Max Verstappen delivered on Red Bull’s preseason promise to beat Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton to pole position for Sunday’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
Verstappen will start the race from first place on the grid after beating Hamilton to the fastest time by 0.388s on Saturday evening, confirming the reversal of performance between F1’s top two teams over the winter.
The battle had been brewing throughout the three practice sessions in Bahrain, and was well worth the wait as the two drivers saved their very best laps until their last attempt.
Hamilton initially beat Verstappen’s first Q3 attempt, but the 23-year-old hit back to take the fourth pole position of his career.
Valtteri Bottas secured third place on the grid for Mercedes ahead of the resurgent Ferrari of Charles Leclerc, which was less than 0.1s off Bottas and will line up fourth.
Pierre Gasly took fifth on the grid for AlphaTauri ahead of the two McLarens of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris, which will line up sixth and seventh.
Carlos Sainz was the fastest driver in the second session of qualifying, but failed to deliver in the top ten shootout when it mattered, leaving him in eighth place and over half a second off teammate Leclerc.
Fernando Alonso secured ninth on his return to Formula One with Alpine ahead of Lance Stroll for Aston Martin.
Sergio Perez will start 11th on his debut for Red Bull after a gamble to make it out of the second qualifying session on the medium tyres did not pay off.
F1’s qualifying rules state that drivers who make the top ten must start the race on the set of tyres they used to set their fastest time in Q2, and Red Bull wanted to make sure Perez was on the more durable medium for the start.
However, on his first attempt, Perez ran wide at Turn 4, resulting in his lap time being deleted, and on his second attempt he was 0.035s off a place in Q3.
Perez will now have a free selection of tyres from 11th of the grid and will start ahead of Antonio Giovinazzi’s Alfa Romeo in 12th, Alpha Tauri rookie Yuki Tsunoda in 13th and the most experienced driver on the grid, Kimi Raikkonen, in 15th in the second Alfa Romeo.
George Russell continued his impressive run of qualifying performances from last year by hauling his Williams out of Q1 to 15th place on the grid.
The second Alpine driver, Esteban Ocon, missed out on a place in Q2 by less than a tenth of a second after a late spin for Nikita Mazepin in Q1 caused a yellow flag at Turn 1 and Sainz’s Ferrari caused a yellow flag in sector two with a stuttering engine.
That will leave Ocon 16th on the grid ahead of the second Williams of Nicholas Latifi and Sebastian Vettel, who will start 18th for his first race with Aston Martin after he also got caught out by the yellow flags that forced him to back out.
The back row will be made up of the two rookie Haas drivers, with Mick Schumacher beating teammate Mazepin to 19th place.