Verstappen silences Aston threat with Bahrain GP Pole
3878 days ago was the last time Fernando Alonso started at the front of a Grand Prix on pole, and many people were predicting that streak would be over at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
Instead, a familiar face took the honours for the first time in 2023, with fellow two-time World Champion Max Verstappen picking up where he left off to go into tonight’s race at the front of the pack.
Concerns over a drop of pace by Red Bull were for nothing, with the Dutchman setting a comfortable pole lap of 1.29.708 to start a tenth clear of his teammate Sergio Perez, who was impressive in qualifying for the Austrian team.
It’s the first time Red Bull have locked out the front row of an opening Grand Prix since 2013.
While all eyes were on the team in green to see if Alonso was the biggest challenger to the raging Red Bulls, it was a familiar foe in the team in red who served the biggest contender. Ferrari will line up on the second row, with Charles Leclerc edging out his teammate Carlos Sainz in 3rd & 4th respectively.
The Italian team looked a good shout for pole, with Sainz topping Q1 and Leclerc topping Q2. However, a late decision by the Scuderia to save tyres ahead of the race meant that Leclerc didn’t go out in Q3 for a final run, sacrificing any shot at pole position in the process.
Despite not really being in the hunt for pole, Aston Martin and Alonso were still thrilled with qualifying fifth after the progress made in the off season by the British team.
Alonso had topped practice 3 heading into qualifying and the hype around him continued; however, the Spaniard was still happy finishing only 6 tenths off pole and will be a smoky for a podium in the race, and maybe even the win.
(Photo by Gongora/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Teammate Lance Stroll continued his impressive weekend by qualifying in 8th place. A week ago the Canadian was in a hospital bed barely able to move, so the fact he is even on the grid, let alone firmly in the top 10, is an incredible effort.
The remainder of the top 10 was filled out by both the Mercedes drivers of George Russell (6th) and Lewis Hamilton (7th), Esteban Ocon’s Alpine (9th) and the very impressive returning Nico Hulkenberg in the Hass (10th).
It was a tricky qualifying for Aussie debutant Oscar Piastri, with the 21-year-old not struggling to get the best of out his McLaren and will start his debut race in 19th place. Teammate Lando Norris also struggled with the car but put in a strong performance to wrangle 11th place on the grid.
Other notable performances include the two Williams drivers, with Alex Albon storming into Q2 with another impressive performance, while rookie American Logan Sargeant was unlucky not to also make it through to Q2 after setting the same time as Norris in Q1. He missed out purely on the fact he had set the time after the Brit, and will line up the highest-placed rookie on the grid in 16th.
It all sets things up for an intriguing race in the early hours of Monday morning Australian time. Interestingly Max Verstappen has never won either the Bahrain Grand Prix or the opening round of a Formula 1 season. Another interesting fact is the winner of the opening round of the season hasn’t gone on to win the World Championship since Nico Rosberg in 2016.
Oh and just for fun on the theme of fun F1 stats, the last 6 drivers to top FP2 in the opening round have gone on to win the World Championship. If that stat plays true once again in 2023, Fernando Alonso will finally taste his third title.
Stats don’t lie, right?
The Bahrain Grand Prix starts at 2am AEDST Monday morning.
QUALIFYING TIMES 1 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing 1:29.708 2 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing +0.138 3 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +0.292 4 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +0.446 5 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +0.628 6 George RUSSELL Mercedes +0.632 7 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +0.676 8 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +1.128 9 Esteban OCON Alpine +1.276 10 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team no time 11 Lando NORRIS McLaren 1:31.38 12 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo 1:31.443 13 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo 1:31.473 14 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri 1:32.510 15 Alexander ALBON Williams no time 16 Logan SARGEANT Williams 1:31.652 17 Pierre GASLY Alpine 1:31.818 18 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team 1:31.892 19 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren 1:32.101 20 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri 1:32.121
This article was originally written for The Roar. You can read the published version here