Max Verstappen followed up his pre-season pace with the first pole position of the season, P1 on the Bahrain Grand Prix grid ahead of Lewis Hamilton.
Red Bull teased a possible title challenge in testing, quickest of all around the Sakhir circuit. The question was, were Mercedes weighed down by sandbags.
The answer to that is a simple yes as, when it came down to it, Hamilton challenged Verstappen in Saturday night’s qualifying.
In the end, though, it was the Dutchman who secured the coveted grid slot ahead of the seven-time World Champion and Valtteri Bottas.
BREAKING: VERSTAPPEN TAKES POLE IN BAHRAIN!!
— Formula 1 (@F1) March 27, 2021
The opening qualifying session of the season began under lights at the Sakhir circuit with the track temperature at 34’C and, problematic for the drivers, gusts of wind.
Nikita Mazepin was the first to fall foul of the conditions as he lost it at Turn 13, his third spin of the weekend. He later brought out the yellow flags as he spun again, a fourth time, at Turn 1 on his final hot lap.
There were also problems for Verstappen. Although he went P1, the Red Bull driver was soon on the radio asking his team to check his floor because he was wide through Turn 2 over the kerbs.
Despite not venturing out again Verstappen finished P1 ahead of AlphaTauri rookie Yuki Tsunoda and Hamilton.
Carlos Sainz was another to have a moment on the kerbs with his Ferrari cutting out on his final flying lap. He was able to get the car restarted and back to the pits with his previous best good enough to sneak into Q2.
Those who didn’t make it; Esteban Ocon, Nicholas Latifi, Sebastian Vettel, Mick Schumacher and Mazepin.
Vettel said: “There was potential to be a lot faster. We had the issue with the yellow flag during the lap, which made it impossible to come back.”
— Out of Context F1 (@f1nocontext) March 27, 2021
Tyre gambles, and strategy, came into play in Q2 with both Red Bulls, the Mercedes drivers, the AlphaTauris and the McLaren pairing heading out on the medium Pirellis. The rest of the top 15 opted for the softs.
Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo both had their opening gambits times deleted for running wide at Turn 4. Ricciardo made it through while Red Bull’s decision to send Perez out again on a fresh set of mediums backfired. The Red Bull newcomer failed to make it out of Q2, finishing 11th fastest.
He dropped out along with Antonio Giovinazzi, Tsunoda, Kimi Raikkonen and George Russell.
Sainz topped Q2 with a 1:30.009, 0.001s ahead of Leclerc, the Ferrari team-mates having run the soft tyres. It was also the first session of the weekend in which Hamilton beat Verstappen.
— Scuderia Ferrari (@ScuderiaFerrari) March 27, 2021
Soft tyres were the order of the session for Q3 where it was all about raw pace – who has it, who doesn’t.
Verstappen and Hamilton had it, the two protagonists immediately jumping up to first and second, separated by 0.023s.
Behind them Pierre Gasly lined up third, but almost half a second down, while Valtteri Bottas was fourth. Lance Stroll, Leclerc and Fernando Alonso did not set times in the first run.
Both Mercedes drivers improved on their second laps but it wasn’t enough for Bottas, P3, with Hamilton going quickest of all. Verstappen was yet to cross the line…
He clocked a 1:28.997 to take pole by 0.388s with Hamilton joining him on the front row of the grid. Bottas and Leclerc will make up row two ahead of Gasly and Ricciardo.
Norris, Sainz, Alonso and Stroll completed the top ten.
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:28.997
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:29.385
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:29.586
4 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:29.678
5 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 1:29.809
6 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 1:29.927
7 Lando Norris McLaren 1:29.974
8 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:30.215
10 Fernando Alonso Alpine 1:30.249
10 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:30.601
11 Sergio Perez Red Bull 1:30.659
12 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 1:30.708
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:31.203
14 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 1:31.238
15 George Russell Williams 1:33.430
16 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:31.724
17 Nicholas Latifi Williams 1:31.936
18 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 1:32.056
19 Mick Schumacher Haas 1:32.449
20 Nikita Mazepin Haas 1:33.273