Bahrain GP Qualifying: Verstappen, Catch me if you can

BahrainGP Qualifying: Verstappen, Catch me if you can

Bahrain GP Qualifying: Verstappen, Catch me if you can

Max Verstappen took the first pole for the 2024 Formula 1 season in Bahrain, beating Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, the only driver to challenge the Red Bull ace.

Red Bull went on and dumped the sand bags from the RB20, the #1 car though as Verstappen took his 33rd career pole position, equaling the tally of legends Jim Clark and Alain Prost.

It was the first time since the RB20 hit the track in anger that Red Bull finally showed their true pace and when things for serious, the reigning F1 Champion was two tenths clear than his closest challenger, Leclerc.

Most F1 pundits would have sighed in relief, as everyone insisted Verstappen and the RB20 are the package to beat in 2024, but extent of their dominance was masked as Red Bull never showed their ultimate pace, not in pre-season, not even in any of the practice sessions this weekend.

Q3: Red Bull from Ferrari from Mercedes

Up next was Leclerc, excellent in the SF-24 and two tenths off the pace, and while Ferrari were accused of showboating in pre-season testing, their pace was genuine, but not good enough to beat Red Bull. And what makes matters worse for the Scuderia is that despite their improved race pace, that area still seems to be ruled by Red Bull as well.

In third position, George Russell, three tenths off the pace, showed that Mercedes have delivered a handy car for him and seven-time F1 Champion Lewis Hamilton, the latter contesting his last season with the Silver and Black Arrows.

Russell, who was initially under the threat of getting a penalty for driving too slow on his outlap, showed after beating Hamilton in the first qualifying in 2024 that he has what it takes to lead his team after his teammate leaves for Ferrari in 2024.

Carlos Sainz showed some fight in Q1, but as is the case, he faded away as qualifying progressed. He was fourth fastest and was 0.328s off the pace of Verstappen, one tenth slower than his teammate.

Sergio Perez was fifth fastest in the other RB20, 0.358s off the pace of Verstappen and 0.005s faster than Fernando Alonso who was sixth fastest in the Aston Martin.

Lando Norris was seventh fastest in the McLaren, over four tenths down from pole, on a weekend where he predicted his team would struggle.

Hot on Norris’ heals was teammate Oscar Piastri, eighth fastest in the other Papaya car, 0.069s slower than the Briton and 0.027s ahead of Hamilton.

Hamilton was ninth fastest in his first qualifying of his final Mercedes season, and ultimately over half a second off the pace.

Nico Hulkenberg was superb for Haas, taking the tenth grid position for Saturday’s grand prix, shattering all the predictions that Haas are the worst team, but he still has to prove whether the team have made advances in race pace following their well documented 2023 woes.

Verstappen: It was a lot of fun

Bahrain GP Qualifying: Verstappen, Catch me if you can

After taking the first pole if the 2024 F1 season, Verstappen said: “It was a lot of fun. The track had a lot of grip but with the wind the last two days, it was tricky to get the whole lap together. It was the same in qualifying.

“To really get everything out of it in Q3 was a little more difficult but I’m very happy to be on pole. It was a little bit unexpected but luckily in qualifying the car came to us and I felt a bit happier with the whole car,” he added.

As for his race pace, he explained: “The race is going to be close as well. We look good as well but we’ll see tomorrow. I’m confident we can have a strong race.”

Clearly unhappy with second, Leclerc added: “I’m a bit disappointed, but yeah, we did a good qualifying. It’s been a tricky weekend until now. We were trying quite a few things in practice and then I found the sweet spot in qualifying.

“Q1 was a bit tricky. Unfortunately we put on two new sets of softs, which compromised a little bit the Q3, but all in all it’s quite a good qualifying, a good start of the year. We are in a better place compared to a year ago, so that is good. Now we have to see the race pace tomorrow.

“In Q2 I think I did a .1 which was more or less the lap time that Max did in Q3, so it was there in the car. I think we lost a little bit the rhythm with the used set of C3 in Q3, then you have to readapt to the new tyres and I lost a little bit there, but all in all it’s been a positive qualy,” he explained.

“I’m confident we did a step forward but we have to wait and see tomorrow how much of a step forward we did. We really think that Red Bull is still ahead by quite a bit, in the race I mean.

