Max Verstappen took pole for the 2023 Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix, revealing the true colors of the Red Bull and setting himself up nicely for his Title defense campaign.
It is our first qualifying of the 2023 Formula 1 season, and so many questions that were left lingering from pre-season testing as well as the three free practice sessions have finally been answered.
With that said, Max Verstappen and Red Bull confirmed what everyone expected from pre-season testing, and that is they are the package to beat in 2023, as Sergio Perez will lined up second along his teammate on the starting grid of Sunday’s race.
Charles Leclerc who was third fastest had only one shot at a flying lap in Q3, as he climbed out of his car after his first hot lap, for no technical problem on his SF-23, a surprising decision…
Verstappen: Normally our race car is better
Verstappen spoke after qualifying; he said: “It has been a bit of a tough start to the weekend yesterday and today not really finding my rhythm, but luckily in Qualifying we managed to put the best pieces together.
“I am very happy to be on pole. For the whole team coming off last year and again having such a strong car with Checo up there as well.
“It is amazing and I am looking forward to tomorrow. The changes slowed down the car a bit but we are still going faster, which is great to see.
“Throughout the year, you will see everyone increasing their performance again a lot and that is the beautiful thing about Formula 1.
“I was actually positively surprised to be on pole after the struggles I had in practice. Normally our race car is better, so let’s see,” the two-time F1 Champion concluded.
Sergio Perez added: “It has been really tight qualifying, I don’t remember such a tight qualifying battle. You cannot leave anything on the table.
“I wasn’t totally comfortable with the balance, but to get this start for the team is really special,” the Mexican admitted.
A simply lovely Saturday 💪 #BahrainGP 🇧🇭 pic.twitter.com/u4uTUnspHI
— Oracle Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) March 4, 2023
“There wasn’t any issue,” Charles Leclerc said in parc ferme when asked why he didn’t go for a second flying lap in Q3.
“I think we were in the fight for pole, which was a good surprise to be honest because I did not expect that after testing and after free practices that were a little bit difficult.
“We managed to find that pace for the qualifying pace, which was great. However, we need to keep in our mind that on the race runs, we seemed to be a little bit on the back foot compared to Red Bull.
“And I think that we’re in a better place starting third with new tyres than starting first with older. I don’t know if I would have been in pole or not but it would have been close,” the Ferrari driver concluded.
Verstappen put in a stonking lap, a 1:29.708, 0.850s faster that the 2022 pole time set by Leclerc and was 0.138s faster than teammate Sergio Perez who was second in the sister RB19.
As mentioned, Leclerc was third fastest in the Ferrari, almost three tenths slower than Verstappen, as teammate Carlos Sainz was fourth fastest a further 0.154s down the road.
What must be worrying for the competition is that Verstappen and Perez revealed they have compromised the setup of their RB19s to be more race friendly!
After so much promise from pre-season testing and free practice, Fernando Alonso and Aston Martin got a reality check as the Spaniard was only fifth fastest when it mattered, and 0.628s off the pace.
Not bad for Aston Martin considering where they were in 2022 though as Lance Stroll, clearly struggling with his injury was also in the top ten eighth fastest and half a second slower than Alonso.
George Russell was sixth fastest behind Alonso, with a 1:30.340 with Lewis Hamilton hot on his heels in seventh, 0.044s separating the Mercedes pair.
That confirmed that Mercedes are sadly the fourth fastest team with Aston Martin beating them for the third best position.
With Stroll eighth, Esteban Ocon did well to put Alpine into Q3 in ninth and 1.276s off the pace while Nico Hulkenberg was tenth fastest.
It was a mega job from Hulkenberg to get the Haas into Q3, but had his laptime deleted for exceeding track limits, but nevertheless beat teammate Kevin Magnussen, Haas’ 2022 star driver.
Charles Leclerc lead the way into Q3, with a 1:30.282, already faster than last year’s pole time he himself achieved, a 1:30.558, and was 0.221s faster than Max Verstappen in second, while George Russell was third fastest, 0.225s behind the Monegasque.
First of the drivers losing out in Q2 was Lando Norris who missed out on Q3 by 0.254s and will line up 11th on Sunday’s race grid.
In 12th, was Valtteri Bottas who was 0.062s behind the Briton as Zhou Guanyu was in 13th, only 0.030s behind his teammate.
Yuki Tsunoda was 14th fastest in the AlphaTauri, but at least beat his teammate Nyck de Vries, the Japanese missing out on Q3 by 1.383s.
Alex Albon was 15th fastest having failed to set a time in Q2.
ELIMINATED IN Q2
Albon#BahrainGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/iUm5GY0ThQ
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 4, 2023
No need to talk about the weather in Bahrain, as qualifying kicked off in clear and cool conditions, almost 10C less than FP3 which could mix things up from what we’ve seen this weekend so far.
Who’s ready for some qualifying?! 🙌🙌#BahrainGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/DS1b2t6F0Z
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 4, 2023
The AlphaTauri cars were the most impatient to get out on track as they lined up first at the pit exit waiting for the lights to go green. The Ferraris soon followed as well as Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg.
Soon Charles Leclerc reported a part flying off his SF-23, as he locked up heavily into Turn 1 on Medium tyres and aborts his first flyer as the team identified the piece as part of the front wheel arch while asking their driver to push.
However that prompted a Red flag as the track marshals attempted to remove the Ferrari part from the track, with 13 minutes remaining on the clock from Q1.
🚩 RED FLAG 🚩
The Q1 action is halted after just a few minutes
Charles Leclerc’s first timed lap doesn’t go to plan, with two small pieces of bodywork coming off his car#BahrainGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/A2RLui0l2X
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 4, 2023
The Red flag ruined Hulkenberg’s flying lap, as the German was in the final sector when it was waved, relegating his first set of Soft tyres to the bin.
Action resumed shortly after that will all teams sending their cars out on Soft tyres not willing to take any risks that may prove costly.
With the chequered flag waved, Carlos Sainz led the field into Q2 with a 1:30.993, followed by George Russell in the Mercedes with Charles Leclerc third fastest. Fernando Alonso was fourth with Max Verstappen down in seventh.
It was Logan Sargeant who was the first to miss out on Q2 missing out by an unbelievable 0.000s as he set the same time as McLaren’s Lando Norris but was classified behind the Briton as he set his lap time later.
The second driver to be knocked out was Kevin Magnussen who was beaten by Nico Hulkenberg who made it to Q2, Magnussen was 17th fastest 0.240s behind Sargeant.
Oscar Piastri was 18th fastest, 0.209s behind Magnussen, with Nyck de Vries 0.020s behind the Australian in 19th.
A disappointed Pierre Gasly will line up last on the grid for tomorrow’s race as he was dead last having his best lap time deleted for exceeding track limits.