Bahrain: Red Bull looked set to shake up the order with some cracking pace in testing and they delivered on that promise in first qualifying session of the year, as Max Verstappen took a sensational pole position, thumping world champion Lewis Hamilton by a staggering 0.388s.
Verstappen has marked himself out as the man to beat all weekend in Bahrain, the Dutchman topping the times in all three practice sessions and building on that form by winding up his performance through each segment of qualifying.
He pipped Hamilton by 0.023s after the first runs in Q3 and though Hamilton improved on his second timed lap, the chasing Verstappen was going quicker too with purple times in all three sectors to move back ahead for back-to-back pole positions for the first time in his career.
Mercedes may have been pipped, but with Valtteri Bottas slotting into third, it confirmed that the Silver Arrows had made big gains from pre-season testing and are very much in the fight with Red Bull for the spoils, as F1 enjoyed a genuine two-team battle for pole position.
Charles Leclerc set one of the best laps of his career to go fourth quickest for Ferrari, just a tenth behind the Mercedes of Bottas, to suggest the Prancing Horse have made impressive progress over the winter following their worst season for four decades.
Pierre Gasly will start fifth, equalling his best-ever Bahrain performance, after a brilliant showing throughout qualifying. The AlphaTauri driver is one of only four drivers in the top 10 to start the race on the mediums, so is in a very strong position in terms of strategy for Sunday’s race.
Daniel Ricciardo beat his McLaren team mate Lando Norris to sixth, with Carlos Sainz failing to improve on his second run and ending up eighth, half a second behind Leclerc. His countryman Fernando Alonso hit the ground running on his return to F1 with Alpine after two years away from the sport with ninth, as Lance Stroll closed out the top 10 for Aston Martin.
It wasn’t such good news for his new team mate Sebastian Vettel, who was dumped out in the first part of qualifying and will start 18th, while the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez failed to make Q3 as he ended up 11th.
1 Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing)
2 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
3 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
4 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
5 Pierre Gasly (Alpha Honda)
6 Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren)
7 Lando Norris (McLaren)
8 Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
9 Fernando Alonso (Alpine Renault)
10 Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)