LIVE: F1 Bahrain Grand Prix, Monday 2am AEDT –
Daniel Ricciardo is out to make an early statement with his new Maclaren team, while Max Verstappen seeks to kickstart his 2021 title bid in the opening race of the new Formula One campaign.
Verstappen put his Red Bull on pole ahead of the two Mercedes of world champion Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas – the first time in the hybrid era (since 2014) that Mercedes has not started from top spot in the opening race of a season.
The stage is set for the Bahrain International Circuit at Sakhir to host a thriller – and perhaps set the tone for what should be a much more closely-contested championship fight.
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Verstappen has now qualified top of the charts for the second-straight time for the first time in his career, after landing pole in last season’s finale in Abu Dhabi.
The Red Bull talent claimed victory in that race, and will be hoping to start the new season in similar fashion after a barnstorming qualifying performance saw him outpace Lewis Hamilton by an impressive 0.338 seconds.
“Of course, we had a great test last week, but there are no guarantees here,” said Verstappen after qualifying.
Behind the Red Bull star and Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Bottas atop the grid, a genuine three-way battle is emerging between Ferrari, AlphaTauri, and McLaren.
Monegasque star Charles Leclerc put his Ferrari in an impressive fourth ahead of Pierre Gasly’s AlphaTauri. The two McLarens of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris followed – separated by a very thin margin – ahead of Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari.
For Ricciardo, out-qualifying his new teammate was a strong statement. Now he has the chance to chase a debut podium with the orange-clad McLaren outfit – and the opportunity to remind the field of his immense talent.
“I did make a nice step today and that’s what I’m most satisfied with,” said Ricciardo after qualifying. “I think I just made progress each session, didn’t overcomplicate it … We started a bit off the pace yesterday, but I know it’s a process and to kind of make a good difference tonight, I was really happy.”
Meanwhile there’s further intrigue throughout the grid. Returning veteran Fernando Alonso claimed a hugely impressive ninth in his Alpine (formerly Renault) missile. But four-time champion Sebastian Vettel found things much harder in his new Aston Martin, managing just 18th in qualifying – and with the possibility of a grid penalty to come before the race.
RACE CENTRE: Live lap times, full grid
Bahrain GP Grid 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
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