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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 01: Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing talks with Second placed qualifier Charles Leclerc of Monaco and Ferrari and Third placed qualifier George Russell of Great Britain and Mercedes in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 01, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Verstappen equals Clark and Prost with 33rd F1 pole position

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 01: Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing talks with Second placed qualifier Charles Leclerc of Monaco and Ferrari and Third placed qualifier George Russell of Great Britain and Mercedes in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 01, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Before Qualifying today for the Bahrain Grand Prix – Round 1 of the 2024 Formula 1 World Championship at Sakhir – everyone expected Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to claim Pole Position, except the Dutch ace himself!

This means on Sunday, in Bahrain, it will be Verstappen’s 33rd pole position start, which puts him equal with F1 legends Jim Clark and Alain Prost. Only Lewis Hamilton (104), Michael Schumacher (68), Ayrton Senna (65) and Sebastian Vettel (57) have more F1 P1 starts than Max has now.

Last year Verstappen signed off his F1 record-breaking season with P1 in Qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Ominously for his rivals, that form has carried over.

While Red Bull did not show their entire hand before Qualifying on the night, midway through Q2 he blitzed to the top of the timesheets, 0.5s faster than anyone at the time. He eventually claimed pole with a 1:29.179s lap that was 0.288s quicker than the next best, namely Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc who will start on the front row alongside the Red Bull #1 car.

The RB20 delivered on the pre-race expectations. Last year, the Qualy gap to Leclerc was 0.292s, but he was in P3 then, Sergio Perez split the duo that night, when he was a couple of tenths shy of his teammate’s top time, for an all-Blue front row.

This time the Mexican veteran was only good for P5, 0.35s down on Verstappen’s best effort which is the traditional Qualy margin between the pair over the years.

Verstappen: The race is going to be close as well

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 01: Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing, is presented with the Pirelli Pole Position award by Zedd in parc ferme during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 01, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Reflecting on his pole-winning lap after Qualifying in the Bahrain parc ferme tonight, reigning and Triple F1 World Champ, 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.

“If you look at the weekend so far, it didn’t come easily to us. Testing was very good, but then it was very windy so far this weekend and it was just, I think, a bit more difficult to get the balance of the car together. It was just continuous work all the way to qualifying.

“I think we made some good improvements over the car, and I think made us then do the lap for pole. The race is going to be close as well. We look good as well but we’ll see Sunday. I’m confident we can have a strong race,” added Verstappen, who last year won the Bahrain Grand Prix.

The top nine in Qualifying this year are within half a second, last year the gap from P1 to P9 was 1.2 seconds.

Perez: We are in a good position

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 01: Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB20 on track during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Bahrain at Bahrain International Circuit on March 01, 2024 in Bahrain, Bahrain. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Of his Qualy session, Perez added afterwards: “It will be important to get a good start, if we get a good start and really go from there, it should be a good day for the team. We are in a good position, we managed to save ourselves tyre in qualifying, let’s wait and see where we are on Sunday, so we’ll see how that plays out.”

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner summed up his team’s Saturday in Bahrain: “It was a great lap from Max, the circuit was getting cooler, so it was getting a little trickier. He didn’t think it was enough to take pole but thankfully it was and he put it together very well. It was very tight behind him, I have been saying the regulations are going to concertina the field and the start of this year is starting to show that, which make things exciting for everyone.

“It should be an interesting race tomorrow, this grid is so tight, there was only a tenth and a half between third and seventh so I am not concerned about Checo starting from P5. It’s a long lap to race around here and I am confident he will be in a good place to compete for the podium,” predicted Horner.

In 2023, Red Bulls finished one-two in Bahrain, with Verstappen leading Perez home by 11 seconds, followed by Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) best of the rest in P3, a massive 38-seconds behind the winner.

Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix will reveal if the gap between Verstappen and the 19 drivers chasing has increased or not. Whatever the case, last year’s “same old story” looks set to be this year’s theme too with Max on another level.