World champion Max Verstappen took pole position ahead of Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez for the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday.
Perez beat Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to place second, .138 seconds behind Verstappen under the floodlights at the desert track in Sakhir.
“Very happy to be on pole. It’s amazing and I’m looking forward for tomorrow,” Verstappen said after securing his 21st career pole. “We’ve shown really good race pace but we need to show that (on Sunday).”
Looking ahead to the race, Verstappen said, “Hopefully no crazy things will happen.”
Last year in Bahrain, Verstappen was chasing Leclerc when he retired just laps from the end and Ferrari clinched a 1-2 finish through Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr.
Leclerc was .292 behind Verstappen in qualifying and starts on the second row alongside Sainz.
“We were in the fight (for pole), which I probably did not expect. That’s a good surprise,” Leclerc said. “Realistically, they (Red Bull) seem to be very, very quick. We have taken a step forward but I don’t think it’s enough.”
Leclerc posted only one time in Q3 and didn’t take a last shot at pole in order to save tires for Sunday.
“We need to keep in our mind that in the race run, we seem to be a little bit on the backfoot compared to Red Bull,” he said. “I think we are in a better place starting third with new tires than starting first with old or a bit further up.”
Fernando Alonso showed good speed for Aston Martin as the 41-year-old Spaniard qualified fifth, followed by Mercedes drivers George Russell and Lewis Hamilton.
Alonso’s teammate, Lance Stroll, was eighth.
Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and new Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg rounded out the top 10.
A piece came off Leclerc’s car six minutes into the first run, known as Q1, bringing out a red flag as the track was cleaned.
“The lock-up was me being too optimistic going into Turn 1,” Leclerc said about the incident.
Alonso led Friday’s second practice ahead of the two Red Bulls, raising hopes he could challenge for pole. Hopes remained high after he topped the third practice, with Verstappen 0.005 seconds behind and Perez .106 behind.
“I was actually positively surprised being on pole after the struggles I had in practice,” Verstappen said. “That’s positive, and our race car is better.”
Alonso was even quicker than Verstappen on their first runs in Q1, led by Sainz.
Stroll bumped McLaren’s Lando Norris into 11th at the end of Q2, led by Leclerc.
Stroll surprised many observers by returning so quickly behind the wheel, after missing preseason testing because of an injury in a bicycle accident. He needed minor surgery on his right wrist.
F1 newcomer Logan Sargeant, the first American driver on the grid since 2015, was 16th for Williams. He surged up from last on his last lap and narrowly missed out on Q2, with McLaren’s Lando Norris just edging him out.
Veteran Kevin Magnussen was a poor 17th for Haas; new McLaren driver Oscar Piastri was 18th, then AlphaTauri’s Nyck de Vries. Frenchman Pierre Gasly, who has won an F1 race, placed a soul-crushing last on his Alpine debut.
Hamilton was fourth in P3 ahead of Leclerc and Russell.
Hamilton sounded frustrated with his team when they didn’t get back out in time at the end for practice starts.
“Come on guys. This is twice now,” said Hamilton, whose car was pushed back into the garage.
Hamilton didn’t win a race last year for the first time in his 16-year career.