Bahrain Grand Prix – Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez locked out the front row ahead of the Ferraris for tomorrow’s opening race of the season.
With the sun set and the lights illuminating the track, the first qualifying of the 2023 season got underway with the two AlphaTauri’s taking to the circuit on the soft tyre with the Ferraris following them out on mediums thirty seconds later.
It wasn’t an ideal start for Charles Leclerc though as a chunk of his front right wheel arch flew off. Yuki Tsunoda opened the session with a 1:32.132 and less than a minute later the Red Flags came out to clear the debris from the track.
The session resumed a few minutes later and all drivers headed out on the softs to add to the now two classified times on the charts, as Carlos Sainz’ first time was deleted due to track limits.
Once all drivers had put a lap in, Sainz’ was at the top of the pile with a 1:30.993, George Russell was in P2, 0.064 seconds behind. Leclerc and Fernando Alonso were behind them, all within 0.165 seconds of each other while the two Red Bulls sat in P5 and P6, over three tenths off the best time so far.
In the final few minutes all cars except Sainz headed back out while Nico Hulkenberg, Lando Norris, Oscar Piastri, Logan Sargeant and Lance Stroll, who had had his 1:31.6 time deleted due to track limits, were in the elimination spots.
While the frontrunners spots weren’t under threat, they bailed out of their final runs but the make or break laps from Hulkenberg and Stroll saw them more into the top 10 while Norris and Sargeant put in the exact same time, a 1:31.652, but the McLaren driver set it first and so took P15 while the Williams racer’s first F1 qualifying ended there along with Kevin Magnussen, Piastri, Nyck de Vries and Pierre Gasly. Gasly’s time was then deleted which dropped him from P17 to P20.
It was quiet for the first few minutes of the second part of qualifying but once Hulkenberg headed out, all but Alex Albon followed. After the opening Q2 runs it was Red Bull on top with a 1:30.503 from Max Verstappen in P1 with Sergio Perez nearly two and a half tenths behind.
Albon did head out but seemed to be having some difficulty with his car, later revealed to be understeer due to front wing damage, and returned to the pits without setting a time. In the final few minutes of the session, all but Albon and the Red Bulls were out and lapping while Zhou Guanyu, Stroll, Ocon, Yuki Tsunoda and Albon were in the danger zone.
At the front Leclerc went P1 with a 1:30.282 while Perez got pushed down to P7 while Stroll managed to save himself again as he demoted Norris from P10. The McLaren racer along with the two Alfa Romeos, Tsunoda and Albon, won’t be taking part in the pole position shootout.
The Red Bulls were the first to take to the track for the final portion of the session, and it was only them, the Ferraris and Stroll out for the first runs which ended with Verstappen in P1 with a 1:29.897 with Leclerc just over a tenth behind with a ninety second dead lap. Perez and Sainz slotted in behind while Stroll didn’t put in a flyer.
Once that bunch had finished their runs then Alonso, Hulkenberg and the Mercedes made their appearance but none of them challenged the top three. In the final few minutes there were nine cars on track, Leclerc potentially having an issue as he was out of his car and not taking any further part. In the post-quali interview, Leclerc explained that there weren’t any problems, they just decided not to run again.
In the end Verstappen improved his time to a 1:29.708 while Perez jumped Leclerc to make an all-Red Bull first row while Ferrari will take over row two. Alonso will start his Aston Martin in P5 after setting a time 0.628 seconds off the reigning champion’s effort. Russell and Hamilton were P6 and P7, while Stroll ended his day in P8 ahead of Ocon and Hulkenberg.