F1 | Bahrain GP | Qualifying Report: Verstappen beats Perez and Leclerc to pole

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2023 is starting off in the exact same way the last season had ended: it’s a Red Bull 1-2 for the first race start of the year as two times World Champion Max Verstappen gets pole, but Ferrari is closely behind.

Fernando Alonso in his Aston Martin rounds off the top five, followed by the Mercedes drivers, Lance Stroll, Esteban Ocon and the returning Nico Hulkenberg.

Q1: First out on track were the AlphaTauri drivers, followed by both Ferraris and Nico Hulkenberg for Haas. The Prancing Horse opted for medium tyres, with everyone else going for the softest compound.

However, the session was quickly stopped due to Charles Leclerc losing multiple car parts as he started his push lap. A red flag was issued in order to remove them from the car.

With the session resuming, Ferrari swaps their drivers’tryres as well for softs. The driver on top after the first attempt in is Carlos Sainz in 1:30.993, followed by George Russell and Charles Leclerc, but the whole top six is extremely close with all the top six best times in half a second.

Lance Stroll is the first driver to see a fast lap time cancelled for track limits. The attempt by Aston Martin driver, still recovering from a double wrist injury, would have put him in the top ten.

All drivers return to pits for a tyre swap. Some drivers opted for used tyres, like Leclerc, Russell and Alonso, others like Verstappen on fresh rubber. The only one not taking part in the second attempt is Sainz.

After a hectic final part of the session, Logan Sargeant is the first driver cut out of Q2, but the American rookie can stil be proud of himself as he has signed the exact same time of Lando Norris in his McLaren in P15. Both drivers are however pretty close to the top drivers, only 0.659s off Sainz’s provisional best time of the afternoon.

It wasn’t a great first start for Pierre Gasly at Alpine, with the French driver signing the sixteenth time, but getting it cancelled for track limits, thus starting from the bottom of the grid.

Returning Nico Hulkenberg managed to put his Haas in an impressive P6 on his final attempt, for yet another impressive return drive in Bahrain for the American team after Kevin Magnussen’s performance in 2022.

Out in Q1: Gasly, De Vries, Piastri, Magnussen, Sargeant

Q2: Teams took a bit of a breather after those final close minutes, with the first cars out three minutes in the session.

Lance Stroll suffred from oversteer at Turn 2 in his first attempt, which leaves him out of the provisional Top 10, but his new teammate Fernando Alonso is briefly on top of the session, having to make room for the Red Bull and the Mercedes drivers, with Verstappen improving Hamilton’s best lap time by almost 0.400s.

While everyone else is in the pits, Alexander Albon, the only driver yet to have a timed lap in this session, tries to complete a lap as the only driver out on track, but understeers off at Turn 6 and returns to the pits without a time.

Everyone returns on track bar Albon and the Red Bull drivers. The first driver to improve is Ocon, who goes fourth faster, followed by Hulkenberg slotting in P3.

At the end of the session Charles Leclerc is on top, improving his 2022 Bahrain pole position time by over a second, but there’s movement also at the bottom end of the top 10, with Lance Stroll snatching at the last minute the final spot for Q3 from Lando Norris.

Out in Q2: Albon Tsunoda Zhou Bottas Norris

Q3: First drivers out on track for their outlap are the Red Bulls, and Verstappen’s first pole attempt is the first lap to break the 1:29s on, with Ferrari’s Leclerc in P2 on a clean 1:30.000.

Carlos Sainz made a mistake while coming out of Turn 7, and is stuck in P4. Neither Alonso’s lap is perfect, but manages to get ahead of the other Spanish driver after their first attempt.

Hulkenberg had signed the sixth time, but it’s then cancelled for track limits, while Esteban Ocon goes out only once to slot in P9 ahead of the Haas driver.

Surprisingly, Leclerc pits and gets off his car, in order to save a fresh tyre set for tomorrow’s race as his teammate and the Bulls all go out for a second attempt.

Photo credits: Red Bull Content Pool.