Defending FIA Formula One world champion Max Verstappen took his first pole of 2023 with the quickest time in Qualifying for the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix. Verstappen’s team-mate Sergio Pérez took second place to as Red Bull locked out the front row. Charles Leclerc took third place, though the Ferrari driver missed the final run of Q3 as he opted to save a set of tyres for the race.
At the start of Q1, Leclerc was one of the first to kick off a flying lap but as the Ferrari driver began his lap a piece of his right wheel brow broke off and then, as he locked up into Turn 1, a second element flew off the underside of his car.
With debris on the racing line, the session was red-flagged with four minutes on the clock.
Following an eight-minute delay, the session resumed and the Red Bulls were quickly on track, along with the rest of the field. Verstappen climbed to the top of the timesheet with a lap of 1:31.295, but the Dutchman was almost immediately eclipsed by Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso and then by Leclerc. It was the Ferrari star’s team-mate Carlos Sainz who staked the biggest claim to top spot in the opening runs with the Ferrari driver taking P1 with a lap of 1:30.993.
In the final runs of the opening segment Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg and William’s Alex Albon all jumped into the top 10 but despite their advances, Sainz took top spot from Russell and Leclerc.
There was no place in Q2, though, for Williams’ Logan Sargeant. The Williams rookie was eliminated in P16 ahead of Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, McLaren rookie Oscar Piastri, AlphaTauri’s Nyck de Vries and Alpine’s Pierre Gasly who had his final time deleted for track limits in Turn 15.
In the opening runs of Q2, Verstappen took control, with the Dutchman taking P1 with a lap of 1:30.503, 0243s ahead of Pérez who slotted into P2. Verstappen’s lap left him 0.398s clear of third-placed Hamilton, with his Mercedes team-mate George Russell in fourth place ahead of Alonso and the Ferrari duo of Sainz and Leclerc.
Red Bull opted to keep its drivers in the garage for the final runs of Q2 and when the final times arrived, it was Leclerc who took top spot with a time of 1:30.282. Verstappen’s opening time was good enough to hold on to second place, while Russell took third ahead of Hamilton, Sainz and Alonso. That left Pérez with seventh place and the Q3 order was rounded out by Hulkenberg, Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Stroll. Out went McLaren’s Lando Norris in P11, Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu, AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunodo and 15th-placed Albion.
Verstappen again set the pace in the opening runs of the final segment. The Dutchman went purple in the first and final sectors to set a P1 time of 1:29.897, with Leclerc second on 1:30.000. Pérez slotted into third place, 0.234 off his team-mate, while Alonso took fourth place ahead of Russell.
Leclerc oddly opted to sit out the final runs, choosing instead to save a set of tyres for the race start, and that left the door open for Verstappen to stretch away from the field. The Dutchman obliged and thanks to a strong middle sector he found almost two tenths of a second to claim pole with a lap of 1:29.708. Pérez also found time to leapfrog Leclerc and take P2 to lock out the front row for tomorrow’s race.
2023 FIA Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:29.708
2 Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing 1:29.846 0.138
3 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:30.000 0.292
4 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:30.154 0.446
5 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin 1:30.336 0.628
6 George Russell Mercedes 1:30.340 0.632
7 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:30.384 0.676
8 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 1:30.836 1.128
9 Esteban Ocon Alpine 1:30.984 1.276
10 Nico Hulkenberg Haas 1:31.055 1.347
11 Lando Norris McLaren 1:31.381 1.673
12 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo 1:31.443 1.73
13 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo 1:31.473 1.765
14 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:32.51a0 2.802
15 Alexander Albon Williams – –
16 Logan Sargeant Williams 1:31.652 1.944
17 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:31.892 2.184
18 Oscar Piastri McLaren 1:32.101 2.393
19 Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri 1:32.121 2.413
20 Pierre Gasly Alpine 1:32.181 2.473