BAHRAIN GP – Red Bull lock out front row with Max Verstappen a tenth ahead of Sergio Perez

Testing & Race Reports

Max Verstappen has beaten his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez to take pole position for the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix. The two-time champion beat his teammate by a tenth to secure Red Bull’s first front row lock out for the opening race in a decade, since getting on track in testing Verstappen has look quick in all his running.

Verstappen was three-tenths faster than his Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc, the Monacan did not complete a final run in Q3 after not having enough tyres. The big question going into qualifying was whether could anyone beat Red Bull times were expected to be close with Red Bull and Ferrari looking close in practice and testing.

Red Bull went into the weekend as strong pre-season favourites but they have struggled to make the car handle in a way that satisfied the drivers and had appeared not to have the advantage many expected. It could suggest 2023 could see the continuation of last year’s battle between Red Bull and Ferrari at the front of the grid.

The world champion was already a tenth quicker following his first run, while his teammate was third before improving on his last lap going second and ahead of Leclerc by a tenth and a half. Leclerc was left a tenth off after the first run in Q3, but Verstappen’s improvement saw the gap grow to three-tenths.

But Verstappen said it hadn’t been easy. He told reporters, “It’s been a bit of a tough start to the weekend yesterday and today, not really finding my rhythm. But luckily in qualifying, we managed to put the pieces together. I was positively surprised to be on pole after the struggles we had in practice.”

Perez added, “I don’t remember such a tight qualifying battle from Q1 to Q2 to Q3. In the end, I wasn’t totally comfortable with the balance but to getting this kind of start to the season with the team was really special.

Leclerc was a quarter of a second faster than the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso, the Spaniard proving the team’s pace is genuine enough to fight with Mercedes. However, Leclerc was left without tyres to complete a last run, as the team opted to save tyres for the race. That, he explained, was based on the knowledge that their tyre wear was not as good as that of their rivals.

Leclerc added “There wasn’t any [technical] issue. I think we were in the fight for pole, which was a good surprise after the testing and practices, which were a bit more difficult. we have been struggling a bit on the long run and I think we are in a better place to start on new tyres.”

The Ferrari driver did bring out the red flag early on in Q1 after losing parts of his so-called wheel brow on his first run on the mediums. The first part flew off shortly after he opened his DRS and then when he braked and locked up, likely as a result of the missing aero piece, a second, larger piece fell off the underside of the Ferrari and came to rest on the track, after which race control opted to stop the session so the pieces could be recovered.

Carlos Sainz meanwhile was three-tenths off Leclerc, but the Spaniard was only able to halve that gap on his final attempt and had to be satisfied with fourth.

Alonso went four thousandths faster than Russell, like Leclerc he had one set fewer of soft tyres compared to the Red Bull and Ferrari drivers. But that marks a huge step forward for the team compared to last year and more than justifies Alonso’s decision to leave Alpine.

George Russell was sixth going four hundredths faster than Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton, however the Englishmen only competed one run during Q3. That left them both six-tenths off Verstappen’s session topping time. Mercedes has been open about its disappointment closer but still behind Red Bull last weekend in testing and on Saturday evening there was still a gap of six tenths between Russell’s best effort and the fastest time of Verstappen.

But going into Q3 it looked surprisingly open, Ferrari, Mercedes, Red Bull and Alonso all looked on paper at least to be able to challenge for pole. That was soon crushed, as in Q3 Verstappen looked to bring the car alive and charge to back-to-back pole positions.

Lance Stroll rounded out the quartet of leading teams going eighth, the Canadian still recovering from a broken wrist and having to adapt his driving style, was around half a second off Hamilton. Stroll was the last car to make it through to Q3 knocking out the McLaren of Lando Norris..

He appeared to struggle with the mobility of his wrist during the opening practice session in Bahrain, but remains confident he will be able to go the distance in Sunday’s 57 lap or 191.510-mile race.

Esteban Ocon was ninth and the final driver to set a legal lap time in Q3, Nico Hulkenberg in his first qualifying since Jeddah last year saw his time deleted for exceeding track limits at Turn Four.

McLaren has looked to struggle for midfield pace going into qualifying, like all the drivers who were knocked out in Q2 Lando Norris set his best time on his final run. But the Englishman only went tenth, and was then pushed out by Stroll, it had been an evening of fine margins in the midfield. As demonstrated by Norris’s teammate, Oscar Piastri who made mistakes and found himself out in Q1.

Alfa Romeo are another team who look to have improved over the winter, with Valtteri Bottas going twelfth ahead of teammate Guanyu Zhou. Yuki Tsunoda was fourteenth ahead of Alex Albon.

Albon’s new teammate at Williams set the same lap time as Norris in Q1, however, Logan Sargeant was shuffled out of qualifying on the rule  that means a driver that set a time first is placed ahead if a rival subsequently matches their effort exactly.

Kevin Magnussen was seventeenth going two tenths ahead of Oscar Piastri, the McLaren rookie admitting he made mistakes on his final run in Q1. The Australian going ahead of Nyck de Vires and Pierre Gasly. Gasly having his fastest time deleted for track limits.


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