Bahrain GP: Max Verstappen beats Lewis Hamilton to first pole of F1 2021 in epic head-to-head start


F1 finally gets its long-awaited duel as Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton go head to head for pole position at season-opener, with Red Bull challenger ahead; But Sergio Perez misses Q3, while Vettel knocked out in Q1; Watch Sunday’s race live on Sky Sports F1 at 4pm

Last Updated: 27/03/21 11:14pm










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VOLUME UP: Watch the full lap that took Max Verstappen to a very impressive pole position at the Bahrain GP.

VOLUME UP: Watch the full lap that took Max Verstappen to a very impressive pole position at the Bahrain GP.

Max Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton to the first pole position of the 2021 season as Bahrain GP qualifying delivered the head-to-head duel between the grid’s two biggest names that the sport has long been waiting for.

After two weeks of guessing games about the true pecking order at the start of the season after Red Bull topped testing, Verstappen delivered on the team’s promise to end world champions Mercedes’ seven-year run of pole positions at F1’s season-opening round.

Less than a tenth of a second separated Verstappen and Hamilton after the first laps of Q3 but the Dutchman pulled clear by an impressive 0.388s margin with a brilliant final lap of 1:28.997.

“Congratulations to Max, he did such a great job. He was so fast on that last lap,” said a gracious Hamilton, who is aiming for a record eighth world championship title this year.

A delighted Verstappen, who also claimed the final pole and win of last season in Abu Dhabi, said: “There are no guarantees coming to the first race weekend but the whole week so far the car has been working really well and it’s just been really enjoyable to drive.”

Valtteri Bottas took third in the second Mercedes but Red Bull suffered unexpected disappointment with their other car as new signing Sergio Perez surprisingly dropped out in Q2 in 11th.

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Max Verstappen celebrated his pole position by covering birthday boy David Coulthard with cake!

Max Verstappen celebrated his pole position by covering birthday boy David Coulthard with cake!

Perez, the race winner for Racing Point on F1’s last visit to Bahrain in December, has replaced the lesser experienced Alex Albon in Red Bull’s line-up and is expected to prove a more consistent front-running foil to Verstappen. But the Mexican lost out in Q2 running on the slower medium tyres while others made headway on the quicker soft compound.

One of those to profit in Q2 was Charles Leclerc and the Monegasque went on to take an impressive fourth for a much-improved Ferrari, just ahead long-time friend Pierre Gasly who showed strong speed throughout for a rapid AlphaTauri.

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McLaren were sixth and seventh, with new signing Daniel Ricciardo just pipping Lando Norris to Saturday honours in their first head-to-head as team-mates.

Fernando Alonso made Q3 on his F1 return for Alpine, qualifying a strong ninth, but fellow ex-champion Sebastian Vettel was a shock Q1 casualty on his Aston Martin debut after being caught up with yellow flags.

Vettel will start from 18th, ahead of only the two Haas cars where Mick Schumacher outqualified Mazepin, who spun twice, on their respective F1 debuts.

Sunday’s race starts at 4pm live only on Sky Sports F1 and Sky Sports Main Event, with build-up from 2.30pm.

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Lewis Hamilton believes Mercedes are much closer to Red Bull than they thought as he starts second on the grid at Bahrain.

Lewis Hamilton believes Mercedes are much closer to Red Bull than they thought as he starts second on the grid at Bahrain.

Bahrain GP Qualifying top 10
1. Max Verstappen, Red Bull
2. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
3. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
4. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
5. Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
6. Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren
7. Lando Norris, McLaren
8. Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
9. Fernando Alonso, Alpine
10. Lance Stroll, Aston Martin

Full starting grid

Game on: Red Bull take on Mercedes from the off

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Christian Horner was delighted with Max Verstappen’s qualifying performance and has praised his team and Honda for their work during the winter.

Christian Horner was delighted with Max Verstappen’s qualifying performance and has praised his team and Honda for their work during the winter.

Since sweeping all before them in F1’s previous rules era of 2010-13, Red Bull have played second or third fiddle to Mercedes with slow starts to seasons consistently leaving them out of title contention by mid-year.

But 2021 has already started differently.

The new RB16B was the quickest car in testing, which also took place in Bahrain, and had appeared the class act in Verstappen’s hands all through practice this weekend.

Mercedes had clearly made improvements to their W12 in the fortnight since testing but believed their rivals held a clear pace edge.

Verstappen had dominated final practice in day-time desert conditions but the gap to Hamilton closed under the evening floodlights. The Red Bull was a tenth quicker in Q1 – although picked up floor damage after running wide over a kerb – slower in Q2, and then just 0.023s separated Verstappen and Hamilton after the first runs in the decisive pole shootout.

But the final laps fell decisively in the Dutchman’s favour for just his fourth career pole.

Red Bull boss Christian Horner told Sky F1: “You never really know where you are. [Qualifying] was the first test of the year where the fuel comes out, the engine modes go up and you see where you are. You can see it’s nip and tuck.

“The middle session it looked liked Mercedes had the advantage on the medium [tyre] but Max came back at the end there on the softs. Maybe Lewis underdelivered slightly on his last lap, but it’s fantastic for us…that’s our first pole [at the first race] since 2013 and Honda’s first for 30 years.

“But Mercedes are right there and going to be right there in the race.”

Bahrain GP Qualifying Timesheet

Driver Team Time
1) Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:28.997
2) Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +0.388
3) Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +0.589
4) Charles Leclerc Ferrari +0.681
5) Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri +0.812
6) Daniel Ricciardo McLaren +0.930
7) Lando Norris McLaren +0.977
8) Carlos Sainz Ferrari +1.218
9) Fernando Alonso Alpine +1.252
10) Lance Stroll Aston Martin +1.604
Knocked out in Q2
11) Sergio Perez Red Bull 1:30.659
12) Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo 1:30.708
13) Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:31.203
14) Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo 1:31.238
15) George Russell Williams 1:33.430
Knocked out in Q1
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





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