Max Verstappen took pole position for Red Bull at the 2023 Bahrain Grand Prix in an exciting qualifying session that ended with a whimper as many of the top drivers didn’t complete a final lap at the death.
And it’s a front-row lockout for Red Bull as Sergio Perez jumped Charles Leclerc late on, while Carlos Sainz in fourth makes it an all-Ferrari second row.
Neither Aston Martin or Mercedes were a factor in the fight for pole position despite plenty of optimism for Fernando Alonso in practice.
“It’s amazing and I’m looking forward for tomorrow,” Verstappen said after Bahrain GP qualifying. “It’s been a bit of a tough start to the weekend and today not finding my rhythm but in qualifying we managed to put the best pieces together and of course very happy to be on pole.
“Compared to last year everyone knows a bit more what they’re doing with the car. The changes slowed down the car a bit but we are still going faster. Everyone is increasing their performances a lot.
“I was actually positively surprised being on pole after the struggles I had in practice, that’s positive and our race car is better.”
The Q2 and Q3 sessions were also entertaining with plenty of questions about the pecking order remaining.
Red Bull bided their time until Q3 to show their best, Verstappen was nearly three-tenths ahead of Leclerc and over six-tenths ahead of Alonso, the driver many expected to take pole position.
Alonso and both Mercedes drivers were in the pits at the end of the session opting not to run again meaning the evening ended with a bit of a squib, but both teams look more evenly matched than expected.
Russell beat his teammate to sixth place by less than half a second, and it should be an entertaining battle for fifth in the grand prix.
Rollercoaster evening for Ferrari
Ferrari hadn’t set the world alight through either pre-season testing or free practice, with plenty of reports they were holding performance back until it really mattered on the grand prix weekend.
That meant qualifying would be the first time fans got to see their true strength, and it was the worst possible start for Ferrari.
Leclerc‘s front right wheel cover was damaged as he began his first flying lap of Q1 and it flew off at turn one, causing a red flag that delayed proceedings by about ten minutes.
However, they led Q1 and Q2 and Leclerc was second, just a tenth away from Verstappen, after their first runs.
But he climbed out of his Ferrari with a minute to go in qualifying, opting to save a set of tyres for the Bahrain GP and allowing Perez to jump up to second.
Ferrari had expected to be better in qualifying than on race-pace so it remains to be seen whether that gamble paid off.
Midfield picture still looks murky
The pecking order behind the top four had looked very open heading into qualifying, and it looks like it remains that way after qualifying.
Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Ocon were the two who made it into Q3, with a pretty handy margin over the cutoff time, but their teammates were both eliminated in the first session.
Lando Norris once again drove his McLaren to the limit to qualify in 11th, while the Alfa Romeos failed to maximise the pre-season positivity around the team. Given the problems AlphaTauri seem to be facing, Yuki Tsunoda did well just to reach Q2 but his time was a second slower than in Q1.
Alex Albon got into the top ten in Q1 but had a nightmare in the second session, he went off at turn six and then didn’t have time to set a second lap time so will start 15th.
Brutal battle at the back
Logan Sargeant suffered a gutting elimination in Q1, as he put in the exact same time as Norris but set it after the McLaren man and so had to settle for 16th.
There were five different teams represented in the bottom five drivers, an illustration of how close the battle is at the back of the grid.
Arguably the biggest loser of the session was Pierre Gasly, who could only manage 17th and then had his time deleted for a track limits infringement meaning he’ll start right at the back in the grand prix.
Norris‘ lucky break meant McLaren avoided having both drivers out at the first time of asking as Oscar Piastri qualified 18th. None of the rookies made it to Q2, as Nyck de Vries and Kevin Magnussen were the other two eliminated.