Max Verstappen's RB16B sparks in the night-time

For the first time in the turbo-hybrid era a non-Mercedes driver will line up from pole position for a season-opening grand prix, but can Max Verstappen beat Lewis Hamilton to the first victory of the campaign?

Max Verstappen gives the thumbs up after taking pole

Max Verstappen has broken reigning champion Lewis Hamilton in the fight for pole position at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen confirmed Red Bull Racing’s ascendancy with a comfortable pole position over Lewis Hamilton at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

The Dutchman held a slender 0.023s advantage over the Mercedes after the pair’s first laps of the top-10 shootout but radioed his team that he wasn’t happy with his lap, hinting at more pace to be squeezed from his RB16B. He duly delivered with a second blistering lap of 1m 28.997s, dismissing Hamilton by 0.388s.

It’s the first time Mercedes hasn’t taken the first pole position of the season since the 2013 Australian Grand Prix, also the scene of Red Bull Racing’s last season-opening pole.

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Max Verstappen kept Red Bull Racing on top in the only night-time practice session at the Bahrain Grand Prix, while McLaren’s Lando Norris was his closest pursuer.

The Dutchman’s lap of 1m30.847s was enough to continue his control of the time sheet after also leading first practice in the heat of the late afternoon sun. Friday evening practice is the only session of the Bahrain Grand Prix representative of the after-dark qualifying and race conditions and is therefore considered a more accurate measure of relative performance.

Norris was the surprise next-quickest driver, only 0.095s adrift. His Mercedes-powered McLaren team suggested the Briton’s soft-shod lap was the car’s first performance run after eschewing low-fuel running during pre-season testing. Lewis Hamilton followed in third as the fastest Mercedes driver, but the Briton was 0.235s off Verstappen’s pace.

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Max Verstappen opened the 2021 Formula 1 season with the fastest time of first practice for Red Bull Racing at the Bahrain Grand Prix. The Dutchman rocketed to the top of the time sheet with a lap of 1m31.394s in the final five minutes of the session with a fresh set of soft tires.

The Honda-powered RB16B was 0.298s quicker than Mercedes’s Valtteri Bottas, but the practice hour did little to clarify the competitive order between the two constructor giants.

Red Bull Racing and Mercedes spent the first half of the session rotating through top spot of the order, with Sergio Perez opening proceedings for his new team first before being usurped by Lewis Hamilton and in turn Bottas.

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Max Verstappen sits in his car with his visor open

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Thailand’s Alex Albon has been sidelined by Red Bull Racing in favour of Racing Point refugee Sergio Perez for the 2021 Formula One season.

Albon, after just two seasons in the premier class, will be kept on as test and reserve driver.

Red Bull Racing principal Christian Horner said the Thai would remain part of his squad’s preparation for major regulation changes in 2022.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was no classic, but it marked the end of an unlikely 2020 season.

The 2020 season ended with an easy Max Verstappen win, the Dutchman in his Red Bull Racing car having the measure of Mercedes from qualifying and throughout the race.

It was at least a consolatory change of pace to end a year of Mercedes domination, even if the race itself offered scant action. For this we have a lap-10 virtual safety car to thank, pushing almost the entire field onto an identical one-stop strategy that killed almost all possible racing for the final 45 laps.

There were a few attempts to break that mould and freelance strategy, but only another superb drive from Daniel Ricciardo could squeeze anything from a strategic offset.

Max Verstappen has ended his 2020 in style with an easy win in Abu Dhabi over Mercedes teammates Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton.

The Red Bull Racing driver had no trouble converting pole to victory, with his Mercedes rivals struggling through the race with detuned engines to compensate for reliability concerns.

An early safety car presented the Dutchman’s only hurdle, but one he nailed his restart from the struggling Mercedes duo he needed only manage his tyres over an elongated final stint to cruise to the finishing line for his second win of the season.

