclerc, with Pierre Gasly ninth for AlphaTauri.

Sebastian Vettel, making his first Q3 appearance since the 2020 British Grand Prix, took tenth for Aston Martin. This is a great result for the four-time world champion after a difficult period of racing. Hopefully this will build up his confidence.

In Q2, the Mercedes and Red Bull drivers progressed through on the medium tyres as has become typical to start on the preferred rubber for the opening stint of the race, but here they were joined in this by Leclerc.

Both Ferrari drivers started Q2 on the mediums, but while Sainz switched to softs to ease his Q3 progression, Leclerc preserved with the harder rubber and did enough to get by with a personal best on his second flying run on the same set at the end of the end of the segment.

Behind the top ten runners, George Russell took P11 for Williams, ending up 0.057 seconds adrift of Gasly’s P10 time in Q2 – crossing the line as the last of the runners setting flying laps in the middle segment.

Behind him came Antonio Giovinazzi for Alfa Romeo, ahead of Fernando Alonso and Yuki Tsunoda – the trio all completing personal best laps on their final Q2 runs but still being eliminated nevertheless.

Kimi Raikkonen could not improve on his final run and ended up P15 as a result in the Alfa Romeo.

In Q1, Daniel Ricciardo suffered a shock exit ahead of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, with Norris putting the other McLaren second in the opening segment, which featured Alonso spinning exiting the penultimate corner and Perez losing the rear running through Turn 4 and spinning through the gravel on the exit.

Ricciardo and Stroll not finding enough time on their final efforts in Q1 preserved Russell’s perfect record of getting through to Q2 at all three races so far in 2021, as they failed to jump ahead of the Williams.

But it was Ocon’s late jump to fourth on his last lap that meant Ricciardo could not progress.

At the back, Nicholas Latifi led the two Haas cars, with Mick Schumacher finishing ahead of Nikita Mazepin.

So congratulations to Valtteri Bottas with pole position. After his big crash with George Russell at Imola, this P1 is the perfect result following a tricky start to the championship. The two title contenders are behind and it’s going to be fascinating in the race. Bring it on.

Qualifying position, Portuguese Grand Prix:

1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:18.348
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:18.355
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:18.746
4 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1:18.890
5 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:19.039
6 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1:19.042
7 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1:19.116
8 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:19.306
9 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1:19.475
10 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:19.659
11 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1:19.109
12 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:19.216
13 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1:19.456
14 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 1:19.463
15 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:19.812
16 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1:19.839
17 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:19.913
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1:20.285
19 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 1:20.452
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 1:20.912

Verstappen wins a dramatic Imola race

Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen won a thrilling wet-dry Emilia Romagna Formula 1 race. Beating Lewis Hamilton after clashing on the opening lap while Valtteri Bottas and George Russell suffering a race-suspending crash.

Verstappen and Hamilton made contact at the race’s opening corners, with the latter then having to put in a recovery drive after sliding off into the gravel at the Tosa hairpin just before the red flag shortly before half distance thanks to the massive accident involving his Mercedes teammate.

Rain falling in the first half of the Imola lap in the hour ahead of the race start meant most of the cars left the grid on intermediates.

From third at the start, Verstappen made a perfect getaway to pull alongside Sergio Perez when the lights went out, and was quickly able to pull alongside polesitter Hamilton – nearly running onto the grass on his left-hand side – as they shot down to the Tamburello chicane.

Verstappen was ahead by the braking zone by Hamilton braked later to stay on the outside and the pair went side-by-side around the first left part of the sequence.

The Red Bull held the racing line and when Hamilton determinedly kept his nose alongside they clashed at the chicane’s second apex, damaging the Mercedes’ left-front wing endplate and forcing Hamilton to clatter over the kerbs.

Verstappen roared clear in the lead as the pack behind continued to tentatively make their way around the opening tour, which ended with the safety car deployed after Nicholas Latifi speared into the wall exiting Acque Minerali, where he had just spun off, and pulled across the front of Nikita Mazepin’s Haas.

The race was suspended until the start of lap seven of 63, an extended period as a result of Mick Schumacher losing the rear of his Haas warming his tyres in the safety car queue and knocking his front wing off on the wall near the pit exit, which was closed as the debris was cleared.

