Max Verstappen starts 2023 as he ended 2022, on pole position: the reigning double world champion dominated the first qualifying of the Formula 1 season, at the Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday, ahead of his teammate at Red Bull Sergio Pérez and especially the Ferraris.
Sunday at 6:00 p.m. local (4:00 p.m. French), after dark, the Dutchman will set off ahead of his announced rival for the season Charles Leclerc, vice-champion last year with the Scuderia, qualified third.
The Red Bulls, constructors’ world champions, “are really fast” conceded the Ferrari driver, expected on the grid alongside his Spanish teammate Carlos Sainz, fourth, for a 100% red second line.
Leclerc, however, has several grounds for hope: he won at the last Bahrain GP, while Red Bull has not won on the Sakhir route since 2013 and Sebastian Vettel, now a young retiree from the circuits.
Verstappen, in F1 since 2015, has never won in the first GP of a season – or even in Bahrain.
If the team from Maranello, Italy, is the first competitor of the overpowered Austrian single-seaters, Leclerc also ensures to keep an eye on the Aston Martins, in particular that of Fernando Alonso, qualified fifth on Saturday.
The Spaniard, leading two of the three practice sessions held on Friday and Saturday, had already made a strong impression during pre-season testing last week, also on the Sakhir circuit, regularly placing his single-seater at the height of the best.
– Gasly last on the grid –
British Mercedes drivers George Russell and Lewis Hamilton will start sixth and seventh respectively.
On Friday, Hamilton complained in particular about the performance of his W14: “We discovered that we are far from the mark,” he complained on the evening of the first day of the race weekend. “We knew it a bit from testing last week, but the gap is significant” with the other teams.
The second Aston Martin, that of Canadian Lance Stroll, uncertain until Thursday for the GP due to a broken wrist – which incidentally caused him to miss pre-season testing – is eighth ahead of the Frenchman’s Alpine Esteban Ocon, ninth, and the German Nico Hulkenberg, qualified tenth at the wheel of his modest Haas.
At Alpine, if Ocon saved the honor, his teammate and compatriot Pierre Gasly will start twentieth and last for his first qualifications with the French team.
The Norman, then 17th at the end of the first part of qualifying, saw his best time canceled for leaving the limits of the track in the first part of qualifying (Q1), where the five worst times are eliminated.
The grid welcomes three novices this season: the American Logan Sargeant will start 16th, ahead of the Australian Oscar Piastri (McLaren), 18th, and the Dutchman Nyck de Vries (AlphaTauri), 19th.