Max Verstappen closed the 2020 Formula 1 season with an effortless victory for Red Bull Racing over Mercedes at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The Dutchman took his first pole in more than a year and deftly converted P1 on the grid into a comfortable three-second lead in the first 10 laps.

Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton were powerless in pursuit, the Mercedes duo holding their starting positions off the line but unable to make inroads on the Red Bull Racing car as it gradually escaped into the distance.

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The season ends with a twist: Max Verstappen has at long last taken a pole position off Mercedes in 2020, rewarding Red Bull Racing for its work closing the gap to the German marque over the last 17 weekends.

The margins were fine: Verstappen beat Valtteri Bottas by just 0.025 seconds, with Lewis Hamilton a further 0.061 seconds back. But a pole’s a pole, and in Abu Dhabi, where overtaking is difficult and the last five winners have started at the head of the grid, it could be very valuable indeed.

But before we herald the resurgence of Red Bull Racing ahead of a rules-stable 2021, let’s apply the necessary caveats.

Max Verstappen has taken his first pole position of the season in a nailbiting qualifying hour for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The Dutchman swept to pole with a lap at the death to deprive the battling Mercedes drivers an easy run for the final race of the season, beating Valtteri Bottas by a slender 0.025 seconds and world champion Lewis Hamilton by 0.086 seconds.

It’s Verstappen first pole since last November’s Brazilian Grand Prix and the first pole of the year for a non-Mercedes-powered car.

Max Verstappen sensationally snatched pole position from Valtteri Bottas for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, thwarting a sweep of 2020 qualifying sessions by Mercedes power units.

Verstappen pinched pole from the Finn by just 0.025s but without setting a purple sector at any split. It’s the first pole for the Red Bull Racing driver since last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix, and it makes Honda the first engine manufacturer other than Mercedes to start from the head of the grid this season.

The Dutchman dedicated his third career pole to his team at the end of a grueling season during which the RB16 has at best inconsistently matched the Mercedes for pure pace.

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Max Verstappen will head into the final Formula 1 qualifying session of the year with the fastest time of third practice at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The Red Bull Racing driver’s best time came on his second run on a set of soft tires in the final five minutes, lowering the benchmark to 1m36.251s, the fastest lap of the weekend so far.

It was enough to beat teammate Alex Albon by half a second, the Thai driver improving late despite complaining of extreme understeer through the session. Renault teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Esteban Ocon followed 0.65s off the pace, both similarly finding time towards the conclusion of final practice.

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Valtteri Bottas resumed control of the time sheet for Mercedes in the crucial evening practice session at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which was briefly interrupted by a fire that struck Kimi Raikkonen’s Alfa Romeo.

The Finn went fastest with a lap of 1m 36.276s ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton, who was 0.203s adrift. Both drivers set their best laps on the medium tire. Bottas wrote off his soft lap with a twitchy moment through the first turn, while Hamilton had a time that would have been good enough to top the session by 0.2s deleted for exceeding track limits out of the final corners.

Max Verstappen was third quickest for Red Bull Racing, the Dutchman also on the medium tire. He too was on track to lead the session with the soft compound after setting a purple first sector and a personal best time at the second split, but he was held up by slower cars on long-run simulations in the final sector, ruining the lap.

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Max Verstappen put Red Bull Racing on top for first practice at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The Dutchman used the soft tire in the second half of the session to set the benchmark at 1m37.378s, usurping Mercedes’s Valtteri Bottas by 0.034s.

Renault’s Esteban Ocon and Alex Albon in the second Red Bull Racing car were more than 1.1s off the pace in third and fourth.

Lewis Hamilton, returning to the paddock after missing last weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix with COVID-19, was fifth fastest and 1.3s adrift after missing much of the first half of the session with a brake master cylinder problem.

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Sergio Perez’s popular Sakhir victory only piled more pressure onto Red Bull Racing and the under-fire Alex Albon switch drivers in 2021.