Red Bull’s Max Verstappen set himself up as favorite for the first race of the Formula One season after a perfect pole position in Bahrain on Saturday.
The Dutch 23-year-old was fastest in every sector on his final lap as he denied champions Mercedes the top slot in the season-opener for the first time in the V6 turbo hybrid era that started in 2014.
Mercedes’ seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton had to settle for second on the grid, qualifying a considerable 0.388 seconds slower, with team mate Valtteri Bottas lining up in third place.
“Well done Max, that’s the perfect start,” said team boss Christian Horner over the team radio as the mechanics celebrated.
The pole was the fourth of Verstappen’s career and continued a perfect start to the year, with the Red Bull driver quickest in pre-season testing and all three free practice sessions in Bahrain.
Sunday’s race will also be the first time he has lined up on pole with Hamilton alongside.
“We already had a great test week. 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,” said Verstappen.
“It all worked out perfectly in qualifying so of course I’m very happy with pole position,” added the driver who ended last season on pole in Abu Dhabi, a race he went on to win.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc qualified fourth, but on softer tyres, with AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly fifth and McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo lining up sixth for his first race with the team since moving from Renault.
McLaren’s Lando Norris qualified seventh, ahead of former team mate Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari.
Spain’s two times world champion Fernando Alonso, 39, will start his first race since 2018 in ninth place with Renault-owned Alpine.
The big losers were four times world champion Sebastian Vettel, now at Aston Martin after leaving Ferrari, who starts 18th and Verstappen’s team mate Sergio Perez who managed only 11th on the grid.
At the back, Michael Schumacher’s son Mick will start 19th for Haas, one spot ahead of team mate Nikita Mazepin.