Verstappen was able stay ahead of Hamilton as the Mercedes driver looked to outside on the run to Tamburello as they got back up to racing speed, with Charles Leclerc, who had passed Perez for third exiting the Variante Alta seconds before Latifi’s crash, also following closely in third.

But a slide exiting Acque Minerali from Hamilton gave Verstappen breathing room and he had a 3.3 seconds lead at the end of the first racing lap.

Verstappen quickly set about extending his advantage to the five-second mark, with Leclerc soon disappearing from Hamilton’s rear, but well clear of Perez, who was handed a ten seconds time addition for overtaking under the safety car as he had slide wide at Piratella and briefly let Daniel Ricciardo and the full-wet shod Pierre Gasly get by.

Hamilton was able to keep Verstappen’s lead at around five seconds for the next phase of the race as they exchanged fastest laps while considering when to come in and change their inters to slick tyres.

Just after Verstappen had edged his advantage up to six seconds approaching half distance, Hamilton was suddenly able to gain significantly, cutting the gap in half over two laps before they reached traffic at the rear of the pack.

Once they had cleared the cars in front, Verstappen’s lead was down to two seconds and after a radio exchange with his team he pitted for slicks at the end of lap 27.

Hamilton also came in for mediums at the end of the following lap, but the decision to stay out for a tour and the right front coming slowly off the Mercedes meant Verstappen’s lead was back up to 5.5 seconds at the start of lap 31.

On that tour, which had started with Verstappen lapping Valtteri Bottas, running near the end of the top ten in the other Mercedes and at the head of another pack of lapped traffic, Hamilton locked up lapping Russell at Tosa and slide into the gravel.

He went far enough to damage his front wing against the outside wall when he attempted to turn onto the escape road, which forced him to stop and slowly engage reverse and eventually go backwards out the long way onto the track.

Hamilton toured back to the pits, promoting Leclerc to second and Norris to third after Perez had dropped behind the McLaren during his penalty-addled pitstop, to change his front wing but was able to make his second stop under the safety car after Bottas and Russell’s massive accident at Tamburello.

The Williams driver had been closing in very fast on the outside of the Mercedes approaching the chicane’s left apex and just before they reached the braking zone they ran very close together.

Russell appeared to put his right-rear wheel on the grass, possibly in reaction to Bottas jinking right – the incident is to be investigated after the race – and the Williams shot left and the pair were both eliminated in a huge crash into the barriers on the inside and then outside of Tamburello, where they remonstrated with each other in the gravel after coming to a stop.

The race was red flagged for 25 minutes before it was resumed at the start of lap 35, but with a rolling safety car restart instead of a second grid start – which was used at Monza and Mugello in 2020.

Verstappen dropped Leclerc when he reached the line, seconds after the Red Bull had nearly spun the lead away when he had to catch a big moment and cut across the inside of the first Rivazza turn as the safety car peeled off ahead.

The lack of tow behind Verstappen left Leclerc vulnerable to Norris and the McLaren driver – running the softs compared to the mediums on the Ferrari and Red Bull – duly claimed second at Tamburello.

Verstappen scampered clear at the front, reaching a six-second advantage by the start of lap 43, with Norris attempting to keep his softer tyres alive to the finish ahead of Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr, who had been promoted by Perez spinning off behind the lead Ferrari as he ran through the Villeneuve chicane on lap 38 and dropping to P14.

In the pack behind, Hamilton was attempting a recovery drive after gaining back the lap he’d lost with his Tosa off and slow lap back to the pits thanks to the red flag.

He took the restart in ninth, immediately gaining a spot when Yuki Tsunoda spun off in front of the Mercedes at Tamburello on the first lap back to racing speed, and then picking off Lance Stroll and Ricciardo in quick succession once he’d fired up his mediums and benefitted from the DRS power into Tamburello.

Hamilton took a while to close in on the Ferraris ahead but eventually passed Sainz to set up a tense chase into the closing stages, with Norris trying to hold off Leclerc as Hamilton came up behind them.

