Fernando Alonso edged out Max Verstappen in final practice for the Bahrain Grand Prix to set up a thrilling and unpredictable first battle for pole position of the season, which was also expected to involve Scuderia Ferrari and maybe even Mercedes. Fernando Alonso, backing up his stunning form from Friday evening, topped Max Verstappen’s best time on the soft tyres by five thousandths of a second towards the end of the hour-long session in the baking Sakhir heat.
We were therefore ready for a really interesting qualifying session at the Bahrain International Circuit and we were eagerly waiting to find out the true pace of the cars. The more that cars drive around the track, the more grippy rubber is on the track surface, giving the cars extra speed through the corners.
Plenty of questions whirling around the paddock as the focus shifted to Q1. Green Light and the first Qualifying session of the 2023 Formula One championship was a go! The Alpha Tauri cars were the first out on the track and the drivers had 18 minutes to try and make it through to Q2. We had just five cars out on track in the first few minutes, but the two Ferrari SF-75 cars were amongst those looking to get an early flying lap on the board. Charles and Carlos were joined by Yuki Tsunoda, Nyck de Vries and Nico Hulkenberg. There was an early issue for Charles Leclerc as he had to abort his flying lap after a piece of carbon fibre flew off his car and he locked up. He headed back to the garage and that is a worry.
There was some leftover bits of that carbon fibre left on the track from Charles Leclerc’s car and so the session was red flagged. Quite an inconvenience for those who had gone out on the track. The cars were heading back out onto the track and there was now a massive queue of cars at the end of the pitlane. Every single car was out on the track after that red flagged destabilised some strategies.
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Carlos Sainz was the fastest out there with a 1:30.993 on softs. However, the top five were separated by only three tenths. But at the other end of the timesheet, McLaren were worried with both their drivers sitting in the elimination zone. Lance Stroll had had his lap time deleted for exceeding track limits so he had tp go out and put in another lap!
Logan Sergeant (Williams), Pierre Gasly (Alpine), Kevin Magnussen (Haas), Oscar Piastri (McLaren) and Nyck De Vries (AlphaTauri) were out in Q1, as Norris just about survived in 15th. It was also a close one for Lewis Hamilton who ended Q1 in 13th. Ferrari were always expected to turn up their engines for qualifying and the end result was stunning for them, first and third. The Aston Martin cars were still well in the hunt, Nico Hulkenberg starred for Haas in sixth, while Red Bull really struggled in Q1, only seventh and 10th through Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez.
It was therefore time for Q2! Lando Norris had to improve if he wanted any hope of getting through to Q3, with the likes of Zhou Guanyu, Lewis Hamilton and Esteban Ocon also on the cusp. At the top, the Ferrari cars started to shine but we had four different teams who could all be in contention here.
And that was ominous from Max Verstappen: He put in a lap that was fractionally quicker than Charles Leclerc’s lap for pole position last year with a 1:30.503. Sergio Perez was just behind, followed by Lewis Hamilton and George Russell. At the other end, Lando Norris continued to be in danger, with Lance Stroll struggling in 12th. All the cars, except for Alex Albon, headed back to the garage and we were about to get an exciting finale to Q2.
After the final runs in Q2, it was Charles P1 and Carlos P5 in a solid display of pace for the SF-23 cars, as Lando Norris (McLaren), Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo), Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo), Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) and Alex Albon (Williams) were eliminated in Q2. Charles Leclerc was therefore the pace-setter in Q2 and we were yet to see the Aston Martins properly competing at the top.
What a battle we had for pole position as the Ferraris, Red Bulls, Mercs and potentially the Aston Martins battle it out! We knew Ferrari had been hiding some speed, but they looked the team to beat over one lap.
The Ferrari cars were the first to make their way out onto the track as the rest wait for the perfect moment in the garage. Max Verstappen put in an absolutely huge 1:29.987 lap, with Charles Leclerc just behind with a 1:30.000. Carlos Sainz suffered a mishap in his flying lap as he went over the kerb and lost a bit of control, putting him more than four tenths off Max Verstappen in the lead. Unfortunately Charles Leclerc was back in the garage and was out of the car, which meant the best he could get is second on the grid due to a possible technical issue. Max Verstappen was back out to try and improve that incredible time as Carlos Sainz was tasked with putting in a huge lap for Ferrari with Charles Leclerc out.
And what a Qualifying session it turned out to be for Red Bull. Max Verstappen starts this season as he ended last season: on pole. He is joined by his teammate Sergio Perez on the front row, with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz securing a Ferrari second row lockout. The Mercs and Aston Martins were not on the pace in this session, but Fernando Alonso came closest in fifth.
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