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Bahrain GP Qualifying: Max Verstappen claims first F1 2024 pole ahead of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc

Max Verstappen starts the new season on pole after fending off a qualifying-long challenge from a fast Ferrari; George Russell third for Mercedes but Lewis Hamilton ninth; watch the Bahrain GP on Saturday at 3pm, with build-up from 1.30pm, live on Sky Sports F1

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Watch as Max Verstappen claimed his 33rd career pole position, and first of 2024, for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen will start his quest for a fourth successive F1 world title from pole position in Saturday's season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix after seeing off a fierce challenge from Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc in 2024's first qualifying hour.

George Russell took a promising third for Mercedes, within a tenth of Leclerc, in their much-changed new challenger although team-mate Lewis Hamilton was only ninth after taking a different direction on car set-up.

Verstappen, whose team boss Christian Horner oversaw the session in his usual position on the Red Bull pit wall and gave his driver a message of congratulations on the radio after the Dutchman claimed pole, delivered a best Q3 lap of 1:29.179 with his final attempt to edge out second-placed Leclerc by 0.228s.

Leclerc had actually lapped marginally quicker than Verstappen's eventual pole time in the preceding Q2 session but went two tenths slower in the decisive final phase.

Up until then it looked as though Ferrari had a real chance of denying Verstappen and Red Bull, last year's runaway world champions, the prized position at the front of Saturday's grid after Leclerc and team-mate Carlos Sainz had topped Q2 and Q1 respectively.

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This weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix will be taking place on Saturday rather than the usual Sunday slot!

Sainz ended up fourth - ahead of the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez, who took fifth after lapping 0.358s slower than Verstappen.

Although within half a second of Verstappen's pole time and just two tenths away from Leclerc, a closely-packed top 10 meant Lando Norris was only seventh in the lead McLaren, with Aston Martin's Fernando Alonso pipping the Briton to sixth.

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A rueful Norris, who has driven strongly in qualifying up to the closing stages, admitted to a pair of mistakes on his final attempt and told Sky Sports F1: "I just didn't do what I should have done."

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Despite fears they would be cut adrift at the back for the start of this season, Nico Hulkenberg produced the kind of qualifying heroics that came a regular feature of last year for Haas and the German again made Q3 in 10th place on new boss Ayao Komatsu's maiden race weekend in charge since replacing Guenther Steiner.

Instead it was Alpine who endured a rude awakening in 2024's first qualifying.

The Renault-owned team finished sixth in last year's standings, a long way behind the leading teams but comfortably clear of the rest of the field, and have made wholesale changes to their car for 2024 in a bid to find a step-change in performance to close the gap to the front-runners.

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Esteban Ocon attempts to console the Alpine team after he and his team-mate Pierre Gasly finished last in qualifying at the Bahrain GP

But, for now at least, that change has sent the Enstone team in the wrong direction on the grid with Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly to line up 19th and 20th respectively for the season-opener. The Enstone team are confident they have lots of potential to unlock from the package but warned at the start of the race weekend that it would take them some time to do.

Bahrain Qualifying: Top 10

1) Max Verstappen, Red Bull
2) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
3) George Russell, Mercedes
4) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
5) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
6) Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin
7) Lando Norris, McLaren
8) Oscar Piastri, McLaren
9) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
10) Nico Hulkenberg, Haas

Verstappen starts new season where he left off last, but Leclerc has Q3 regrets

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Sky F1's Karun Chandhok was at the SkyPad to look back on how Red Bull's Max Verstappen edged out Ferrari's Charles Leclerc for pole.

In truth, few would have predicted anyone but the reigning triple world champion topping the first qualifying session of the new season when the one-sided 2023 campaign concluded last November with a Verstappen pole and win in Abu Dhabi.

The expectation that Red Bull would remain the team to beat crystallised through testing at the same Bahrain circuit last week when the team's RB20, which had already caught the eye due to the innovative cooling and sidepods on Adrian Newey's latest design, looked immediately fast and well-balanced around the Sakhir circuit.

Yet once in to the race weekend, and up the start of Q3 at least, it had not appeared an absolute certainty that Verstappen would head the season's first grid. Mercedes had unexpectedly set the pace on Thursday and Ferrari, Red Bull's expected closest pursuers, were then quickest through qualifying's first two knockout segments.

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Max Verstappen takes the first pole of the season in Bahrain qualifying with a time of 1:29.179

"To really get everything out of it in Q3 was a little more difficult but I'm very happy to be on pole," reflected Verstappen, who with his 33rd career pole moves ahead of Nigel Mansell for joint fifth with Jim Clark and Alain Prost on F1's all-time list.