When Leclerc dropped back and lost DRS behind Norris at the start of lap 55 Hamilton didn’t hesitate and took third blasting along the outside ahead of the Tamburello braking zone and set off after the McLaren.

Norris held on for a further five laps but in the end Hamilton was able to make a near-identical move with DRS at the start of lap 60 to retake the second place he had lost nearly half the race earlier.

Verstappen was already 20 seconds up the road and the two leaders exchanged fastest laps in the final few laps, which eventually went to Hamilton, as Verstappen won by 22s, with Norris coming home 1.7 seconds behind the Mercedes.

Leclerc and Sainz, who had had several offs during the wet opening stages, took fourth and fifth, ahead of Ricciardo and Stroll – the Aston Martin driver claiming points after his car was hurriedly repaired on the grid after its brakes caught fire on the laps to the grid as the rain initially fell.

Gasly ended up eighth having been a rolling roadblock on his full wets early on, with Kimi Raikkonen ninth but facing a post-race investigation for a possible rolling start restart infraction.

Esteban Ocon took the final point in P10 ahead of his Alpine teammate Fernando Alonso, who had knocked his front wing off sliding off at Tosa on the pre-race laps ahead of the start and later had a spin in the aftermath of the Bottas/Russell shunt.

Perez ended up P12 ahead of Tsunoda, while Sebastian Vettel was a late retirement with a suspected gearbox issue.

So an exciting race at Imola. Congratulations to Max Verstappen in winning the race. Awesome fight back from Lewis Hamilton considering he went off track and damaged the front wing. As for Lando Norris, fantastic to see the McLaren taking third. Solid performance from the fans favourite.

Race results:
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 2:02:34.598
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 22.000
3 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 23.702s
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 25.579
5 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 27.036
6 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 51.220
7 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 51.909
8 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 52.818
9 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:04.773
10 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1:05.704
11 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1:06.561
12 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1:07.151
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 1:13.184
14 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1 lap
15 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes DNF
16 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 2 laps
17 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 2 laps
– Valtteri Bottas Mercedes DNF
– George Russell Williams-Mercedes DNF
– Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes DNF

Hamilton scores his 99th career pole position in Formula 1

Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton achieved his 99th career pole position in Formula 1, beating the Red Bull Racing pair of Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen. The top three drivers was just covered by 0.087 seconds.

Hamilton held on to take pole by not improving on his final flying lap, with his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas qualifying down in eighth, on spot ahead of Lando Norris, who lost a time that would have put him third due to a track limits violation.

Both Mercedes cars and Verstappen will start the race on the advantageous medium tyres after successfully getting through on the yellow-walled rubber, which offers significantly better durability compared to the softs.

Hamilton led the way after the first runs in Q3 with a one minute, 14.411 seconds, but could not recover time lost in the first sector on his second effort.

This meant he did not improve the pole benchmark, despite setting the fastest time in the final sector, but as his rivals did not improve by enough he held on to claim his first pole of the 2021 season.

Perez outqualified Verstappen in his second event for Red Bull, ending up just under 0.1 seconds adrift of Hamilton’s fastest time. But the Mexican driver had to use the softs to get through Q2 and faces a tougher opening stint if the race starts in dry conditions tomorrow.

Verstappen was arguably the favourite for pole after topping FP3 following his disrupted Friday running and although he set a personal best on his final Q3 lap – including the fastest time in the middle sector – he wound up 0.087 seconds adrift.

Charles Leclerc put his Ferrari fourth ahead of Pierre Gasly and McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo, with that trio starting ahead of Norris who looked to have secured a shock top three result.

But Norris’s one minute, 14.454 seconds was deleted as he was judged to have gone too wide exiting the Piratella turn in the middle sector and so his final time ended up as his first Q3 run.

That was still enough to keep him ahead of Bottas, whose personal best final Q3 effort left him well adrift of the typical Mercedes’ placings.

Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll rounded out the top ten.

In Q2, Carlos Sainz’s first race in Italy as a Scuderia Ferrari driver will start from outside the top ten as he was eliminated at the very end of Q2, finishing in P11 despite setting a personal best on his final lap.

