Max Verstappen takes pole for season opening Bahrain Grand Prix

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen grabbed pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix in a tight first qualifying session of the 2024 season, edging out Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc and Mercedes’ George Russell for top spot.

Verstappen produced a 1:29.421s with his first Q3 run and worked his way down to a blistering 1:29.179s during the second runs to ultimately finish two-tenths clear of Leclerc, with Russell a tenth further back in third position.

Carlos Sainz made it two Ferraris in the top four places, with Sergio Perez unable to produce more than fifth aboard the other Red Bull, lapping almost half a second slower than Verstappen across their decisive laps.

Fernando Alonso led Aston Martin’s charge in sixth, ahead of McLaren pair Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, with seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton having to settle for ninth in the second of the Mercedes machines.

Nico Hulkenberg impressed throughout qualifying to reach Q3 and round out the top 10 positions, providing a boost for a Haas team who have gone through a series of managerial changes over the winter period.

RB just missed out on a Q3 appearance as Yuki Tsunoda dropped out in the second phase in 11th position – an agoniszing seven hundredths slower than Piastri’s McLaren at the end of Q2 – followed by the other Aston Martin of Lance Stroll and the lead Williams of Alex Albon.

Daniel Ricciardo was a tenth-and-a-half slower than team mate Tsunoda on his way to 14th, with Kevin Magnussen failing to match Hulkenberg’s heroics in the other Haas as he took 15th, some seven tenths adrift in the intra-team battle, having lost one of his Q2 lap times for exceeding track limits.

Kick Sauber were unable to make it over the Q1 hurdle as Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu wound up 16th and 17th respectively, the latter losing some time with a dramatic slide at the final corner, while Logan Sargeant was a chunk slower than team mate Albon en route to 18th amid traffic complaints.

Alpine endured a nightmare opening qualifying session.

A disastrous first qualifying session of the year for Alpine ended with Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly at the very back of the field in respective P19 and P20 positions, prompting Ocon to send a classy message of encouragement over the radio to a team with plenty of work ahead.

With the dust settling on a thrilling session, the drivers and teams will now regroup before returning to the Bahrain International Circuit for the opening round of the 2024 campaign on Saturday evening.

Q1

After three days of pre-season testing and three practice sessions in the Sakhir desert, it was time for the talking to stop as the sun set and the floodlights switched on for the start of the first qualifying session of the 2024 campaign.

When the green light switched on at the end of the pit lane at 19:00 local time, amid unusually chilly conditions, Ferrari and Alpine were quick to head out on track and get some banker laps in, with Sainz, Leclerc, Ocon and Gasly all initially running Pirelli’s medium compound tyre.

From this gaggle of cars, it was Sainz who set the early benchmark on a 1:31.208s, a few hundredths clear of team mate Leclerc, with Ocon and Gasly (whose effort was deleted for exceeding track limits) significantly slower in their Alpines after a low-key start to the weekend from the French team.

Moments on from those laps being completed, a host of drivers emerged from their garages with the soft rubber, though reigning world champion Verstappen took to the radio to question why the large train of cars that had formed were moving so slowly towards the pit exit.

As the drivers eventually filtered out, found track position and the first soft tyre laps came in, it was Verstappen who took over in P1 with a 1:30.031s, just ahead of Norris, Alonso and team mate Perez, with Russell and Hulkenberg completing the top six.

Fernando Alonso was thrilled by Aston Martin’s “completely unexpected” performance.

With Hamilton only sitting on the fringes of the top 10 after an underwhelming first attempt, the Mercedes man was demoted a couple more places when a fired up Sainz and the sister Ferrari of Leclerc came back out on soft tyres to go quickest (1:29.909s) and sixth fastest respectively.

After a brief lull in track activity, the entire field – bar pace-setter Sainz – bolted on further sets of soft tyres to go at it again, with Stroll jumping up to second position from Verstappen, Norris, Alonso, Perez and Leclerc – the McLaren and Ferrari pitting before completing their final laps.

Mercedes made it through to Q2, but Russell and Hamilton could only place eighth and 10th respectively, split by the Williams of Albon, while Tsunoda, Piastri, Ricciardo and the Haas cars of Hulkenberg and Magnussen were the final drivers to progress.

Kick Sauber lost both cars in Q1, with Bottas taking 16th and Zhou placing 17th after a wild moment at the final corner on his last lap, followed by Sargeant in the other Williams, the American some four tenths away from team mate Albon after complaining of some traffic.

The big story from the first qualifying phase was Ocon and Gasly propping up the rear as Alpine’s overhauled car failed to deliver in the first competitive session of the year and leaves the Frenchmen in the final two grid slots for Saturday’s Grand Prix.

Knocked out: Bottas, Zhou, Sargeant, Ocon, Gasly

Q2

When the second segment got under way, Norris provisionally went quickest with a time of 1:29.941s on a used set of softs, before Verstappen put on fresh rubber to charge ahead via a 1:29.374s, as team mate Perez made it a Red Bull one-two.

Leclerc topped the timesheet in Q2.

Leclerc held fourth, from Alonso, Hamilton, Sainz and Piastri, with Russell and Stroll in the final top 10 positions and Q3 spots ahead of the second, decisive runs – Magnussen the only driver without a time at this point after losing a lap over track limits.

A flurry of late laps saw Leclerc take over at the top of the timesheets with an eye-catching lap of 1:29.165s, a couple of tenths clear of Verstappen, with Sainz slotting into third from Hamilton, Alonso, a high-flying Hulkenberg, Russell and Perez.

McLaren secured the final two Q3 places as Norris (who abandoned his last lap) and Piastri squeezed through in ninth and 10th respectively, narrowly denying the RB of Tsunoda and Aston Martin of Stroll, who was unable to emulate team mate Alonso and join him in the pole position shootout.

Albon, Ricciardo and Magnussen were the slowest of the Q2 runners in 13th, 14th and 15th respectively, with the latter struggling to make an impression after his deleted lap time and finishing some seventh tenths slower than the other, charging Haas of Hulkenberg.

Knocked out: Tsunoda, Stroll, Albon, Ricciardo, Magnussen

Q3

The top three for tomorrow’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

With a mixture of new and old soft tyres in play, Verstappen lit up the timesheets at the start of Q3 to post a 1:29.421s, putting him marginally ahead of Leclerc, with Russell third from Sainz, Norris, Perez and Hamilton, Hulkenberg sitting eighth, Piastri ninth and Alonso yet to post a flyer.

Alonso’s one-and-only lap – set in clean air while the rest of the field prepared for their second runs – provisionally put the Aston Martin driver in third position, a tenth away from Verstappen, but he would have to watch on as the session drew to a close.

When the final runs came in, Verstappen improved on his initial effort to record a 1:29.179s, and while Leclerc also found some time, the Monegasque had to settle for P2 on the grid, some two-tenths adrift.

Russell pulled out a strong lap to put his Mercdes third, two-tenths and six places clear of team mate Hamilton, followed by the other Ferrari and Red Bull cars of Sainz and Perez, and Alonso’s stationary Aston Martin.

Norris and Piastri put their McLarens in seventh and eighth respectively, while the aforementioned Hamilton and one of the stars of qualifying in Hulkenberg completed the top 10 positions on the grid.

The season-opening 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix is set to begin at 18:00 local time on Saturday (15:00 GMT). Will Verstappen pick up where he left off last season or will we see a challenger emerge from the pack?

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