"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."

Yet there had certainly appeared a strong chance for Ferrari and Leclerc in particular, who had finished last season in strong form and even claimed more pole positions than Verstappen across 2023's final five rounds.

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Charles Leclerc thinks it will be very difficult to beat Red Bull in the race but rues not having a second set of softs in qualifying to get pole

But the Monegasque feels they lost momentum by starting Q3 on a used set of soft tyres before switching back to a new set for the final attempt.

"Having a scrubbed set also at the beginning of Q3 I think put us a little bit on the back foot because the track is evolving and it's a bit more difficult to read how much front [wing] flap you need to put for that last run, and I think we lost a little bit the rhythm," said Leclerc.

"I'm not really happy about it but it's something we'll discuss with the team. I thought there was a quite a lot of margin, but obviously being the first qualifying of the year, the team didn't want to risk it so we had to run again with another new soft, which put us a little bit on the back foot for the rest of qualifying."

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Sky F1's Ted Kravitz analyses the key moments qualifying of the Bahrain GP.

Compounding the frustration for Leclerc was the fact that, like last year, Red Bull's margin of superiority over the field is expected to grow over the longer race distance. Verstappen was clearly the quickest driver in Thursday's evening long runs on higher fuel.

And ahead of Saturday's 57-lap race, Leclerc added: "We were expecting Red Bull to have a bit more margin than what there was today, so we are a bit closer than what we thought but the biggest question mark is obviously tomorrow in the race, and I'm pretty sure they have a bit more margin than what we've seen today.

"But let's wait and see."

Mercedes encouraged by improved season start with all-new W15

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George Russell was delighted to qualify third in Bahrain, while Mercedes boss Toto Wolff is optimistic their cars will perform well in Saturday's race

Although they could not quite deliver a repeat of their timesheet-topping form from Thursday practice once everyone was on absolute low fuel, Mercedes ended 2024's opening qualifying in far more optimistic mood than they did at the corresponding stage of last season.

Back then team boss Toto Wolff had taken their 0.7s deficit to pole as final confirmation that they needed to abandon their 'zero sidepod' design philosophy and make an about-turn on their approach for 2024.

Twelve months on and having duly made significant changes to their car and concept for 2024, Mercedes were closer to the ultimate pace with Russell's third place starting berth their best result in Bahrain since 2021, the final year of the previous regulation era that they dominated.

"Ultimately, Max is still out there in front and we still have a lot of catching up to do," said Russell. "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."

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Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton wasn't satisfied after qualifying ninth for the Bahrain Grand Prix

Hamilton finished 0.225s adrift of his team-mate in ninth and said he "struggled" with the W15 in qualifying.

But the seven-time champion offered the caveat that he had gone different ways on set-up to Russell and that he was hopeful his direction would be more favourable for the race, allowing him to make up ground.

"Yesterday, was really good. Me and George were on the same set-ups but he went left and I went right," said Hamilton,

"Right was definitely not good for a single lap but I felt more comfortable with more fuel, so I hope that reflects tomorrow.

"I've definitely sacrificed more than I hoped to and I hope it pays off tomorrow. It's a lot of work to do to get past all those quick cars ahead of me but it will be fun."

Bahrain GP Qualifying Timesheet

Driver Team Time
1) Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:29.179
2) Charles Leclerc Ferrari +0.228
3) George Russell Mercedes +0.306
4) Carlos Sainz Ferrari +0.328
5) Sergio Perez Red Bull +0.358
6) Fernando Alonso Aston Martin +0.363
7)Lando Norris McLaren +0.435
8) Oscar Piasti McLaren +0.504
9) Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +0.531
10) Nico Hulkenberg Haas +1.323
Knocked out in Q2
11) Yuki Tsunoda RB 1:30.129
12) Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:30.200
13) Alex Albon Williams 1:30.221
14) Daniel Ricciardo RB 1:30.278
15) Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:30.529
Knocked out in Q1
16) Valtteri Bottas Sauber 1:30.756
17) Zhou Guanyu Sauber 1:30.757
18) Logan Sargeant Williams 1:30.770
19) Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:30.793
20) Pierre Gasly Alpine 1:30.948

Sky Sports F1's live Bahrain GP schedule

Saturday March 2

  • 8.55am: F3 Feature Race
  • 10.25am: F2 Feature Race
  • 1.30pm: Bahrain GP build-up: Grand Prix Saturday
  • 5pm: Bahrain GP reaction: Chequered Flag
  • 6pm: Ted's Notebook
  • 6.30pm: Bahrain GP highlights

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