“So we’ll see, but if there’s an opportunity as always I’ll go for it, and we’ll see what happens tomorrow,” the Monegasque concluded.

Russell was elated with his third place, he said: “Everybody at the factory has done an amazing job to give Lewis and I a car that we feel much happier with and a base we can build upon. Ultimately, Max is still out there in front and we still have a lot of catching up to do.

“When we look at our qualifying performances in the last two years in Bahrain, and the race pace, starting in P3 for tomorrow is a great place.

“There’s been a huge amount of work. We have obviously made a big step forward in one lap pace and we hope we haven’t compromised the race pace.

“I think it will be a close fight between everybody apart from Max,” Russell pointed out. “Red Bull are so strong at the moment and Max is doing a great job. He’s got the new tyres. If there’s an opportunity to take the lead but ultimately the race for all of us is for second.

“But, nobody knows, it’s the first race of the season, I’m so excited to be back and let’s hope for some craziness,” he concluded.


Q2: Ferrari flex their muscles

After a drama free Q1, Q2 started with the drivers wasting no time to head out on track, the Haas and McLarens leading the pack.

Kevin Magnussen posted the first lap time, but it was deleted for exceeding track limits at Turn 7 as the drivers went on with their business putting some lap times on the board.

With the first round of laps done, Verstappen fired a shot of warning going fastest of all by more than half a second with Perez the second fastest. The Dutchman was on fresh rubber though. He was also faster than the 2023 pole time of 1:29.708 that he set.

The top ten were: Verstappen – Perez – Norris – Leclerc – Alonso – Hamilton – Sainz – Piastri – Russell – Lance Stroll.

The second round of laps began with five minutes remaining from Q2 with new Soft tyres for the field in a final attempt to make it into Q3.

Leclerc signaled his intent to take the fight to Verstappen and posted the fastest time of Q2, a 1:29.165, 0.209s faster than the Red Bull ace, with Sainz going third fastest, 0.408s off the pace of his teammate.

The second batch of eliminated drivers was led by Yuki Tsunoda who was 11th fastest in the VCARB 01, missing out on Q3 by a painful 0.007s to McLaren’s Piastri.

In 12th was Stroll who was 0.071s behind Tsunoda and only 0.021s ahead of Alex Albon who put his Williams 13th on the grid of Saturday’s race.

Daniel Ricciardo was 14th fastest in the other RB, 1.113s off the ultimate pace and 0.251s faster than Magnussen who will start the Bahrain Grand Prix from 15th on the grid.


Q1: Alpine are in deep trouble

Qualifying started under the floodlights of the Bahrain International Circuit, with track temperature of 22 degrees centigrade and ambient temperature of 18 degrees.

The Ferraris of Leclerc and Sainz as well as the Alpines of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly were the first cars on the track when Q1was green lighted.

Leclerc and Sainz were on the Medium tyres, the same applying to the Alpines as the other 16 drives watched from the pits.

Gasly’s first lap was deleted for exceeding track limits at Turn 13 as Sainz posted the fastest time, half a tenth faster than Leclerc in second with Ocon in third.

A bit over 12 minutes into the session, the rest of the drivers set out on track to set their first lap times in qualifying, the remaining pack all bolting on the Soft tyres.

With the first times in and five minutes from the end of Q1, the top 15 was: Sainz – Verstappen – Norris – Alonso – Perez – Leclerc – Russell – Hulkenberg – Albon – Piastri – Logan Sargeant – Hamilton – Stroll – Tsunoda – Ricciardo.

With Sainz remaining in the pits, all the drivers set out for the second set of flying laps with less than four minutes on the clock and in the end it was Sainz that led the way into Q2 with a lap time of 1:29.909.

Stroll was second fastest behind Sainz, 0.056s slower with Verstappen third fastest, 0.122s off the pace.

First of the losers was Valtteri Bottas in the Sauber, losing out to Magnussen by 0.110s, and 16th fastest. He was followed by teammate Zhou Guanyu in 17th and 0.001s slower.

Sargeant was 18th fastest for Williams, 0.861s off the pace with Ocon down in 19th, 0.023s behind the American.

Gasly was dead last in the other Alpine and was left ruing a “disastrous” out lap. He was over one second off the pace.

One second covered all 20 cars, that’s close!