Sainz failing to find enough time meant Stroll squeaked into Q3 for Aston Martin, the green cars running ahead of the rest of the pack as the middle segment of the session drew to a close.

George Russell finished P12, which shuffled Sebastian Vettel back to P13 and ensured Russell maintained his perfect qualifying record against Williams teammates continued – as Nicholas Latifi qualified P14 after impressing in Q1.

Fernando Alonso was another driver to set a personal best time right at the end of Q2, but that was not enough to elevate him from P15 in the final standings.

In Q1, Russell’s final lap improvement to ensure both Williams cars made it through the Q2 for this first time since last year’s Hungarian GP knocked out Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen – who also set a personal best on his final effort, but could not find enough time to make it through to the second part of qualifying.

Behind Raikkonen came his teammate Antonio Giovinazzi, with the Haas duo saved from bringing up the rear of the field by Tsunoda’s absence from proceedings by the end of the session.

Tsunoda’s Q1 was over after just a few minutes when he crashed heavily at the Variante Alta on his first flying lap.

The Japanese driver lost the rear of his AlphaTauri between the two apexes of the chicane, with the car swinging around rapidly and going backwards into the barriers.

With the rear wing and both rear wheels smashed, and debris littering the run-off area, the session was quickly red flagged, followed by a near ten minute delay as the incident was cleared up.

So an exciting qualifying session with the Bahrain Grand Prix winner coming out on top with pole position. Sergio Perez recovered from his crash with Esteban Ocon in practice to claim second and for the first time, out qualifies his Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen. As for Lando Norris, it would have been incredible with this fantastic qualifying performance but track limits…

Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, qualifying results:

1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:14.411
2 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1:14.446
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:14.498
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:14.740
5 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1:14.790
6 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1:14.826
7 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1:14.875
8 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:14.898
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1:15.210
10 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes No time
11 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:15.199
12 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1:15.261
13 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:15.394
14 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1:15.593
15 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1:15.593
16 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:15.974
17 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:16.122
18 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 1:16.279
19 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 1:16.797
20 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda No time

Hamilton wins thrilling fight with Verstappen to take Bahrain victory

Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton resisted the challenge from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in a thrilling late battle in Formula 1’s 2021 season opener in Bahrain.

Mercedes and Red Bull Racing deployed differing tyre strategies, with Verstappen’s offset rubber life advantage in the final stint meaning he was chasing Hamilton after leading the early stages from pole.

With four laps to go, Verstappen attacked Hamilton around the outside of Turn 4, which has been heavily policed for track limits by the FIA, and as Max went too wide off the kerb he was ordered to give the place back further around the lap.

Verstappen was able to get back close to Hamilton on the final tour but was not able to attempt another move and lost out by 0.7 seconds.

At the start, Verstappen had covered Hamilton by quickly moving to defend the inside line into Turn 1, successfully defending the lead while Leclerc put the slightly-slower-starting Bottas under pressure for third.

Verstappen led Hamilton around the rest of the first lap, with Leclerc passing Bottas at Turn 4, shortly before the race was neutralised after Haas driver Nikita Mazepin dropped his VF21 by himself running through Turn 3 and spun off into the barriers.

The race, which was cut to 56 laps after Sergio Perez ground to a halt on the initial formation lap before restarting his engine and getting going again to start from the pitlane, restarted on lap four, with Verstappen leaving it as late as possible to head back to racing speed due to the headwind blowing down the pitstraight.

After hitting the gas again just before the finish line, Verstappen quickly stole to the inside to again defend the line on the run to Turn 1, with Leclerc also attacking Hamilton to Verstappen’s left-hand side.

But the race was quickly neutralised again as Mick Schumacher became the second Haas rookie to have an incident all by himself as he spun exiting Turn 4 on the safety car restart lap, while just ahead Pierre Gasly clipped Daniel Ricciardo’s left rear and lost his front wing, and Carlos Sainz Jr and Lance Stroll clashed at the final apex of the double Turns 9/10 complex.

Clearing up after the various incidents was covered by the virtual safety car, which ended as the leaders approach the Turn 8 hairpin on lap five – meaning Verstappen did not have to worry about a third Turn 1 defence.

