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Verstappen Beats Leclerc In Bahrain For F1 Season’s First Pole

  • SPORT
  • 4 min read

Red Bull’s reigning world champion Max Verstappen beat Charles Leclerc to the first pole position of the Formula One season on Friday despite his Ferrari rival setting the fastest lap in Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying.

The 26-year-old Dutch driver secured top spot on the grid with a one minute and 29.179 second lap in the final session of the qualifying hour.

Leclerc’s best lap, a 1:29.165, was quicker but the Monegasque set the time in qualifying’s second phase and was unable to repeat it in the top 10 shootout when it really mattered.

“The track had a lot of grip but with the wind, it’s been tricky to get the whole lap together,” said Verstappen, winner of 19 of 22 races last season, after taking his 33rd career pole.

“Q3 was difficult, but happy to be on pole. To be honest it was a little unexpected but in qualifying the car came to us.”

Verstappen had gone into the weekend as clear favourite to make a dominant start to his bid for a fourth straight championship.

Practice offered hope of a closer contest, however, and qualifying duly delivered.

George Russell qualified third in his Mercedes, making it three different teams in the top three.

Carlos Sainz went quickest for Ferrari in the opening session before Leclerc set the timesheets alight with his qualifying fastest.

Double world champion Fernando Alonso, who eventually qualified sixth, also showed glimmers of speed on his sole run in the pole position shootout only to lose time in the final corner.

“I’m a bit disappointed, we did a good qualifying but it’s been tricky until now,” said Leclerc.

“We are in a better place than a year ago,” he added. Ferrari finished third overall last year after a slow start with Leclerc retiring in two of the first three races including Bahrain.

Verstappen’s Mexican team mate Sergio Perez will start fifth alongside Alonso on the third row of the grid.

McLaren team mates Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri will share the fourth row of the grid in seventh and eighth.

Seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton will start his final season with Mercedes, before moving to Ferrari in 2025, in ninth place with Haas’s Nico Hulkenberg a surprise 10th for the U.S.-owned team.

“It’s not the greatest of feelings,” Hamilton told Sky Sports. “But I am excited to be here… it’s amazing for us to have a car that we can fight with. It just really lights the fire within us drivers.”

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said the team, fastest in Thursday’s second practice when Verstappen was only sixth, had prioritised race pace over single lap performance in their cars’ set-up.

“Yesterday it looked better but we put the car in a sweet spot for tomorrow’s race, at least this is what we hope,” said the Austrian.

The qualifying hour threw up few surprises and was largely incident free.

Renault-owned Alpine put on a dismal showing with Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly propping up the timesheets. They will line up on the last row of the grid.

“It’s a tough situation for anyone to be at the back, yeah we are not happy with it as a whole,” said Ocon.

“It’s very important to be united, keep the chin up and move forward.”

The Bahrain Grand Prix marks the start of a record 24-race season for Formula One and could mark the end of a record 39-race run at the top of the championship standings for Verstappen.

The race and the following round at Jeddah in Saudi Arabia a week later are being held on a Saturday to allow the Middle Eastern kingdoms to host races before the start of Ramadan.

Reuters