As the sun fell below the horizon of the Sakhir International Circuit in Bahrain for the first qualifying of the 2021 FIA Formula One World Championship, it was Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen who took the first pole position of the season and the first in 30 years for a Honda power unit; the last coming in 1991 with Ayrton Senna.
Verstappen has dominated all weekend in Bahrain topping every free practice session ahead of the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team by some distance. Yet as the first runs of Qualifying 3 were completed only 0.023 seconds separated the Dutchman and Lewis Hamilton, had Mercedes tricked us all about their ‘second best’ pace?
As the top drivers rolled out onto the track for their final run, all were on brand new soft tyres for the first pole showdown of 2021. It was Hamilton to cross the line first clocking a provisional pole lap of 1:29.385, only for the flying Dutchman to blitz to pole by almost 0.4 seconds with a commanding 1:28.997, cementing Red Bull’s place as the fastest car of 2021.
“It’s a great feeling to be on pole and I haven’t experienced a season start like this,” said Verstappen. “After the victory in Abu Dhabi the whole Team has been pushing really hard and even more motivated.
“There is still no guarantee for the rest of the year but everyone here and back at the factory have done a great job to give me a car like this and they should be very proud.”
“Honda have also been working very hard this winter, just like every year. They are flat out all of the time and like us they just want to win.
“It is really enjoyable working with them and they are very passionate which I like, so a big credit to Honda for the result today as they have had a great winter.”
“After testing it is always difficult to know where you are and we really didn’t know how it would be in qualifying but when you have a lap like that in Q3 and such a good feeling in the car you can be happy.
“We have to finish it off tomorrow but if I can have a good start I’m confident we can do a good job.”
This is now back-to-back pole positions for Verstappen and Red Bull, can he make it two wins in a row on Sunday?
Perez suffering the fate of the second Red Bull seat?
Whilst one side of the garage is in jubilation, the other is in dismay. The curse of the second Red Bull seat seems to be ever present as Sergio Pérez failed to make Q3 on his Red Bull qualifying debut. A risky strategy of attempting a second run on the medium compound proved costly for the Mexican, as others around him moved onto the soft compound to ensure a place in Q3, eleventh being the eventual result.
A mistake at Turn 13 proved to be the turning point for Perez, who had made progress in Free Practice 3 earlier on in the day. All is not lost for the second Red Bull driver who despite a non-finish at the last Bahrain GP, has a proven track record of having pace at the circuit. The only advantage of starting eleventh for Pérez is having tyre choice for the race on Sunday, where he will look to make further progress in his debut weekend at Red Bull.
“Congratulations to Max and the Team on pole position as that’s the perfect way to start the season,” said Pérez. “On my side I wasn’t expecting to qualify in eleventh and obviously it’s not an ideal start but we are making progress and I made a good step between Free Practice 3 and qualifying, it just wasn’t enough.”
“We were absolutely right to use the medium tyres in Q2 but unfortunately it just didn’t pay off and I didn’t deliver the lap I should have. I went wide at Turn 13 and lost a couple of tenths and the field is so tight that it knocked me out of Q3.”
“It’s a shame as the extra kilometres and comparison to Max would have helped me to progress but tomorrow is a new day and anything can happen around this track so hopefully we can make a good recovery.”