Bahrain Grand Prix: Max Verstappen takes 'unexpected' pole position for first race of 2024 F1 season

Bahrain Grand Prix: Max Verstappen takes 'unexpected' pole position for first race of 2024 F1 season

Max Verstappen underlined his status as the overwhelming favourite for the 2024 Formula One title by bagging a dominant pole position in qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The build-up to Friday’s session had focused on the possibility that, while Red Bull’s race pace looked a step above their challengers, they may not enjoy their trademark dominance over a single-lap.

Verstappen himself even appeared to doubt his car’s credentials as he apologised to his race engineer after racking up a 1:29.179 to beat Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc by a quarter of a second to first place on the grid for Saturday’s race.

“With the wind it’s been quite tricky to get the whole lap together, it was the same in qualifying,” he said after the session. “To really get everything out of it in Q3 was a little bit more difficult.

“It was a little bit unexpected but in qualifying the car came to us. I said yesterday we just needed to fine tune a few things to get perfect balance, luckily we went in the right direction and made another step in qualifying.

“The race is going to be close, we do look good for the race and that’s most important but we’ll see. I’m confident we can have a strong race.”

Leclerc had actually set a quicker time than Verstappen’s pole lap with the best lap in Q2 but admitted he lost his rhythm after changing onto fresh tyres for his final run.

George Russell secured a valuable third place for Mercedes but Lewis Hamilton will start ninth after failing to convert the promise of topping the timesheets in second practice.

Bahrain Grand Prix qualifying times

  1. Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 1min 29.179secs

  2. Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari 1:29.407

  3. George Russell (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:29.485

  4. Carlos Sainz Jr (Spa) Ferrari 1:29.507

  5. Sergio Perez (Mex) Red Bull 1:29.537

  6. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Aston Martin 1:29.542

  7. Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren 1:29.614

  8. Oscar Piastri (Aus) McLaren 1:29.683

  9. Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes GP 1:29.710

  10. Nico Hulkenberg (Ger) Haas F1 1:30.502

  11. Yuki Tsunoda (Jpn) RB 1:30.129

  12. Lance Stroll (Can) Aston Martin 1:30.200

  13. Alexander Albon (Tha) Williams 1:30.221

  14. Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) RB 1:30.278

  15. Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas F1 1:30.529

  16. Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Kick Sauber 1:30.756

  17. Guanyu Zhou (Chn) Kick Sauber 1:30.757

  18. Logan Sargeant (USA) Williams 1:30.770

  19. Esteban Ocon (Fra) Alpine 1:30.793

  20. Pierre Gasly (Fra) Alpine 1:30.948

“Everybody at the factory has done a great job to give Lewis and I a car that we feel much happier with,” said Russell. “We’ve had some great drivers back at base on the simulator. Time will tell, we have made a big step forward in single-lap pace, let’s hope we haven’t compromised too much on race pace.”

Carlos Sainz took fourth in the other Ferrari ahead of Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez. Fernando Alonso starts the grand prix in sixth before the McLaren pair of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri, while Nico Hulkenberg enjoyed a solid return of tenth place in the Haas.

Kevin Magnussen failed to match his teammate’s pace and departed after Q2 in 15th place. Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda also missed out on the top ten in the RBs, as well as Williams’ Alex Albon and the Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll.

Q1 represented a foreboding start to the season for Alpine, who qualified 19th and 20th with Pierre Gasly back of the pack and a full three tenths of a second away from reaching the second part of the session. Both Stake F1 cars and Logan Sargeant also exited at the first hurdle.