Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen set blistering pace at the Bahrain International Circuit to claim pole position for tomorrow’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix. The Dutch driver beat Mercedes’ defending seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton by almost four tenths of a second and finished nearly seven tenths ahead of the Briton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Verstappen went into qualifying having topped all three practice sessions and the superior pace of his new RB16B car was evident from the opening runs of Q1. With his first lap of the session he powered to the top of the timesheet with a lap of 1:30.499, a little over a tenth ahead of Yuki Tsunoda of AlphaTauri and 0.118s in front of Hamilton.
Further back, the drop zone ahead of the final runs featured Alpine’s Esteban Ocon followed by Williams’ Nicholas Latifi and George Russell and then the Haas cars of Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher.
Only Russell managed to avoid the exit door and the Williams driver’s early final run saw him jump to P7 before a slide back to 13th place at the end of the session and progress to Q2.
Russell’s early final flyer proved wise as in the closing moments Nikita Mazepin spun going into Turn 1 and that brought out the yellow flags. When the final runs were completed Ocon who later said he had lost half a second due to the yellow flags went out in P16 ahead of Latifi. However, Q1’s major casualty was Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel who exited in P18, again because of the yellow flags. Haas' Mick Schumacher went out in P19 ahead of team-mate Mazepin.
At the start of Q2 Red Bull, Mercedes, McLaren and AlphaTauri took to the track on medium tyres. Verstappen set an opening time of 1:30.318 to take an early P1 but that was swiftly bypassed by Hamilton who set a time of 1:30.085. Behind them Sergio Perez, in his first qualifying session with Red Bull, opened with a lap of 1:30.715 but the Mexican’s time was soon deleted for exceeding track limits and he fell into the drop zone ahead of the final runs.
The Mexican went out on another set of medium tyres but as quicker laps were posted by soft-tyre runners Perez dropped back and he eventually exited the session in P11 ahead of Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi, Tsunoda, the second Alfa or Kimi Räikkönen and Russell.
At the start of Q3 Verstappen took top spot in the first runs of the top-10 shootout, setting a provisional pole time of 1:29.526, just two hundredths of a second ahead of Hamilton.
Then, as the final runs began, Hamilton initially edged ahead with a lap of 1:29.385. Verstappen, though, was finding more and more time. A session-best first sector led to a purple time in the middle part of the lap and when the Red Bull driver crossed the line he claimed pole almost four tenths of a second ahead of Hamilton and almost seven tenths ahead of third-placed Valtteri Bottas in the second Mercedes. Fourth place in qualifying went to Leclerc, with the Monegasque finishing ahead of Gasly, Ricciardo, Norris, Sainz, the returning Alonso and Stroll.
2021 FIA Bahrain Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:28.997 218.919
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:29.385 0.388 217.969
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:29.586 0.589 217.480
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:29.678 0.681 217.257
5 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 1:29.809 0.812 216.940
6 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1:29.927 0.930 216.655
7 Lando Norris McLaren 1:29.974 0.977 216.542
8 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:30.215 1.218 215.964
9 Fernando Alonso Alpine 1:30.249 1.252 215.882
10 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:30.601 1.604 215.043
11 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1:30.659 1.662 214.906
12 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo 1:30.708 1.711 214.790
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:31.203 2.206 213.624
14 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo 1:31.238 2.241 213.542
15 George Russell Williams 1:33.430 4.433 208.532
16 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:31.724 2.727 212.411
17 Nicholas Latifi Williams 1:31.936 2.939 211.921
18 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 1:32.056 3.059 211.645
19 Mick Schumacher Haas 1:32.449 3.452 210.745
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas 1:33.273 4.276 208.883