The wait is over, and Red Bull Racing are the team that have come out of the blocks and aced the first Qualifying session of the year to prop Max Verstappen onto pole position in the first race of the season.
But it was a day of mixed emotions for the Milton-Keynes based marque as second driver Sergio Perez could only muster eleventh. Lewis Hamilton finished second, 0.388 seconds behind the flying Dutchman, and team-mate Valtteri Bottas occupied third place.
Qualifying 1: A Q1 Cat-Haas-trophe
The first Formula 1 Qualifying session of the year got underway in Sakhir at 15:00 GMT, with the introductory green light signalling an hour until the reveal of the entire grid’s true pace after weeks of sandbagging central.
Williams Racing’s George Russell was the first to venture out onto the three-mile-long circuit, but pulled into the pits before finishing his tour of the track. Mere moments afterwards, Russian rookie Nikita Mazepin took a trip across the runoff at turn twelve following a minor spin, going on to finish plum last and succumb to an early elimination in his first ever F1 Qualifying. Mick Schumacher– Mazepin’s Team-mate and son of the great Michael Schumacher– was another one of the unlucky five not to make it into the second session.
Interestingly, the two Scuderia AlphaTauri’s showcased some impressive mettle as the session progressed, with F1’s newest Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda setting a time good enough to emerge into the top fifteen with remarkable ease. The fashion brand’s pace appeared to show engine manufacturer Honda’s improvement over the winter in their last season competing at the pinnacle of motorsport as supplier for Red Bull and AlphaTauri.
As the first 20-minute period drew to a close, it was another spin for Nikita Mazepin at turn one which wrote-off laps for a multitude of drivers- one of which was Sebastian Vettel on debut for Aston Martin Racing who was subsequently demoted to the sidelines for the remainder of the day. George Russell set a stellar time to end up thirteenth which saw him emerge safely into Qualifying 2, whilst Esteban Ocon and Nicholas Latifi could neither capitalise nor improve and went on to face elimination.
Eliminated: MAZ, MSC, VET, LAT, OCO
Qualifying 2: Eleventh for car no. 11
With an extremely tightened midfield this year, expectations for Qualifying 2 were high as the session began under the lights in Bahrain. A number of the more confident teams like Mercedes, Red Bull and McLaren F1 Team opted to fit the slower medium tyres in order to maximise their starting opportunities for the race, whilst the Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN cars and even the struggling Scuderia Ferraris ran the softs to ensure their promotion into the top-ten.
After half-distance, a number of drivers- including the prancing horse’s Carlos Sainz Jr.- reported increased wind on the sandy Bahrain circuit, issuing cause for concern regarding rear stability through some of the more prolonged corners.
AlphaTauri’s compellingly frenetic pace appeared to be continuing in the second session with Frenchman Pierre Gasly setting a stonking lap-time to make it into Qualifying 3, yet reality soon set in as rookie Tsunoda was eliminated shortly thereafter.
In highly unexpected fashion, the two Ferraris made it to the top of the table to secure a Q2 1-2 (admittedly on the red-striped rubber), and the curse of the second Red Bull seat persisted with Sergio Perez getting knocked out after a bungled gamble saw the Milton-Keynes based outfit fumble laps on the slower medium tyre. In due course, car number eleven will start eleventh in the race on Sunday.
And although he displayed a valiant effort in advancing to the second round of Qualifying, George Russell sadly could not improve to the pole-shootout and had to settle for fifteenth on the grid for tomorrow’s grand prix.
Eliminated: RUS, RAI, TSU, GIO, PER
Qualifying 3: Max pushes to the max
The long-awaited shootout between Mercedes and Red Bull began with the obvious disappointment of Perez out early on, but the fight was still on between Lewis Hamilton- vying for an eighth title- and Max Verstappen who is looking to secure his first championship.
After the first round of laps was completed, the battle we had been yearning for seemed to have come to fruition. Lewis Hamilton set a 1:29.549 to pip Verstappen to pole, but Max rounded the final corner to edge out the Briton by a mere two hundredths- even citing over the airwaves that the lap in question was flawed. The angst and pressure on the circuit seemed almost tangible enough to be cut with a knife.
As the ultimate showdown came, all remaining drivers lined up to set their final laps with just a minute and a half to go. The two silver arrows set off first; Bottas and Hamilton lurching out the final corner with the aim of squeezing by Verstappen. Bottas’ lap was flawed from the get-go, and he only managed to dislodge Gasly for third.
But the real battle was only just beginning. Milliseconds later, Sir Lewis crossed the line to upset the balance of power and claim provisional pole with a lap better than Verstappen’s by a tenth and a half. It looked as though Mercedes had regained their dominant form with a 1-2 on the board, however Max emerged from the distance to post three purple sectors and storm to a scintillating first by a whopping 0.388 seconds. Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner called the result ‘the perfect way to start the season.’
Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly both vastly outperformed their Ferrari and AlphaTauri respectively, attaining fourth and fifth on the grid in the year’s first Qualifying. Now bolstering Mercedes power, the two McLarens of Ricciardo and Norris reserved sixth and seventh and were closely followed by Carlos Sainz, Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll.
|1||33||Max Verstappen||NED||Red Bull Racing||1:30.499||1:30.318||1:28.997||15|
|2||44||Lewis Hamilton||GBR||Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team||1:30.617||1:30.085||1:29.385||18|
|3||77||Valtteri Bottas||FIN||Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team||1:31.200||1:30.186||1:29.586||17|
|4||16||Charles Leclerc||MON||Scuderia Ferrari||1:30.691||1:30.010||1:29.678||15|
|5||10||Pierre Gasly||FRA||Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda||1:30.848||1:30.513||1:29.809||15|
|6||3||Daniel Ricciardo||AUS||Alpine F1 Team||1:30.795||1:30.222||1:29.927||18|
|7||4||Lando Norris||GBR||McLaren F1 Team||1:30.902||1:30.099||1:29.974||18|
|8||55||Carlos Sainz Jr.||ESP||McLaren F1 Team||1:31.653||1:30.009||1:30.215||17|
|9||14||Fernando Alonso||ESP||Alpine F1 Team||1:30.863||1:30.595||1:30.249||15|
|10||18||Lance Stroll||CAN||Aston Martin Formula One Team||1:31.261||1:30.624||1:30.601||15|
|11||11||Sergio Pérez||MEX||Red Bull Racing||1:31.165||1:30.659||11|
|12||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||ITA||Alfa Romeo Racing||1:30.998||1:30.708||12|
|13||22||Yuki Tsunoda||JAP||Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda||1:30.607||1:31.203||9|
|14||7||Kimi Räikkönen||FIN||Alfa Romeo Racing||1:31.547||1:31.238||12|
|15||63||George Russell||GBR||Williams Racing||1:31.316||1:33.430||11|
|16||31||Esteban Ocon||FRA||Alpine F1 Team||1:31.724||6|
|17||6||Nicholas Latifi||CAN||Williams Racing||1:31.936||8|
|18||5||Sebastian Vettel||GER||Aston Martin Formula One Team||1:32.056||6|
|19||47||Mick Schumacher||GER||Uralkali Haas F1 Team||1:32.449||6|
|20||9||Nikita Mazepin||RAF||Uralkali Haas F1 Team||1:33.273||7|