Formula One: Max Verstappen beats Lewis Hamilton to pole at Bahrain Grand Prix
Red Bull driver finishes ahead of world champion in qualifying for season opener
Max Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton to pole position for the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix following an exhilarating qualifying session.
Verstappen delivered a supreme final lap in his Red Bull to see off seven-time world champion Hamilton by almost four tenths with his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas third.
The Dutch 23-year-old was fastest in every sector on his final lap as he denied champions Mercedes the top slot in the season-opener for the first time in the V6 turbo hybrid era that started in 2014.
Ferrari's Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly's Alpha Tauri will start fourth and fifth, respectively, while the two McLarens – Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris – are next on the grid.
Verstappen's Red Bull teammate, Sergio Perez, was down in 11th.
Red Bull had looked the fastest car in pre-season testing, at least in Verstappen's hands, and Hamilton had said before this race that Mercedes were "not the quickest".
"We had a good week of testing. There are no guarantees but it's been great so far, really enjoyable to drive," said Verstappen.
"With the wind conditions changing, it's not easy to change the set up of the car but I'm really happy with pole position.
"The car has been steady on the short and long runs, we have a good car. We need a good, clean start."
Hamilton is this year bidding to win an eighth world championship, but Red Bull have raced out of the blocks with Verstappen building on the team's strong pre-season campaign.
"Congratulations to Max. He did such an amazing job, so fast on that last lap," said the British driver.
"I gave it everything I had but unfortunately not good enough. It was the best I could do and I got everything I could from the car.
"We did a really good job from testing to come here and everyone in the factory has done a fantastic job considering in testing we thought we would be further behind."
As for teammate Bottas, the Finn admitted there had been problems with his car. "The practice this morning wasn't easy, I had a couple of issues with balance," he said.
"It was a bit better this evening. We used two sets of soft tyres in Q2 so in Q3, I only had one set of tyres, so it wasn't easy to compete with Max and Lewis.
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Fernando Alonso, returning to Formula 1 after a two-year absence, is ninth on the grid. "The week has been difficult," said the Spaniard. "I lack confidence in the rear of the car. You never know what to expect in the first session of the year but I am happy.
"I came with some confidence into qualifying and it was better than I expected.
"57 laps in a row – that will be the first time since testing. Top 10 and to score points is the target. If we do a good start and strategy, anything is possible."
Sebastian Vettel qualified only 18th on his debut for Aston Martin in Bahrain.The four-time world champion, dropped by Ferrari, ended Q1 almost eighth tenths slower than team-mate Lance Stroll.
Mick Schumacher will line up in 19th for his maiden F1 race, one spot ahead of his rookie team-mate Nikita Mazepin.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said afterwards: "That's the real first test of the year. You can see it's nip and tuck. Max came back at the end on the softs.
"It's fantastic for us – that's our first pole since 2013 and Honda's for about 30 years.
"I think it's going to be very, very tight tomorrow. The whole team has worked hard over the winter and Honda have been fantastic.
"Mercedes – look at how they have turned up. Everyone was writing them off. It'll be massively hard for us to beat them but we'll be there."
Updated: March 27, 2021 09:13 PM