But a suspected differential problem was causing the Red Bull driver issues as he had reported a strange feeling when applying throttle, which caused Mercedes to instruct Bottas that the lead was “all to play for” once he’d battled by Leclerc using DRS into Turn 1 on lap six.

The problem did not appear to be causing Verstappen any further issue during the next phase of the race, as he and Hamilton extended their gap over Bottas with a string of laps in the low one munute, 36 seconds, with the second Mercedes a chunk further back each time.

The gap at the front stabilised approaching the two-second mark, with Verstappen looking in control.

But on lap 13 Mercedes then opted to bring Hamilton in for an unexpectedly early stop – just two laps after Fernando Alonso had become the first soft tyre runner to come – and switch his mediums for hards.

Hamilton’s pace on new rubber was so strong that it was quickly apparent than a like-for-like strategy would mean Verstappen losing out in any case, so Red Bull kept him out until lap 17, when he came in to take another set of mediums – a lap after Bottas had taken hards.

Hamilton’s lead when Verstappen emerged from the pits was just over seven seconds, but the Red Bull driver quickly began to erode that advantage.

A series of laps in the 1m34s vs Hamilton touring in the mid one minute, 35 seconds meant Verstappen had nearly halved the Mercedes driver’s lead by lap lap 24, before the gap stabilised for a time.

But Verstappen was able to get back into the one minute, 34 seconds and again began to home in on Hamilton, getting to within two seconds on lap 28, at the end of which Mercedes brought Hamilton in for another set of new hards, wary of a Red Bull undercut.

Verstappen therefore retook the lead and stayed out on his mediums until the end of lap 39, with Hamilton steadily having cut his lead at the front to just under 16 seconds.

The result was Verstappen facing an 8.8 seconds deficit as he emerged from the pits, but with 10-lap fresher rubber, which he quickly used to eat into Hamilton’s lead once again – setting a fastest lap at one minute, 33.228 seconds on his first full lap out of the pits versus Hamilton’s one minute, 34.334 seconds.

After quickly cutting the gap with several more laps in the mid one minute, 33 seconds, Verstappen’s chase slowed a touch – although he continued to reduce Hamilton’s advantage as they negotiated lapping traffic by around half a second a lap each time.

Verstappen eventually got within DRS range with five laps to go, using it to set up his briefly successful Turn 4 pass.

After giving back the lead Verstappen appeared to make a significant slide into Turn 13 approaching the end of lap 53 and he struggled to close back up quickly to the rear of the Mercedes, eventually running out of time.

Bottas finished 37.3 seconds adrift of Hamilton in third after a slow second stop had dropped him ten seconds further from the leaders, and took a late extra stop to successfully chase the fastest lap bonus point on the final tour.

Lando Norris finished fourth having battled by Leclerc shortly after the Ferrari driver had been passed by Bottas in the early stages, and he was followed home by the charging Perez, who recovered from his formation lap issues to take fifth on a three-stop strategy.

Leclerc came home fifth ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and new team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr, with Yuki Tsuonda beating Lance Stroll to ninth at the end of the top ten.

Sebastian Vettel was classified P15 after being hit with a penalty for colliding with the rear of Esteban Ocon’s Alpine late in the race. Ocon eventually finished P13.

Gasly and Nicholas Latifi retired in the pits late on, while Alonso was the other retirement after suffering a suspected rear brake problem in the middle part of the race.

So a fantastic fight between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen for the race wheel. The seven-time world champion resisted the pressure to take victory in the season opener.

Bahrain Grand Prix race results:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:32:03.897
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull 0.745
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 37.383
4 Lando Norris McLaren 46.466
5 Sergio Perez Red Bull 52.047
6 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 59.090
7 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1:06.004
8 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:07.100
9 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:25.692
10 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:26.713
11 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo 1:28.864
12 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo +1 lap
13 Esteban Ocon Alpine +1 lap
14 George Russell Williams +1 lap
15 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin +1 lap
16 Mick Schumacher Haas +1 lap
17 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri DNF
18 Nicholas Latifi Williams DNF
– Fernando Alonso Alpine DNF
– Nikita Mazepin Haas DNF